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Sunday, May 26, 2024

3 Korean American chiefs of staff to councilmembers influence LA City Hall

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(From left) Jeanne Min, chief of staff to Councilmember Tim McOsker in the 15th District; Joanne Kim, chief of staff to Councilmember Marquis Harris-Dawson in the 8th District; and Hannah Lee, chief of staff to Councilmember John Lee in the 12th District. The three chiefs of staff walk down a hallway on the third floor of City Hall, home to the L.A. mayor’s office and the City Council. [Sangjin Kim, The Korea Daily]

The Los Angeles City Council, comprised of 15 members, oversees an impressive $13 billion in annual expenditures. They also address the needs of an average of 260,000 residents per district, resolve complaints, and draft over 300 ordinances and resolutions yearly.

Integral to the City Council’s operations are the chiefs of staff to councilmembers. Not widely known is that three of these chiefs of staff are Korean American women.

This powerful trio includes 22-year veteran Chief of Staff Jeanne Min (15th District), 20-year Chief of Staff Hannah Lee (12th District), and eight-year Chief of Staff Joanne Kim (8th District).

Min, a UC Berkeley journalism alumna, transitioned to McOsker’s office last year, having previously served Councilmembers Thomas LaBonge and Mitch O’Farrell.

Lee, with an academic background in Urban Planning from UCLA and a native of the “Valley”, set aside her law aspirations to join the staff of 12th District Congressman Greig Smith two decades ago.

Kim, who assumed her current position earlier this year, was born in Chicago and relocated to Los Angeles. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in health from UCLA. Initially aspiring to open a health clinic, her path shifted when she volunteered at the Community Coalition (CC) in South LA.

The Korea Daily met with them at LA City Hall to delve into their journeys, their aspirations for the city, and their messages to the Korean American community.

Three Korean American women who are chiefs of staff to councilmembers on the LA City Council


When asked how the three ended up in their roles as a chief of staff, Lee responded, “In school, I learned about community service and helping those with disabilities. I also understood more about life by volunteering alongside my mother, a nurse. There was always a drive to contribute.”

Min’s involvement in community organizations, including the Korean American Coalition and her role as treasurer for the Korean American Student Association at Walnut High School, gave her an early taste of public service. “I was engaged in activities at nursing homes, churches, and the Korean American Coalition. I witnessed the establishment of Koreatown and the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council,” she remembered.

Kim’s journey to the council was unanticipated. “Growing up in a conservative environment in OC led me to question the correct approach,” she said. Reflecting on family dynamics, she added, “In traditional Korean households, women and mothers often handle most household chores. My family, influenced by my grandfathers who were pastors, had certain expectations. As the eldest daughter, I also had to be a guiding figure for my younger siblings.”

Leadership is about Service

Between the city council and district offices, they lead over 20 staff members. They unanimously identified “motivation,” “persuasion,” “modeling behavior,” “honor,” and “cooperation” as essential leadership qualities. “The core principle is ‘servant leadership,'” remarked Kim. She proposed that the title “chief of supporter” might be more apt than “chief of staff.”

Is Annual Salary Above or Below $100,000?

On the subject of qualifications, Min said, “Experience isn’t the sole factor; there isn’t a single path.” While understanding the city and learning from peers is crucial, adaptability is paramount. Lee emphasized the necessity of maintaining trust with city council members.

Kim, with extensive nonprofit experience, pointed out, “Nonprofits and City Hall are distinctly different. Nonprofits are driven by shared passions, whereas City Hall necessitates collaboration with varied objectives and strategies.” Regarding salaries, the consensus was that figures could hover around $100,000, depending on contracts. For context, city councilmembers’ salaries parallel those of County Superior Court judges, approximately $250,000.

A Community that Understands and Engages

“We should appreciate the significance of Koreatown as a symbol of unity and belonging. It’s vital to respect its history,” Min said, urging young individuals to be proactive in their community. Kim revisited the 1992 Los Angeles riots, emphasizing the importance of racial harmony. “We should reflect on how we can coexist with LA’s diverse populace. Recognizing past civil rights struggles can help us move forward as unified Americans.”

In summary, these three Chiefs of Staff have carved their niche in the city council, showcasing their influence through dedicated service.

BY BRIAN CHOI    [ichoi@koreadaily.com]