Meet a Matriot: Valerie Lemmie Thomas

Valerie is a Founding Member Class of 2018 and a member of The Matriots board of directors. Valerie is a brilliant strategic thinker with extensive experience in public policy. She is from the Dayton area and currently serves as the director of exploratory research at the Kettering Foundation.

Before serving at the Kettering Foundation, Valerie served as city manager for the cities of Petersburg, Virginia as well as Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio.  Additionally she was a commissioner on the Public Utility Commission of Ohio and the acting chief of staff for Congressman Turner, of Ohio’s 10th district. She has served on several boards, including the House of Representatives Committee on Urban Redevelopment and President Clinton’s Greenhouse Gas Advisory Committee. We are so fortunate to have Valerie as a member and leader of The Matriots PAC!

You are a member of The Matriots board of directors, and serve on several committees, what drew you to our work?

As a career public administrator, my goal was to ensure the organizations I managed were efficient, effective, and economical, the values recognized in the profession as the pillars of good government.   As one of the first African Americans and women to serve as city manager, I represented the importance women and people of color brought to the governance process.  When I learned about The Matriots and their core belief in the need for more political leadership and participation by women, it resonated with my personal and professional experiences and career.  Additionally, professional standards dictate that city managers are nonpartisan, so joining The Matriots has provided me an opportunity to use my knowledge and understanding of local and state government to help encourage and support women who stand for public office.   Through our collective power, The Matriots help ensure the interest of women and families will be central to public policies enacted by elected bodies in our state, strengthening our communities and enhancing the quality of life for all.

You served as the city manager for both Cincinnati and Dayton, can you share with our members what accomplishments from your time in office that you are most proud of?

As a city manager, I aspired to achieve the ideals articulated in the Oath of the Athenian City-State to “…transmit this City not only, not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.”  I wanted to make a profound difference in the quality of life of those who lived and worked in the cities I managed, and most importantly, to change the order of things so that those who’d been traditionally disenfranchised had a voice and recognized their power to act as democratic citizens.

Building bridges across political, gender and economic divides; finding pathways to success for those who’d been previously marginalized; and promoting women and people of color to key management and leadership positions in local government are some of the relational accomplishments of which I’m most proud.

On an operational level, I’m most proud in Dayton of the (1) redevelopment we began in the downtown of housing and amenities, including, with the approval of the Cincinnati Reds and Major League Baseball, bringing major league baseball to town —the Dayton Dragons have been sold out for the past twenty years and continue to be a major attraction, catalyzing restaurants, housing and other amenities; (2) in a collaborative partnership with Montgomery County and Five Rivers Metro parks, the redevelopment of the riverfront to what is now RiverScape; (3) the construction of a performing arts center in collaboration with many public and private stakeholders; (3) building and renovation of the first market-rate housing in the inner city of Dayton for generations;  (4) partnership with Miami Valley Hospital and the University of Dayton that resulted in the redevelopment of the previously disinvested neighborhood anchored by these two institutions, to create new housing opportunities for residents and students and a new small business corridor; (5) development of an innovative program, in collaboration with Sinclair Junior College, to train minorities and women for positions in the city’s public safety forces (unfortunately, not sustained) and (6) the creation of innovative development financing tools, including the port authority.

In Cincinnati, it was (1) the successful implementation of the Collaborative Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to change police practices, policies and procedures in response to allegations of racial profiling and the use of force against people of color; (2) creation of a development financing authority to lead and finance redevelopment in the downtown and Over- the-Rhine, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC); (3) related partnerships with other institutional partners including the University of Cincinnati; (4) retaining key headquarter companies in the downtown; and (5) supporting and financing neighborhood redevelopment.

You were also appointed commissioner by Governor Taft and Governor Strickland to the Public Utilities Commission. Can you share with our members what your role was and why the commission’s work is important?

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is important because it affects every household in Ohio through its regulation of utility service providers, including electric and natural gas companies, local and long distance telephone companies, water and wastewater companies, rail and trucking companies.  As commissioner, you approve the rates utilities can charge end users, help ensure utility system reliability and the incorporation of renewal energy resources into the energy mix.  During my term as commissioner, we implemented the competitive retail markets for electricity and natural gas.  I also served as president of the Organization of MISO States, a regional state compact that was established to represent the collective interests of states and local utility regulators with the operator of the bulk wholesale power transmission system operator.

Now you are the director of exploratory research at the Kettering Foundation, a nonprofit foundation conducting research focused on what people can collectively do to address problems affecting their lives, their communities and their nation. Kettering’s primary research question is: what does it take to make democracy work as it should? In your opinion, what does it take to make democracy work as it should?

The Charles F. Kettering Foundation studies how to make democracy work as it should and our research is conducted from the perspective of citizens and what they can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities and their nation.  Our core insights suggest that a robust democracy requires responsible citizens who can make sound decisions about their future and can act on these decisions in democratic and complementary ways with government to produce public goods.  We define citizenship not as a legal status, but as a practice that is more than voting and serving on juries.  Citizens are more than consumers, constituents, clients and customers—they are people who work collectively with government to address shared community problems.

Now for something fun: Tell us about a family member, hobby or a personal interest.

The joy of my life is raising our twelve year old grandson.  He is a delightful, happy, sensitive young man who lights up our life.  For a class project, he and two classmates created a business—they sell keychains they designed and 3-D printed along with baked goods they make.  Their in-school enterprise is so successful they’ve hired two classmates to work for them!  Aden loves sports, playing Forte Night and watching You Tube videos and his active life keeps my husband and me engaged and active!

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