“Escondido born and bred,” was new Coronado City Clerk Jennifer Ekblad’s response to the first question I asked her during our interview earlier this week. Ekblad, we will soon discover, has been a success at every juncture of her life. She continued and said, “I attended Escondido Adventist Academy from first through 12th grade. We had a graduating class of 30 and I started with 16 of them in first grade. We were more like cousins when we graduated. I really enjoyed it and it was a great opportunity being at such a small school.”
Extracurricular activities played a large role in Ekblad’s high school experience. “I was ASB president, volleyball and basketball team captain, and super involved in school. My coach then, Bill Davis, is now principal of the school. I was the tallest girl on the team, and I played outside hitter in volleyball and center on the basketball team. I loved playing basketball. I’m left-handed but I learned to play right-handed. I had a killer right-handed layup.”
Ekblad, who is of Swedish descent, claims to be five feet, 10 inches tall. I suspect she is 5-10 in a similar way that NBA Hall of Famer and San Diego native Bill Walton claims to be 6-11. In her high school yearbook, Ekblad was named both ‘Best Dressed’ and acknowledged for ‘Never repeating an Outfit More Than Three Times,’ both of which may have played roles in her early career choices.
Ekblad matriculated to Pacific Union College in Angwin, a small town in Napa Valley. “I was there for a year and a half. I kind of bounded around with my major, unsure of what to do. They had a 100-year rain my first year there and I thought I was going to die. I didn’t see the sun for 13 days. It’s a beautiful area, in the middle of nowhere, but not condusive to college students. I had to get back to the sun, and I transferred to Point Loma Nazarene. I absolutely loved it there and I wish I had gone there originally. Part of the reason I went there is I wanted a strong business background and their business program is amazing.” Ekblad went on to graduate with a BA in Consumer and Environmental Sciences, with an emphasis on Business.
Ekblad worked her way through school, starting with a job at Dairy Queen during her high school years and while attending Pacific Union College, she worked at the retail establishment Foot Candy. “It was really high end footwear and now I can’t believe they hired me when my only other work experience was at Dairy Queen. We sold $10,000 Jacob and Company watches and shoes that cost at least $800 a pair. Joe Montana and his wife were in the store, as were Robert Redford and Sofia Coppola. They had just opened the store in 2003 when I was there, and they recently closed.”
After graduation, Ekblad continued in retail, this time in Orange County. “I worked in some small boutiques as a buyer and manager, but I never took to it. I was good at it, but just as I started the recession hit. The store where I was had been killing it, but they took a deep hit in 2008. And there is the quality of life issue, because you have to work nights, weekends and holidays. I didn’t enjoy being in Orange County much and I moved back to San Diego. A family friend who worked for the City of Escondido told me there was a job opening in the City Clerk’s office. From Day One, I absolutely loved it. In 2014 Escondido was going to districts and the Mayoral Election really fascinated and hooked me. The job is a good fit for me, and it speaks to my strengths. Elections are my favorite part.”
There is nothing frivolous about Ekblad’s work ethic, as once her experience in the City Clerk’s office manifested itself, she was all-in and pursued a master’s degree in Public Administration at San Diego State University. She said of the process, “It took 16 months and during that time I was working full-time on the election, going to school full-time and getting my clerk certification. I had no social life for 18 months. The reasons for attending SDSU were they focus on local San Diego politics, they are accredited, and they have one of the Top Five Public Administration programs in the state. I was in the second cohort that took the accelerated program on-line. I went 16 months straight through and it was a really tough year.” Ekblad earned honors for her grade point average, which in turn gained her entry into the Pi Alpha Alpha Honor Society, a national organization for students of public administration, administered by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs.
Meanwhile back in Escondido, which has a population of 160,000, Ekblad was working her way up the ladder of the City Clerk’s department, which has eight full-time employees. First, she was Deputy City Clerk and then Assistant City Clerk. “It was an incredible experience for me to get to know about everything in the office. City Clerk Diane Halvorson mentored me the entire time and trained me on everything she was doing. I had lunch with her Friday. Diane is retired now, but it was nice to tell her what I am doing and to listen to her suggestions and direction for a new city clerk.”
Although she has been on the job in Coronado for only three months, her first day was Oct. 15, 2019, Ekblad compared the City Clerk positions in Escondido and Coronado. “The department here is me and Janet Coons. I’m grateful Janet is here because of her institutional knowledge. Coming in I knew it would be a small department, but I am excited about the changes and learning the culture. A citizen recently told me, ‘There’s a Coronado Way and we do things differently here.’ It’s a smaller agency with a sense of community including among the staff. Everyone has been so welcoming and friendly that I am surprised that I feel this comfortable at this point. Everyone has a really good sense of humor, which is enjoyable because you spend so much time here. I knew what kind of agency I wanted to work for, and the City Manager makes all the difference. It’s been fascinating learning Coronado politics. This is truly a small town, which I love. I’m shocked by how many people have stopped by and introduced themselves to me. So many citizens recognize me, which I think is bizarre.”
Prior to our interview in her office, I had only seen Ekblad at City Council meetings, where she wears high heels. Admitting she hasn’t totally recovered from working at Foot Candy, she reluctantly and humorously admitted to owning 30 pairs of high heels. “I’ve tried to minimize my wardrobe a bit. I plan to see how long I can go without repeating any outfits and see if anybody notices. Working at Foot Candy instilled in me a love of high-end footwear. My favorite pair is by Brian Atwood, who is lesser known, but still high-end.”
Ekblad provided some of the specifics of her job as City Clerk. “The major elements include city council meetings and preparing the agendas as it relates to the Brown Act. I love going to City Council meetings. My first day here we had a long meeting and it was the only time all day I felt comfortable because I went to the City Council meetings in Escondido. Another big part of the job is managing recruitment for boards and commissions. It’s challenging because there are so many. It’s great we have such an involvement from the citizenry, and they want to be part of it. The records part is huge. A big part of the job is doing research for the City Staff and for the City Manager’s Office, to find out when something happened in the past. Part of the motivation for the city to go paperless are the efficiencies which make it so much easier for the staff and citizens. Ultimately going paperless will save the city a lot of money. Right now our meeting minutes are bound in books. The minutes, ordinances, resolutions and historical documents are in a fire-proof vault. Escondido had three part-time staff and their only job was scanning records.”
The City elections are another major area of responsibility for the City Clerk. Ekblad said, “As the elections official, it’s my responsibility to process the nomination forms for the Mayor and the City Council. Also the campaign finance reports are my responsibility as well as keeping track of potential ballot measures. Coronado consolidates their elections with San Diego County, so I don’t have to run an election. It’s mostly run by the Registrar of Voters. Something I like about elections, it is all spelled out in the Elections Code, and that is my Bible, so to speak. With this being an election year, I have spent a lot of time on that already. I have really enjoyed getting to know the Councilmembers here and they have been very welcoming. They’re easy to work with. And they get along really well and want to work together.
As for her time away from the office, Ekblad enjoys travel, watching the San Diego Padres, she still follows the Chargers and enjoys camping. “I travel as much as possible and a couple of years ago I took a solo trip to Australia and Bali,” Ekblad said. “I studied abroad in Paris for a while, and a friend of mine and I have traveled all over the United States. My sister Kimberly Fleckner and her husband live in Santa Rosa in the California Wine Country and I go there as much as possible. My favorite place to travel is Melbourne, Australia. It’s by far one of the coolest cities I have been in. I like hiking and my Dad Tom Ekblad is an ultra-light backpacker. He and my Mom Robin Ekblad still live in Escondido. He was a teacher in Poway for 30 plus years. My Mom worked at the Escondido Adventist Academy while I was growing up and later, she worked for the City of Escondido for City Manager Clay Phillips.”
My takeaway from our interview is Ekblad is 100 percent committed to her position of City Clerk. Our records, elections, and perhaps down the road some upgrades to help make the city’s records more accessible, are in very capable hands.