Women Lead in Government, Law, Tourism, & Activism

By Anna Latek

This month, The State Journal is focusing on the ever-expanding roles of women in leadership in anticipation of Frankfort’s celebration of Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 27. Each week, the newspaper will profile extraordinary women in several categories; business, education and this week we are profiling four women who are expanding the roles of women in local government, law enforcement, the tourism industry, and a young woman who is proving that the legacy of the suffragettes who we celebrate on Women’s Equality Day is alive and well. 

Today, we are profiling Frankfort City Manager Laura Hagg; Frankfort Police Department Assistant Chief Lynn Aubrey; Frankfort/Franklin County Tourist Commission Director Robin Antenucci; and co-founder of the For The People Coalition Katima Smith-Willis. 

To what do you attribute your success and motivation? 

Hagg: “I have always been taught that it is best to be humble. Get the work done. I think in governance, that’s what I like. I am not in an elected position; I would never, ever WANT to be elected. I want to go in, get things done, and be practical. This is a complicated question … there’s all sorts of influences. I remember doing my first hands-on emergency management work. I was in Washington, D.C., working for James Lee Witt, who had been head of FEMA under President [Bill] Clinton. I’ll never forget it; it was 2005, after Hurricane Katrina. Witt went out and bought an RV and drove down to Louisiana from Arkansas and worked for free; none of us were paid for the first month. We just knew ‘Oh my god, these people need help.’ I’d never done anything like this. I’d worked on some preparedness plans, but I hadn’t done anything this big. One of our clients was a huge casino boat that was lifted up and was on the highway, so we were supporting them. They needed help with gas and getting housing for their staff so they could start the recovery efforts. They gave me a couple of names, and I just got on the phone and started finding them sources for gas and travel trailers. I just kept asking and asking until I could find what they needed. Someone said I was persistent. So, I would say humility and persistence.” 

City Manager Laura Hagg

Aubrey: “I give most of the credit to my husband and family. They have always supported whatever decisions I have made in my career without hesitation. When I decided to become a law enforcement officer and leave my career as an economist, my husband didn’t even blink an eye. After that, I would say it is my determination. When I set my mind on a goal, I have always gone all in and given it 100% effort.”

Frankfort Police Department Assistant Chief Lynn Aubrey

Antenucci: “In terms of a job, I would say it is to be flexible and willing to be a team player and willing to work with lots of different people, and not be judgmental or upset agendas. My dad always said, ‘Everything in moderation,’ so I have tried to be a little more middle of the road than extreme one way or another in term of views or judgement. I’ve done a lot of different things and lived in a lot of different places, and it’s given me a more worldly view than I otherwise would have gotten, which I think helps in this position.” 

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Smith-Willis: “Well, there’s a couple of things I could say about this. If I had to think of a person — it would be my mother. Although we have two totally different beliefs and thoughts on things, I attribute my drive, my passion and my work ethic to her. Growing up, I saw my mom go through so much as a woman, especially a Black woman. Over the years, I have seen my mom succeed as a Black woman, mother, sister, daughter and overall, just a person. I look up to her, so I will always toast it up to Kelly McMillan. I inherited a lot from her. My husband also has a lot to do with my motivation and success. Listen, I am not the easiest individual to deal with, but it takes a very patient, loving and consistent man to deal with me. And since we are talking about, attributing to my success — shoutout to the Coffee Tree and my Keurig machine.” 

For The People Coalition co-founder Katima Smith-Willis speaks at pro-abortion rally on the Capitol steps in June. (State Journal file photo)

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you handle it? 

Antenucci: “There are always bumps in the road as you go along. I used to live in Florida and I worked for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, but I wanted to move back to Colorado because I loved Colorado, so I left that job and took a position with a private consulting firm. I was the only woman, and most of the men who worked there were engineers and I was a biologist. It was very challenging working in that environment. Not that they were unfriendly or anything along those lines, but it was more my personal sense of feeling inadequate; not smart enough, not at the level that they all were. And in a job that was very different from anything I had done before, so it was tough to build up the confidence to be able to do what I needed to do. I think with time and working on projects and directly with clients really helped me grow in confidence that I really could do what I was there to do and could do the job effectively.” 

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Smith-Willis: “I think the biggest challenge I have faced is ‘Black fatigue.’ I recently just learned about the term but man, is it real. It’s the exhaustion born of ‘the day-to-day small acts of aggression or small acts of disrespect’ a Black person endures; the endless need to prove your worth; and the constant exposure to news about injustice and violence being inflicted on people who look like you. I have been discouraged, depressed, traumatized, disrespected and a slew of other things. My biggest challenge has been overcoming Black fatigue and figuring out how to handle it. So far, I have learned retreats are essential in this work. It does not have to be the ideal retreat everyone thinks of, but a simple moment out of the day for myself. Just to breathe and become grounded.” 

Aubrey: “The biggest challenge has been being a woman in a ‘man’s field.’ There will always be doubters and those that think you can’t do it or should be held to a different standard. As long as you believe in yourself and work hard, there is no challenge you can’t overcome.”  

Hagg: “You have to constantly adapt and adjust. If this one way of doing things won’t work, you have to adapt. You can’t be fixated. If you have an important goal or a great idea, you can’t sit there and say, ‘it has to be this way.’ There’s a lot of different ways to achieve that goal. I was working in Tunisia with a State Department-funded nonprofit, and we were asked by the office of Tunisia’s then-president to organize a national youth congress. We jumped into action to help engage people and supported other nonprofits. Over the course of a year, the prime minister changed, the government official we worked with directly was pushed out, and we had entirely new points of contact. We had to rush in and start everything over. Explaining that to donors, the State Department and people we worked with who all said ‘but we thought it was going to be THIS way.’ Well, now things have to change, and we have to adapt. If we couldn’t adapt, we would’ve just rolled over and said, ‘we’re done.’ You have to be flexible with your approach, but you can’t be flexible on your core values. You must hold true to your important values every day. How you treat people.” 

What piece of advice would you give to young women? 

Smith-Willis: “The piece of advice I would give to other young women is the advice that I always ignored — KNOW YOUR WORTH, ADD TAX! Never sell yourself short, because at that point, you’re cheating yourself. Take time to learn, know and grow for YOU. The rest will come. I am a 90s baby, but I always say I was born in the wrong generation. I listen to old school rap most of the time, and I listen to Huey P. Newton in the car on the way to everyday locations. Two quotes, words of wisdom I follow from each: 

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‘I think I’m a natural-born leader. I know how to bow down to authority if it’s authority that I respect.’ — Tupac Shakur 

‘The task is to transform society; only the people can do that — not heroes, not celebrities, not stars.’ — Huey P. Newton” 

Hagg: “No matter what, you always have to be YOU. Stay true to who you are and be passionate. If you would like to see the results of your work, go into local government. If you want to make positive change, you have to be hands-on and be in your community. If you want to get involved in government, you must remember that at the end of the day, democracy must deliver.” 

Aubrey: “Know that you are worthy of whatever goals you choose to achieve. Never take a backseat to anyone and always, always stand up for yourself and your rights. You deserve to achieve all things.”  

Antenucci: “If you have a passion, pursue it, and do the best you can. Try to be open-minded and flexible, because there are lots of changes every day in the work environment, and you have to be able to roll with it and not be rigid. Black and white thinking doesn’t really work.”

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