Inside Track: Seibold finds you can go home again
East Grand Rapids High School graduate, city mayor Amna Seibold never thought she would return to serve community where she grew up.
Amna Seibold said when she graduated from East Grand Rapids High School and headed off to Albion College she was sure of one thing: She’d never move back to her hometown.
“It turns out it’s a nice place to raise a family,” she joked.
Today, not only does Seibold reside in the community where she grew up, but she also is serving her second term as its mayor.
Seibold did leave East Grand Rapids for several years, as she pursued her dreams of working in health care.
She said initially she went to Albion College with the intention of becoming a doctor but realized she was more adept at English and communications and probably would be better off putting those skills to use.
So, when she left school with her undergraduate degree, she wasn’t sure what to do.
She found a job in the health care field, working as a phlebotomist at Saint Mary’s Hospital.
That led her to a position in Lansing as manager of a phlebotomy team, where she worked to grow the hospital’s outpatient services.
“They only did inpatient work at that hospital, and we grew it to 60 percent outpatient business when I left,” Seibold said.
To continue her career, Seibold pursued a master’s degree in health administration enrolling at the University of Michigan.
With her health administration degree in hand, Seibold once again found herself at Saint Mary’s, where she was asked to run one of its labs.
She said Saint Mary’s liked that she had lab experience but also that she was a nontraditional candidate for the role in that she also had strong communications and organization skills.
“They said we need that here,” Seibold said. “So, I moved back here, and my career has kept progressing.”
Seibold said something she’s learned from her own career she shares with others is that “some of your life just takes you, and sometimes you need to put that oar in the water and do a little directing yourself.”
One area where Seibold put her oar in the water was local politics.
She said her father had been very involved in the community, serving as a school board member and as a city commissioner as well as coaching and announcing for high school football games.
“He was really involved in the community, so I thought I should get involved as well when I moved back,” Seibold said.
Her first opportunity came when a seat on the East Grand Rapids Planning Commission came up.
She enjoyed the job so much she decided to run for city commissioner next.
“That was when Jacobson’s had closed, and we were determining what to do with the city,” Seibold said. “I was involved in the process of getting the new city building funded, and I decided to run for city commissioner.”
She said politics has an addictive element to it, which continues to push her onward in public service.
“You start working on some things and you want to see them through, and I like running an efficient meeting and getting things done,” she said.
The next logical step after serving as a city commissioner was to run for mayor. Seibold now is one year into her second term as mayor of East Grand Rapids and enjoying it.
“Why I love this is there’s so much I’ve learned,” Seibold said. “I am learning all the time. There is much more to be done and to improve.”
Seibold said East Grand Rapids is embarking on a new master plan.
She said the city will be hiring a firm to help bring ideas to the table as well as talking with business owners and residents to find out what they would like to see happen with their community.
Seibold said looking at what is happening across the country with other cities is important, as it can bring great ideas forward. For example, she pointed to the previous master plan, which prioritized bringing multifamily units to the community — an idea that came from what was happening across the country.
“We now have condos and multifamily units, and they filled immediately because of the need for them,” she said.
She also said technology will be a big focus, particularly figuring out how to incorporate more social media to serve the tech-savvy community.
“There are lots of plugged-in people in East Grand Rapids, and we have a lot of great resources,” Seibold said.
Asked if it has been challenging to be a woman in politics, Seibold said not particularly. She noted she is the third woman in a row to serve as mayor in East Grand Rapids.
“So, it was not shockingly different,” she said.
She said things are changing on the local level, especially, and she expects more women will run for state legislatures and at the national level.
“I think that going forward, people will see having women in offices is a plus,” Seibold said. “There are so many things changing fast right now, and I think my children and future grandchildren will think it’s weird that there weren’t more women in office.”
She did say one thing she’s noticed is women tend to need encouragement to run, whereas men are more likely to convince themselves to throw their hat in the ring.
“Women often need to hear somebody else say ‘you should run,’ and I try to take the opportunity to say that,” Seibold said. “Men seem to have that conversation with themselves — I’m really good, I can do this — while women need to hear that someone else has belief in them.”
She said women also tend to want to be an expert before they start something.
“And most people aren’t experts,” she said.
She said that is one of the lessons she’s tried to instill in all three of her kids, “fake it until you make it.”
“What I mean by that is don’t think you can’t do something until you are an expert, you go in there and you do it, because every day you get a little better at it. At first, you are kind of pretending you know how to do it, and then before you know it, you’ve done it and people are asking you how you did it.”
She also said age and children shouldn’t be a factor, especially when running for public office.
“You can figure it out,” she said. “One of the best things is to have a supportive husband. My husband helped me tremendously. We both were in it, and we were making it work.”
Finally, Seibold said parents can set an example for their kids by getting involved.
“I didn’t necessarily think ‘I want to do what my dad did,’ but I certainly respected my dad and admired him and wanted to follow in his shoes,” she said. “As you are looking at your career, don’t forget about community service. You don’t have to be a commissioner, but do something to benefit your community and involve your kids as you can.”
Seibold said she isn’t sure if she’ll run for another office in the future, but state legislature is a possibility, and she certainly isn’t considering slowing down.
“People think at 59 you are winding down, but no, the best is yet to come.”