Call to Public Service
PROVO, Utah – May 14, 2018 – When it comes to getting women to run for office, the secret’s in the “tapping.” Research shows that women are more likely to run for office if someone “taps” them—or suggests that they should. That was the case for Kelleen Potter, 2016 EMPA grad and the mayor of Heber City, Utah.
Potter’s first run at elected office began with an unexpected knock at her door. Several community members had been discussing who they could get to run for Heber’s city council. Soon, one of them showed up at Potter’s home with a $50 check to pay for her filing fee. That was the tap that got her elected to the Heber City council in 2013. Now after four years as a council member, she’s beginning her term as the first female mayor of Heber.
“There’s so much research showing that our organizations are better when we have women in leadership and women as part of the conversation,” Potter says. “We just get better outcomes. Not that women are better; we’re just different. And we need all of the perspectives to come together. And I’ve always felt like young girls need to see women in leadership positions, and then just follow their hearts and their inspiration.”
As a young woman herself, Potter had planned to go to law school but was dissuaded by people who told her it wouldn’t work out with having a family. Instead, Potter earned a BA in political science from BYU and became a government and history teacher, instructing students in public school as well as the Utah State Prison’s high school. She was then hired as the state elections director under former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt. It was in this role that she met one of her mentors, Olene Walker, the state’s fifteenth governor.
While working in the Leavitt administration, Potter took a few MPA classes at the University of Utah but found she didn’t love the classes. Shortly after that, she choose to leave her job and become a full-time mom. Fourteen years later, Potter discovered the BYU Executive MPA program, and this time the fit and timing was just right.
“I’m so grateful that I was able to get my MPA,” she says. “Besides being inspired by the idea of public service and becoming more confident in my abilities, I gained a lot of skills that I use all of the time—some consciously and some subconsciously.”
The call to run came knocking at about the same time that school was starting up. Once Potter was elected to the city council, Heber became a testing ground for everything she learned in class.
“I had this built-in thing,” she says of coupling class projects with her council responsibilities. “Several times my team would say, ‘Well, let’s do a Heber City project.’ So we did affordable housing, and we did a study on the police department, and I did my capstone. It was a great opportunity to dig into an issue and understand it thoroughly as well as preparing a deliverable that I could use.”
Using what she learned in the program, Potter has helped update Heber’s handling of HR issues. And that housing study? It’s still making the rounds. Heber’s police chief frequently uses her team’s research to lobby for more affordable housing for his officers.
As she plans the next four years, Potter has her sights on improvements in both policy and process for the city. At the top of her list are increasing communication with citizens as well as developing a proactive approach to the tremendous growth happening in Heber.
Media Contact: Jordan Christiansen (801) 422-8938
Writer: Katie Olson