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By Vanessa Richardson | Source
Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, mayor of Winters, founder of CMAC
When Cecilia Aguiar-Curry moved back to Winters after decades in the Bay Area, the city “looked sad,” she said. One particularly sore spot: the tennis courts at Winters High School, which sported weeds growing out of the cement.
In 2005, after being elected to City Council, Aguiar-Curry decided to do something about it. She asked friends and local groups to help her clean and resurface the courts. The cleanup made an impact: Not only were the courts soon filled with players, Winters residents realized that kind of joint effort could be used to clean up parks, a walking trail through town and Putah Creek.
And Aguiar-Curry learned a valuable lesson. “I learned not to sit back and wait for people to help me. I’m going to do stuff on my own.”
That’s a lesson she remembers as the first woman and the first Latina mayor of Winters, a city of about 7,000 residents. Her family moved to Winters when she was 3. She attended public schools and helped her parents harvest their walnut grove in the fall. After moving away for college and jobs in the Bay Area, she returned to Winters after a divorce to get back to her roots, and now lives a block from her childhood home.
She became involved in local government when a neighbor who was on the City Council persuaded her to run for the Planning Commission. When that woman stepped down from the council, Aguiar-Curry decided to run so there would be at least one female voice on the all-male council. Running for a second term in 2012, she won the highest number of votes of all council members, which catapulted her into the mayor’s seat.
She was re-elected to another term June 5 and re-elected mayor June 17.
Every day on the job is different, she said. “Compared to City Council’s two meetings a month, this is a full-time job, and I need to do a lot of handholding because there’s always something to respond to. But when you live in a close-knit community, you stay involved with every aspect of your residents and the region.”
It’s Aguiar-Curry’s official “day job” that has made her a strong public official. As founder of CMAC, which stands for Community Mitigation and Consulting, she has done public outreach with government agencies on the West Coast for 14 years. For 11 years, she handled community relations for the Freeport Regional Water Authority, working with residents, businesses and farms affected by a water intake plant and 17-mile pipeline on the Sacramento River.
Aguiar-Curry’s strength was having a wide vision of the stakeholders and the issues, said Christine Harris, a public-outreach consultant for water and wastewater projects and Aguiar-Curry’s boss for the Freeport project.
“It wasn’t just telling residents about the project and making them live with the consequences, she worked out solutions so that the project could move forward but still be tolerable for people during construction, and then better afterwards,” Harris said. “She was available to talk with everyone.”
The Freeport project also taught Aguiar-Curry what’s involved in managing city projects from start to finish. When developers came to a City Council meeting, she knew what questions to ask.
“She’s one of the most prepared people in a room during a meeting,” said John Donlevy, city manager for Winters. “She not only does her homework, she’s very inclusive of other people’s views.”
When the economy crashed six years ago, Aguiar-Curry wondered what Winters could do to be ready for better times. The plan: improve schools to attract new residents, and create an educated workforce to attract businesses. To do both simultaneously, she believes, is to bring affordable, fast Internet connections to Winters. She helped secure computers for all grade levels at Winters schools and is working with Yolo County leaders to bring broadband to rural communities.
“My dream is to get kids online, then get affordable broadband Internet in the area, so they can bring iPads home so Mom and Dad can learn with them, too.”
To create more jobs, Aguiar-Curry is working with Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which plans to build a $75 million training facility in Winters by mid-2015. It would employ up to 200 people. And to help capitalize on Winters’ agricultural profile, she’s spearheading a study to determine the feasibility of building an agricultural packaging, processing and distribution hub in the area. Initial feedback is positive, Aguiar-Curry said. The study is being conducted by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.
Aguiar-Curry understands that being mayor is also being an ambassador, Donlevy said. “She does an excellent job getting Winters known on a statewide basis. People are coming from all over to look at Winters, and she has literally gotten us at the table when things are happening.”
Aguiar-Curry starts her work day at 6:15 a.m. and doesn’t end it till at least 12 hours later. Even then, her job isn’t done. While she enjoys going out in downtown Winters for a glass of wine, she still talks to people there about what they need and want done in Winters.
“I love this town,” she said, “so my work is really my passion.”
Education: B.S. in business administration and accounting, San Jose State University
Personal: Two grown daughters; her father, a retired farmer at age 84, still lives in Winters.
First nonprofessional job: Cutting apricots at Caselli Farms at age 8. “I made 50 cents a week, and I knew every song on the radio.”
Advice to younger women: “When you walk into a room, shake the people’s hands and look them in the eye. When you leave, shake their hands and thank them.”
Biggest regret: I wanted to be a nurse, but I listened to an instructor at Chico State who said I never would be. That still bugs me.”
Something about you that would surprise people: “At age 11, I had the Grand Champion Sheep in 4-H. I cried when it went to auction and ironically, that sent the price up.”