Effectively connecting with the public requires expertise and finesse – two qualities that Tonya Durrell possesses in abundance and can frequently utilize in her position as public information director II for LA Sanitation and Environment.
As the lead agency for the City’s environmental programs and initiatives, Sanitation protects public health and the environment by managing clean water (wastewater), solid resources (solid waste management) and watershed protection (stormwater) – three areas that impact each of the city’s 4 million+ residents, which underscores the importance of Durrell’s appointment.
A City of Los Angeles employee for 27 years, Durrell brings a wealth of public relations experience to her new role, especially when it comes to building relationships with community members to ensure the success of critical infrastructure projects.
“Public engagement is a critical part of community partnerships in the city of Los Angeles. Without it, important infrastructure projects run the risk of being delayed or halted. Most projects have public engagement as early as the design phase to ensure that stakeholders are well informed early on,” said Durrell.
Her intimate knowledge about outreach was developed from serving as the media and community relations lead for capital improvement projects such as the Venice Dual Force Main Sewer Project and the Santa Monica Blvd. Transit Roadway Project. Also, she has worked closely with department executives to develop strategies to educate and inform residents about the wide range of city services available to enhance their quality of life.
Stressing the importance of communicating and interacting with the public, Durrell recalled, “I remember taking a telephone call from an elderly woman experiencing a problem with a public works service. After spending some time resolving her concerns, she remarked that I was making a difference for the people of Los Angeles and that I should be aware of my impact. I never forgot that call, and as a result, I always remember that I work on behalf of the residents of Los Angeles.”
Durrell credits three women with influencing her success in her chosen profession – Aurelia Brooks, the first executive director of the California African American Museum; Valerie Lynne Shaw, former president and commissioner on the city’s Board of Public Works; and her grandmother.
“I worked closely with Aurelia and Valerie and was profoundly impacted as I observed their tenacity, professionalism, and passion,” she shared.
“However, my first mentor was my grandmother. With her example, I learned the love of God, hard work, dedication to family, and the enormous strength of a woman.” She added that those women helped her to “remember to give of your gifts and talents and mentor others along the way.”
To others aspiring for a similar career, Durrell advised, “Volunteer with community organizations, schools and churches to learn public relations strategies. You can build a portfolio and become marketable for a career with the city government. Once hired, learn all you can and discover your expertise niche!”