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Mavericks Personified: Karen Daly
Municipal mom stands on principles

Karen DalyKaren Daly presented a caveat to Mayor Jim Morris and the Greenville City Council during the final interview for the city manager’s job nearly three years ago.

She told them she would give the city 110 percent—work long hours, nights, weekends, whatever—but her family came first. She would be out of the office at times to help with school activities for daughters Emma and Clair.

But she didn’t tell them, nor could she have known, that she would sue the city’s school district less than two months into the job.

Emma, who has Down’s syndrome, was successfully mainstreamed for four years in Longview, where Daly was assistant city manager, and before that in Arlington, where Daly was assistant to former UT Arlington classmate and then-City Manager George Campbell. But the Greenville ISD had never mainstreamed a child with Down’s and didn’t plan to change.

“They flatly refused to even consider it, even when we pointed out that it was not a choice, it was the law,” said Daly, who earned her bachelor of social work in 1984, her master of science in social work in 1985 and master of arts from the School of Urban and Public Affairs in 1989.

When the brand-new city manager broke the news to her employers, the municipal officials rallied behind her.

Daly had been the only woman among more than 50 applicants. Greenville had never had a female city manager. The field was narrowed to six, then four, and “by the time Karen came for her second interview, she knew everything about this city,” Morris said. “She had done her homework.”

So she was hired to manage the city of 25,000, overseeing a $42 million budget, implementing the laws enacted by the seven-member City Council and administering city affairs. Morris says the city made the right choice. Even considering the lawsuit.

“We would rather it had not happened, but she had to look out for her family,” he said. “Sure, there were some repercussions, but it was nothing we should have kept her from doing or lost a good manager over.”

Daly and her husband, Steven, won their suit. The school district initially appealed but then settled. Emma, 13, is in middle school now, and, her mother says, she’s thriving. Clair, 11, attends the intermediate school that created so many problems for the family, and Karen volunteers at the school, saying she learned long ago not to take things personally.

Except soccer.

Daly says it’s probably good that Greenville doesn’t have a women’s league: Her aggressive style might clash with the mild-mannered city manager persona. She plays indoor soccer in Rockwall and outdoor soccer in Dallas and Arlington, where she’s with women who have been her teammates since high school.

While many of her soccer buddies are still the same, her professional colleagues have changed significantly. In her SUPA days, there were only a handful of women city managers in Texas. Today there are 39, serving large cities like Dallas, Austin, El Paso and Lubbock and towns much smaller than Greenville.

There’s even one retired woman city manager, Kay Godbey of Burleson.

“That’s a real sign of progress,” Daly said, “when a woman manager has been around long enough to retire.”

— Sue Stevens

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