Karen McLaughlin didn’t start out in life with the goal of becoming a city manager.
Government service wasn’t even on her radar when McLaughlin started her post-secondary studies at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa after graduating high school in Newport Beach. At Orange Coast she got hooked on English while earning her associate of arts degree.
Upon completing community college, McLaughlin and a friend looked for the college campus farthest away from Newport Beach “without leaving California.” That is how she came up with Humboldt State College. Researching the catalogue she saw they offered journalism. And since that had something to do with writing, she delved in.
It was at Humboldt that she met her future husband Bob who was majoring in journalism but with an emphasis on marketing and the business side. After graduation she returned to Southern California for a year. She was working at a bank when she landed her first job as a reporter with the Oakdale Leader.
“I was working in a bank in Anaheim on Friday, packing on Saturday driving to Oakdale on Sunday, and started working as a reporter on Monday,” McLaughlin recalled in a 2011 interview.
Joins city staff as
She remembers walking to the first assignment that Monday morning for a story on an auto parts store and crossing a seemingly deserted street that seemed like it was out of the Old West at the time and thinking how sharply it contrasted with Newport Beach.
McLaughlin said she liked working for newspapers as she “loved being the first to know about things.”
She spent two years working at the Leader from 1983 to 1985 before joining the Manteca Bulletin where she covered everything from schools, police, and the irrigation district to city hall. She started with the city on Jan. 16, 1987 as an executive analyst.
McLaughlin figured she’d apply given the fact it involved a lot of writing as well as research. It also helped the pay was $975 more a month than her $1,325 a month salary as a reporter.
“The joke was that (City Manager) Dave Jinkens hired me to get me to stop writing stories about the city,” McLaughlin said in 2011.
Over the years McLaughlin has served as assistant to the city manager, assistant city manager, and deputy city manager before becoming the first woman city manager in Manteca city history.
McLaughlin has said she never thinks in terms of her gender and being city manager since she said opportunity was always there for her to pursue with a father who was a middle school teacher and a mother who was a nurse.
McLaughlin in a previous interview said she “likes to think I’m making a difference” in terms of helping make sure Manteca provides its citizens with essential services.
“We are a government serving the people,” McLaughlin said of municipal level government.
Her best advice over the years to anyone — young or old — is “to try different things.”
“I never thought I’d be working in city government,” she said.
At the same time going from conservative Newport Beach to liberal Humboldt was going out of her comfort zone as was moving from Southern California to the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
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