Tehachapi Valley Recreation & Park District manager Michelle Vance, who will be resigning from the district to pursue other opportunities in Wellington, Colo., is reflecting fondly on her time in the city while also issuing some challenges to its residents.
“It’s time to pass the torch,” Vance said in an interview. She added, “This community raised me. I showed up here at 22 years old and grew. If it wasn’t for Tehachapi and the people, I wouldn’t be who I am.”
Vance has accepted a new position as the economic development director in a city that is growing and is similar to Tehachapi.
She is slated to end her position at the park district in May. The district board announced after Tuesday night’s regular board meeting that Corey Torres, formerly the recreation supervisor, has been appointed the interim district manager. Torres recently completed his masters degree in public administration.
Vance’s new position in Colorado will allow her to focus on helping businesses, bringing people to the community and helping infrastructure grow.
“It's not about a job, it’s about your impact. What marker are you going to leave in the world?” Vance said. She added that she strives to make the community she lives in a better place where parks, people and programs improve lives for families and local businesses.
While she expressed positive memories of her time in Tehachapi, she also shared thoughts about challenges, too.
“The way the culture is up here ... I feel public servants now have become slaves. It’s not fair,” Vance said. She added, “If we are not careful you’ll lose good public servants because they don’t want to be treated as slaves. I love the public.”
Vance said some community members post negative comments on social media without first trying to resolve a situation with a government entity or individual. And some people post outright demeaning and hurtful comments.
Many in the community connect Vance with managing and leading the failed effort to pass Measure R, the Tehachapi Valley Recreation & Park District bond measure that would have brought a recreational center and refurbished parks within the district. It failed in the Nov. 6 election.
The months before Measure R’s failure were contentious. People both for and against the measure were vocal. Tension was apparent at several community meetings held to tell people how the money would be used if the measure passed, and some people criticized Vance’s communication style.
“My hope for Tehachapi is that one day the community will realize that recreation is one of the biggest pieces of everyday life and they will invest. I pray for that. I think it will change our landscape for the future,” Vance said.
Even though the community has come to know Vance in her public position over the last two years, she has been actively involved with community affairs for more than 10.
Friends and other community leaders have described her as an energetic event organizer and a visionary with an infectious personality.
“I have thought a lot about her leaving. It makes me sad. I will miss working with someone with so many innovative ideas,” said community volunteer Cheryl Wilson.
Many years ago Vance began working at TVRPD while earning her bachelor's degree in public administration from Cal State Bakersfield. Vance became the executive director for local nonprofit Main Street Tehachapi in 2007, which helped revitalize downtown and businesses throughout the area.
“I was able to tell Tehachapi’s story to potential homeowners, visitors, and business owners,” Vance said. She added, “When you are doing good, and looking good, people want to shop and spend money and come downtown. That’s what Main Street did and that’s helped me even in economics. All those factors matter.”
In the four years she was employed at Main Street, events such as the Hot Dog Festival, Star Light Ball, Summer Wine Walk, Chili Cookoff, Taste of Tehachapi, Valentine's Wine & Chocolate and others took off to help fund downtown mural projects, plus refurbish Railroad Park, the Tehachapi Railroad Depot and others, said Vance.
“She’s amazing, a leader, contributor. We are really going to miss her,” City Manager Greg Garrett said.
He added, “If we didn't select the right person for the job we could have lost the vision for downtown. Her selection was instrumental in maintaining the five Main Street pillars of success and values.”
Downtown Tehachapi is now 100 percent occupied, with investors coming into house their businesses, said Garrett.
Jim Wilson, a community volunteer, said, “I'm very happy for her. She’s an energetic person, a driving force and she will be very much missed. I think it’s a big loss for our city, personally. The city where she is going is growing and has the budget for parks and recreation and other things. It sounds like a great opportunity for her.”
After working for Main Street, for the next two years she worked for Kern County Supervisor Zack Scrivner as a liaison and leader for organizations and people throughout the county’s Second District.
“We will miss her,” Scrivner said. “Above all, Michelle Vance loves Tehachapi and eastern Kern. Her passion, talent, and work ethic has left a lasting imprint and made our region a better place to live and work.”
Vance was hired in 2013 as the economic development coordinator for the city of Tehachapi to lead the way in attracting developers and businesses to commercial and industrial space downtown.
“It’s working with business owners and helping them. It wasn’t always easy, but it was a great reward and now we have this flourishing wonderful downtown and if it wasn’t for the city of Tehachapi we wouldn’t have this,” Vance said.
Many business leaders and community members participated in workshops and studies, helping the city look to the future on identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Vance participated in the Economic Assessment and SWOT Analysis for the city in 2017.
“Any time you do a study or any type of data collection you get to find out your market and where you need to target your efforts,” Vance said.
The Tehachapi GranFondo cycling event was started more than five years ago. Former assistant city manager Chris Kirk and Vance coordinated more than 18 local agencies and 200 volunteers each year to help bring in more than $50,000 in sponsorship funds that go toward local nonprofits and groups in Tehachapi.
Vance is looking forward to continuing to learn and grow in Colorado.
“There are tons of opportunities. I’m blessed to share what I know with this community,” said Vance.