23 Mar Whatever You Choose To Do, Leave Tracks – These Women Have
Happy Women’s History Month!
IMLA is MARCHing its way through U.S. Women’s History Month. We would like to recognize and celebrate the women of our membership, who were nominated by their peers for their extraordinary work in local government. IMLA continues its mission to maintain intentional efforts to provide helpful resources for initiatives related to diversity, equity, and/or inclusion. March is a reminder that women have and still face adversity (in employment, law, healthcare, etc.) as a single class or under multiple protected classes, such as race, ethnics background, with disabilities, LGBTQIA+. It is no surprise that the nominees below serve as powerful examples in local government. We are proud to call them our fellow members.
Barbara A. Adams
General Counsel, Illinois Local Government Lawyers’ Association (ILGL)
Barbara A. Adams focuses her practice on representing cities and villages and other local governments and governmental agencies in a variety of areas of law. She also represents private parties in matters dealing with units of government. Barb has extensive experience in areas of law including open meetings and freedom of information, land use and zoning, intergovernmental cooperation, water law, public utility law, public procurement and contracting, construction, public finance, cable television and telecommunications facilities, real estate acquisition and taxation, public pension law, personnel and employment, and administrative law.
Barb serves as General Counsel to the Illinois Local Government Lawyers’ Association (ILGL). She has served as general counsel and special counsel to a variety of Illinois cities, villages, and counties, as well as special purpose units of local government such as water commissions, forest preserve districts, libraries and public pension funds. She also acts as special counsel to counties, a regional development authority, and the Illinois Finance Authority on conduit bond issues. She has worked with a variety of government clients on matters involving public water supply and water system issues as well as regional cooperation in connection with access to and use of public water supplies.
Barb currently serves as IMLA’s President, having previously served as Treasurer and a member of the Board of Directors. Barb has been recognized by her peers as a Best Lawyer in America© in both Municipal Law and Governmental Relations Law and has been recognized in the Illinois Superlawyers® Magazine in Government Law. She also has been elected as a member of the land economics honor society known as Lambda Alpha International, and has been a member since 2010.
Barb received her J.D. from Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, and her B.A cum laude from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Associate, Weiss Serota Helfman Cole Bierman
Chanae L. Wood is a municipal and land use attorney with a particular interest in issues dealing with First Amendment, medical marijuana and hemp laws. Chanae counsel clients on compliance with public records, sunshine law and ethics, and matters dealing with comprehensive planning, general municipal, procurement, utilities, administrative, and constitutional law. Chanae serves as the Chair of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Program Committee. A magna cum laude graduate of St. Thomas University School of Law, Chanae clerked for the Honorable Judge Marcia G. Cooke in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. During law school, she was selected as the first black Editor-in-Chief of the St. Thomas Law Review. Her article, “Black and Poor: The Grave Consequences of Utah v. Strieff,” was published in the Review’s “Voice of the Voiceless” Anniversary Issue. As a trial team member, Chanae competed in the 2018 ABA Labor and Employment National Trial Competition. She and her teammates were named National Champions — beating teams from UC Hastings College of Law and Harvard Law School. She also served as President of the Black Law Students Association, during which time the organization was bestowed the coveted Student Organization of the Year Award.
Prior to law school, Chanae worked for Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara J. Jordan as a Commission aide and for Florida State Senator Oscar Braynon, II as a legislative aide. She also interned for Congresswoman Federica Wilson in Washington D.C.
Assistant City Attorney, North Las Vegas, Nevada
Claudia Aguayo, Esq. is the Assistant City Attorney for the City of North Las Vegas, where she provides general counsel support to City policymakers and leaders. Her primary area of practice is labor and employment law. Aguayo graduated from the University of California, Davis, King Hall School of Law, and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Nevada, Reno. Before joining the City in 2004, Aguayo worked as a Deputy District Attorney for Sacramento County and as an Associate with the law firm of Porter, Scott, Weiberg and Delehant in Sacramento, CA. She has also worked as an Adjunct Professor for the College of Southern Nevada. Aguayo is the 2021 President of the Nevada Latino Bar Association. She also volunteers her time to serve as a pro bono attorney for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada’s Children’s Attorney Project and as a mentor for the UNLV Boyd School of Law La Voz Huellas Mentorship program. Her hobbies include travel and reading.
Dr. Danielle Walker
Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Administrator, Denver, Colorado
Dr. Danielle Walker (she/her) is the proud great-granddaughter of survivors of U.S. chattel slavery. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Colorado-Denver in the School of Education and Human Development. She achieved her Master’s degree at the University of Missouri in Public Affairs and Policy, focused on racial equity. Dr. Walker’s education background is grounded and centers equity from an intersectional social justice lens to address interlocking and intersectional systems of oppression. Her professional and educational background is rooted in not only understanding the sociopolitical histories of power, privilege, and oppression but, more importantly, how to disinvest, disrupt, and dismantle these interlocking and intersectional components of white supremacy.
Dr. Walker has an extensive equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) leadership background within organizational dynamics and organizational culture development. Her approach is grounded in listening, learning, and leading by example. Dr. Walker has had the pleasure of working with the intentionally underserved, underrepresented, and many other marginalized populations at the Federal, State, and Local levels to develop EDI initiatives for staff, students, and all pertinent stakeholders through research, trainings, and peer industry collaborations. Dr. Walker has several years of experience leading teams that worked with dominant/privileged groups around topics such as white privilege, white fragility, implicit biases, racial microaggressions, anti-racism, allyship, and leading conversations that explore epistemological perceptions of identities, values, and beliefs. Dr. Walker has facilitated hundreds of sessions, programs, online learning modules, forums, developed trainings and taught classes that provided foundational understandings of social justice, whiteness, racism, and racial equity in state and local governments, education, communities, and within organizations.
Dr. Walker, in her free time, leads an active lifestyle with her family. That encompasses kayaking at any of the many beautiful lakes here in Colorado, playing tennis, or exploring a new hiking trail. Dr. Walker and her family also enjoy traveling internationally with the goal to visit every country in the world. She also has a deep passion for chocolate chips cookies!
Deanne R. Durfee
Director, Municipal Operations, Denver City Attorney’s Office, Denver, Colorado
Deanne R. Durfee has been practicing law for over 30 years, primarily in the area of municipal law. While she has worked for different municipalities in the Denver metropolitan area, Ms. Durfee has been with the Denver City Attorney’s office for the last 14 years. Ms. Durfee’s practice at Denver began handling construction and design contracts for the City and providing legal services to the City’s minority and women business enterprise program. Currently Ms. Durfee is the Director of the Municipal Operations Section of the Denver City Attorney’s Office, which provides in-house counsel services to Denver agencies and elected officials on general advice, contracts, finance, land use, real property, tax, eminent domain, and commercial litigation.
Ms. Durfee graduated from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law in 1987.
Deputy City Attorney, Austin, Texas
Deborah Thomas has been with the City of Austin Law Department for 28 years. She has been a part of the management structure of the department for 15 years and currently serves as the Deputy City Attorney. Deborah’s areas of expertise are municipal and land use law. She works closely with the City’s planning, development, environmental, transportation, parks, and housing departments. Prior to working for the City of Austin, Deborah worked as a hearings officer for the State of Texas environmental agency.
Deborah received her law degree from the University of Houston Law Center. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Planning and Administration from the Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree in Health Administration from the University of Texas School of Public Health.
Deborah has been married for 30 years and has two children.
City Solicitor, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Diana Cortes is the City Solicitor, the City of Philadelphia’s chief legal officer. She was appointed by the Mayor on December 11, 2020. She serves as general counsel to the Mayor and his Administration, City Council, and all City departments, agencies, boards, and commissions. She manages the City’s Law Department, which employs over 215 lawyers and over 100 professional staff. The Law Department’s diverse legal practice covers federal, state, and local agency litigation, commercial and real estate transactions, tax, regulatory law, social services, and legislation.
Prior to joining the Law Department, Diana was a litigator at Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. in its Professional Liability Department. She represented municipalities, school districts, and police officers in civil rights litigation involving excessive force, wrongful arrest, due process violations, and malicious prosecution, among other matters.
Prior to Marshall Dennehey, she was an assistant district attorney for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, where she tried felony jury trials. She also worked in the Juvenile Division of the District Attorney’s Office, where she worked with juvenile victims of sex crimes in testifying against their adult perpetrators. Before the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, Diana was an attorney at Morgan Lewis & Bockius, LLP in its Litigation Department. There, her practice included a wide range of commercial litigation and white-collar criminal defense matters.
Diana began her legal career as a law clerk for the Honorable Juan R. Sánchez of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of Villanova University School of Law and Cornell University.
Diana is a member of the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group. She is also fluent in Spanish.
Elsa I. Jaramillo-Velez
Human Resources Director, Hialeah, Florida
Elsa I. Jaramillo-Velez has been working in the public sector for over 20 years. Currently, Mrs. Jaramillo-Velez is the Human Resources Director at the City of Hialeah – the sixth largest City in the State of Florida, 2nd largest municipality in Miami-Dade County. She previously served for 3 years as an Assistant City Attorney at the Law Department specializing in labor and employment which involved union negotiations and contracts, grievances and arbitrations, disability retirement benefits, FMLA, ADA, USERRA, FLSA, EEOC allegations of discrimination based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and other state and federal laws. She also handled other aspects of local government – such as procurement, contract-administration, Grants, Emergency Management, garnishment, and forfeitures.
Prior to being employed at the City of Hialeah, Ms. Jaramillo-Velez was the Director of Human Resources and Risk Management at the City of North Miami Beach. She served for nearly 7 years as the Director of Human Resources at the City of Coral Gables. Mrs. Jaramillo-Velez also worked at the City of Miami as the Interim Director/Deputy Director in the Department of Employee Relations. While at the City of Miami (serving over 10 years), Mrs. Jaramillo-Velez also served as an Assistant City Attorney in the City Attorney’s Office assigned to the Employment & Land Use Divisions.
In her capacity as an Attorney and Human Resources professional, she works closely with the Mayor or City Manager (depending on governmental structure) regarding all aspects of labor and employment/personnel matters. She has served as the City’s representative before the Personnel/Civil Service Board and before arbitrators handling employment disciplines and grievances. She has also served as counsel/member for various boards/committees, including the Coral Gables Retirement/Pension Board and the City of Miami Coconut Grove Business Improvement Committee, the Historic Environmental Preservation Board, the Plat & Street Committee and the Urban Development & Review Board.
Mrs. Jaramillo-Velez has a law degree from the University of Florida, College of Law, and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Florida International University. She is a member in good standing of the Florida Bar. She also served since 2013 as an adjunct professor at FIU, teaching Human Resources Management & Policy in the MPA Program as well as Collective Bargaining in the Public Sector in the EMPA Program. Currently, Mrs. Jaramillo-Velez is a member of the International Municipal Law Association (IMLA) and serves as a member of the FIU MPA Advisory Board.
City Attorney, El Paso, Texas
Karla Nieman currently serves as the City of El Paso’s City Attorney. Although born in Chihuahua, Mexico, El Paso has been her home since the age of five. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and Indiana University Maurer School of Law. Karla has been practicing law for seventeen years, she has focused her practice in the area of municipal law at the City Attorney’s Office in El Paso for the last 15 years. During her time with the City of El Paso she has represented the City in variety of lawsuits including property rights and civil rights cases. Her true passion is in land-use law particularly economic development and zoning issues. She is married and has two young children.
Assistant Director, Municipal Operations, Denver, Colorado
Kwali Farbes joined the Denver City Attorney’s Office in 2015 as a Senior Assistant City Attorney and represented the Denver Economic Development Opportunity (formerly known as the Office of Economic Development) and Denver Arts and Venues. In 2018, Kwali was promoted to an Assistant Director in the Municipal Operations Section. Now, in addition to assisting with the leadership and management of the Section, she oversees the contracting function of the office and provides legal advice to client agencies throughout the City. In the summer of 2020, she led the development and implementation of the Municipal Operations Equity, Race, and Social Justice Program.
Prior to joining the City, Kwali spent ten years in private practice with a focus on public finance, assisting governmental entities and nonprofits with financing significant capital improvements. She continues to advise the Department of Finance on finance related matters, including the Elevate Denver and RISE General Obligation Bond Programs.
Kwali was honored to be included in the Denver Business Journal’s 2009 Forty under 40 class. Kwali graduated from CU Law School in 2005 after receiving a M.A. in Folklore and Folklife and completing her PhD coursework from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in Anthropology from Yale University. Prior to attending graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, Kwali worked in the Anthropology Department at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Executive Director, State and Local Legal Center (SLLC)
Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC). In this role, Lisa files amicus curiae briefs to the United States Supreme Court on behalf of members of the Big Seven (National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, Council of State Governments, National League of Cities, United States Conference of Mayors, National Association of Counties, and International City/County Management Association) in cases affecting state and local government. Prior to joining the SLLC, Lisa worked for the National School Boards Association, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, and clerked for the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. She earned her J.D. at the University of Wisconsin Law School and is a graduate of Central Michigan University.
Lorelei (Lori) Lein
General Counsel, Alabama League of Municipalities (ALM)
Lori Lein joined ALM’s legal department in 2001, bringing with her a solid background in local government issues after practicing law in Montgomery, Alabama, where her primary clients were county officials. In addition, she gained in-depth experience working with the state legislature while serving as a legislative analyst for the Alabama Legislative Reference Service where she focused primarily on local government issues. As ALM’s general counsel, Lori is responsible for advising municipal officials and employees from over 450 member cities and towns on all aspects of municipal law. She also works closely with the ALM advocacy team on state and federal legislation and is a frequent speaker on issues relating to municipal law in Alabama.
Originally from Las Cruces, New Mexico, Lori received a Bachelor of Science degree from Auburn University’s College of Engineering in Textile Management and Technology and returned to New Mexico to earn her law degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law. She is licensed to practice law in Alabama, New Mexico and Colorado.
Lori and her husband, Greg, Director of Alabama State Parks and chief honey bee farmer for Bee Lein Farms, are the proud parents of Brennan Lein. They reside in Montgomery but spend as much time as possible hiking, camping, canoeing and enjoying the outdoors.
Lori Grigg Bluhm
City Attorney, Troy, Michigan
Lori Grigg Bluhm has served as the Troy Michigan City Attorney since 2001. She is the President-Elect of the International Municipal Lawyers Association, a Council Member of the Government Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan (Past Chair), a former President and board member the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys, a Past Chair of the Oakland County Bar Association’s Municipal Law Committee, and also serves on other non-profit boards. She has been designated as an IMLA Local Government Fellow, American Bar Association Fellow, Oakland County Bar Association Fellow, and has been inducted in the MAMA Academy of Municipal Attorneys. She has practiced municipal law exclusively for over 26 years.
Mary Josephine Markle
Divisional Deputy City Solicitor, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
“MJ leads her team with humility, sensitivity and with a focus on inclusivity. A thoughtful and supportive leader, MJ facilitates skill development in her team by encouraging them to take on projects that increase their visibility within the Law Department and highlight each member’s expertise.” – Tianna Kalogerakis
Mary Josephine Markle attended Brown University, where she was a member of the women’s soccer team, served on the Student Athletic Advisory Board and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Theory. Upon graduation, MJ served two years in the National Civilian Community Corps, an AmeriCorps program that performed team-based community service projects through the southeastern United States. After working as a staffer for a Portland City Council member for two years, MJ returned to school and earned her juris doctorate from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.
She joined the Philadelphia Law Department in 2014, providing counsel to the Water Department for four years before shifting to the Real Estate and Development Unit where she currently manages a division of attorneys, providing all necessary support to them as they guide City Departments in their respective real estate dealings.
She enjoys hiking and spending time with her partner and young son. She is also a board member of the Clean Air Council.
City Counselor, Columbia, Missouri
Nancy Thompson has been the chief legal counsel for the city of Columbia, Missouri since 2013. She has practiced exclusively in the field of municipal and public sector law since 1987, representing numerous villages and cities in the state of Missouri, including prior service as the in-house counsel for the cities of Gladstone, Raytown and Riverside.
Nancy is a past president of the Missouri Municipal Attorneys Association and currently serves on the board of directors for the International Municipal Lawyer’s Association.
Nancy is a Missouri Municipal Governance Institute Fellow and recipient of the Lou Czech Award, which is the highest award presented annually by the Missouri Municipal Attorneys Association to an individual displaying high standards of accomplishment, professionalism, and ethical conduct in the field of municipal law.
She is a frequent presenter on ethics and local government law to attorneys and elected officials across the state of Missouri.
City Attorney, Avondale, Arizona
“Nicholle, has represented cities both in private practice and now as city attorney in Avondale. Representing cities in private practice is not easy, as many cities are small and rural. However, Nicholle developed an outstanding reputation in helping those communities, such as Winslow a small city in Northern Arizona. As City Attorney in Avondale, she started having to rebuild a city attorney’s office after the City Attorney and Senior Paralegal left the City. She has created a high performing office with diverse talent. Further, she has earned the confidence and respect of her elected officials who rely on her advice and counsel. Having served in a number of jurisdictions as the Chief Legal Officer, I have seen city attorneys who are leaders in our profession as well as others who are not. Nicholle has become a leader in our profession in Arizona and is an outstanding example to the upcoming generation of young students of color as to what they can accomplish and aspire to. I strongly request that you recognize her achievements in our profession.” – Stephen Kemp, Assistant City Attorney, City of Avondale
Nicholle Harris serves as the City Attorney for the City of Avondale, Arizona, handling all legal matters for the City. Prior to joining the City of Avondale, she was a partner at Gust Rosenfeld, PLC and also served as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Arizona. She has a broad range of experience in municipal law and has special expertise in procurement law and public records law. Ms. Harris has been recognized by Attorney at Law Magazine as the “February 2019 Attorney of the Month, the Arizona Business Magazine as one of the “2016 Most Influential Women in Arizona Business” and as one of the “2016 Top Minority Business Leaders.”
Chair, Social Services, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
As chair of the Social Services Group, Nicolette Burgess-Bolden oversees the following units: Child Welfare, Health & Adult Services, and HIPAA & Privacy Law. Nicolette began her career at the Law Department in April 2001, as an assistant city solicitor at the former Health and Human Services Unit, where she litigated child abuse and neglect cases and appeared in mental health hearings. She was later promoted to deputy city solicitor, divisional deputy city solicitor, and preceding her appointment as chair of the Social Services Law Group, Nicolette served as the inaugural chief of administration and specialty practice since September 2017 with the restructuring and expansion of the Child Welfare Unit. During her 19-year tenure of public service at the City of Philadelphia Law Department, Nicolette had the honor and privilege of serving the city’s most vulnerable population—the youth at risk of abuse, neglect, and delinquency—as a member of the Child Welfare Unit. Prior to joining the Law Department, Nicolette was an associate with the Law Office of Leon W. Tucker, Esquire where she specialized in trial advocacy and plaintiff and defense civil litigation. Nicolette is a graduate of Spelman College and North Carolina Central University School of Law.
City Attorney, Atlanta, Georgia
Attorney Nina R. Hickson, City Attorney for the city of Atlanta, is the chief legal officer for the local municipality of almost 500,000 residents. Immediately prior to her appointment in August of 2018, she served as Vice President and General Counsel for The Atlanta BeltLine Inc., the most comprehensive transportation and economic development revitalization effort undertaken by the City of Atlanta, expected to result in more than $10 billion in economic development. Prior to assuming this role, she served as the Ethics Officer for the City of Atlanta from 2012 until April of 2016. In this role she was responsible for educating all city officials and employees of the requirements for conducting city business in compliance with the City’s Code of Ethics. She also oversaw the City’s financial disclosure process and prosecuted violations of the Ethics Code.
Immediately prior to this appointment, Attorney Hickson served as Interim City Manager for the East Point, Georgia, where she had been the City Attorney for six years. She was appointed October 17, 2005 by the Mayor and City Council of this city of 40,000 residents. Her broad range of skills and effectiveness led her to serving as Acting Human Resources Director as well as Acting City Manager in the absence of these officials. Prior to assuming the role of City Attorney for East Point, Attorney Hickson was the inaugural Chief Assistant Public Defender for the Atlantic Judicial Circuit and Director of the Juvenile Division of the office which provided indigent defense for citizens in six counties in southeast Georgia. In May of 1999, the Honorable Nina R. Hickson was appointed as Judge to the Fulton County Juvenile Court, where she served from 2002-2004 as its Chief Presiding Judge. At that time, the Court had the largest juvenile court caseload in the state of Georgia.
During the Georgia General Assembly’s 2001 session, she was a key proponent of legislation which made the pimping of minors a felony offense under Georgia law. Prior to March of 2001, the offense was a misdemeanor. Her public stance on this issue was also instrumental in the indictment and eventual federal prosecution of 15 of the most notorious pimps in Fulton County under the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) statute, the first such prosecution in the nation. Additionally, her fervent public education effort on the tragedy of child prostitution was also crucial to the establishment of “Angela’s House,” a safe house for girls who have been sexually-exploited.
Before her judicial appointment in May of 1999, Judge Hickson practiced law in a variety of capacities including Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, General Counsel for the Atlanta Housing Authority, General Counsel and Vice President for Atlanta Life Insurance Company, the first African American female Vice President and Associate General Counsel to Primerica Financial Services, a subsidiary of the Citigroup Corporation. She also was an Adjunct Professor at Emory University School of Law from 1992 through 1997.
Her extensive community involvements have included the membership on the former Aid to Children of Imprisoned Mothers Board of Directors, the Georgia Court Appointed Special Advocates Program Board, the Georgia Board for the Covenant House, the Community Advisory Board of the Atlanta Junior League, the Board of Metropolitan Atlanta Boys and Girls Club, and the Advisory Board to the Sister-to-Sister mentoring program which she helped initiate with the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys and first-time juvenile female offenders. She is a member of the 2004 class of Leadership Atlanta.She is a member of the Buckhead/Cascade City Chapter of The Links Incorporated and the Atlanta Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Her commitment to community service has resulted in her receiving numerous awards including the Big Voice for Children Award, the Pearl Award, the Mary Drake Human Rights Award, Outstanding Legal Advocacy Award from the National Association of Counsel for Children; the inaugural Vision in Action award from the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention; Romae T. Powell Award from the Georgia Association of Independent Juvenile Courts; the Delta Torch Award from the Atlanta Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Citizen of the Year from the Citizens for Community Values.
In addition to being a public speaker on issues of juvenile justice and child welfare, she was a presenter at the White House Conference on Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children. Her television appearances have included 20/20 Primetime, the Oprah Winfrey Show, Pure Oxygen and CNN’s Talk Back Live.
She received her Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, in Journalism from Howard University in Washington, D.C. and her Doctor of Law degree from Emory University of Atlanta.
Patricia (Trish) Link
IMLA’s Code Enforcement Section Chair
Assistant City Attorney, Austin, Texas
Before practicing law in Austin, Trish Link received a Bachelor of Arts from Louisiana State University and received her law degree from Texas Tech University. After law school, Trish worked for the Texas Workforce Commission and Office of the Attorney General. She started with the City of Austin Law Department in 2005 as a municipal court prosecutor and since that time has worked in the Litigation, Land Use-Real Estate, General Counsel, and Municipal Operations divisions. Trish was designated an IMLA Fellow in 2020. Currently, she is the Division Chief for the Law Department’s Land Use and Real Estate Division and the Chair of IMLA’s Code Enforcement Section.
Chief of the Special Federal Litigation Division, New York City, New York
Patricia Miller is the Chief of the Special Federal Litigation Division of the New York City Law Department. Special Fed is responsible for the defense of NYC law enforcement personnel in Federal Civil Rights actions in the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York. Prior to her appointment as Chief, Ms. Miller served as the Deputy Chief of Trials for the Special Fed Division. Ms. Miller was also a trial supervisor and senior trial attorney for the Labor and Employment Division of the Law Department. She has tried to verdict more than 60 cases in federal court and supervised dozens more. Ms. Miller was named Top Women in Law 2016 by the New York Law Journal; is a 2017 recipient of the New York State Bar Association Shira Scheindlin Award for Excellence in the Courtroom; and is the 2020 recipient of International Municipal Lawyers Association’s Charles S. Rhyne Lifetime Achievement in Municipal Law Award.
Before joining the Law Department, Ms. Miller clerked for William M. Acker, former U.S. District Judge for Northern District of Alabama, and was an associate at Cahill Gordon & Reindel. She is also an adjunct professor at Fordham University School of Law teaching Fundamental Lawyering Skills; and has served on the faculty of Cardozo Law School’s Intensive Trial Advocacy Program and the Law Department’s NITA program.
Ms. Miller completed her undergraduate work at Fordham University and obtained her law degree from William and Mary in Virginia where she was a member of the Law Review Executive Staff. She has served as chair of the Law Department’s Committee on Diversity Recruitment and Retention, the first member of the LGBT Community to hold that position, and is the 2013 recipient of the Jane M. Bolin Diversity in Leadership Award. Ms. Miller is also the co-Chair of the Federal Bar Council Diversity Committee; a member of the Federal Bar Council Second Circuit Committee; and a member of the FBC Board of Trustees.
Ms. Miller has spoken many times at IMLA conferences; has spoken on a number of FBC panels; has provided trial training programs for the office of the Honolulu Corporation Counsel in Hawai’i; and was the keynote speaker at the Kansas Association of Defense Counsel 2018 Conference.
Chair, Litigation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
As Chair of the Litigation Group, Renee Garcia oversees litigation matters and supervises the following litigation units: Appeals, Affirmative & Special Litigation, Civil Rights, Tort Litigation, Code & Public Nuisance Litigation, and Labor & Employment. Prior to joining the Law Department, Renee served as managing senior counsel at PNC Bank, overseeing litigation and escalated customer complaints arising from the bank’s consumer products, as well as directly managing litigation related to PNC’s wealth management services. At PNC, she also chaired the PNC Legal Pro Bono Committee. Renee has personally provided pro bono legal services through the SeniorLAW Center, the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, Support Center for Child Advocates, and the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, among others.
Prior to relocating to Philadelphia, Renee was an associate at the law firm Hogan Lovells US LLP with a focus on financial services litigation. Renee received her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2008 and her B.A. from Barnard College, Columbia University in 2003.
She is on the board of the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania and arts nonprofit Intercultural Journeys, and previously served as a director on the boards of Community Legal Services/Philadelphia Legal Assistance.
Renee is the recipient of the 2020 AL DÍA Top In-House Lawyer Award; the 2017 PNC Market All-Star Award; the 2017 Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, Young Hispanic Corporate Achiever Award; and the 2015 Rising Star Corporate Counsel Award from the Philadelphia Business Journal. She is also a Fellow, Pathfinder, and a Mentor with the Leadership Counsel on Legal Diversity.
Rhiann Jarvis Denman
Senior Deputy City Attorney, North Las Vegas, Las Vegas
Rhiann Jarvis Denman is a Senior Deputy City Attorney with the Civil Division of the North Las Vegas City Attorney’s Office. She handles various legal matters for all city departments including procurements and real property transactions, various contracts for all City departments, policy drafting, ordinance drafting, government affairs, public records, civil litigation, regulatory compliance, and some criminal law. Rhiann received her Juris Doctor from the William S. Boyd School of Law at UNLV in 2014. She began her legal career at a small civil litigation firm where she practiced primarily in insurance defense litigation. She began working for the North Las Vegas City Attorney’s Office in August of 2016. Rhiann also volunteers as a pro bono attorney for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada’s Children’s Attorney Project. She is married and has two young children with a third on the way.
Rita McNeil Danish
Founder, CEO, and Principal of JD2 Strategists, LLC
Partner and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Business Partner at Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP
A highly accomplished attorney, transformational leader, and community changemaker, Rita McNeil Danish possesses more than 30 years of professional legal experience across a range of industries and business sectors. In her roles as partner and consultant, Rita is especially skilled at fostering intercultural interactions that embrace and celebrate diversity, equity, and inclusion, resulting in communities that are both empowered and strengthened. Leveraging her breadth and depth of insights into municipal and government law, she has a proven history of building bridges across party, racial, and gender lines, fostering open cultures, dismantling prejudices, and empowering individuals to uniquely contribute to society.
Rita’s work is that of passion and history. Her mother, an English professor, and her father, a Chicago criminal defense attorney and civil rights leader, established a foundation committed to community, advocacy, and justice and that fueled Rita’s pursuit of law. She earned her Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from Howard University and her Juris Doctor from The Ohio State University College of Law. Her law career began at Schottenstein, Zox and Dunn (now Ice Miller) before she moved to the Governor’s office as Assistant Deputy Legal Counsel. She then transitioned to the Ohio Department of Commerce as Chief Legal Counsel & Acting Superintendent of the Division of Real Estate, a role in which she thrived.
In 1994, Rita served as Magistrate of Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic & Juvenile Division before she was later invited by the Attorney General to serve the Ohio AG’s Civil Rights Section as Section Chief. In 1998, she moved to the City of Dayton as City Attorney & Director of Law where she began her work forging positive relationships with police. This work proved pivotal when, in 2002, she moved to the City of Cincinnati, one of the world’s top five most competitive cities, to serve as the City Solicitor. There she negotiated and implemented one of the nation’s landmark and most notable memorandum of agreements with the Department of Justice, delivering critical police reform.
In 2008, Rita transitioned to Vice President for Government Affairs for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, and in 2010 she was recruited to the City of Greensboro to serve as the City Attorney. In 2014, she was appointed by then-Governor John Kasich to serve as a Judge in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Domestic & Juvenile Division.
Throughout her career, Rita has worked as Of Counsel & Associate with Crabbe, Brown & James where she transformed the culture to better encompass DEI. Additionally, Rita serves clients as the Founder, CEO, and Principal of JD2 Strategists, LLC, and she is currently a Partner and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Business Partner at Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP. In both roles, she diligently supports and provides counsel to small, minority- and women-owned businesses. Through collaboration and communication, Rita engages elected officials, state legislators, community stakeholders, and business leaders to find a foundation of unity on which to build systems that deliver safer communities with justice for all.
While Rita’s professional contributions to DEI, MWBE, and community advocacy are prolific and significant, she is equally adept at combining her legal acumen, budgetary leadership, and business management to deliver strategies and vision that transform businesses. This unique set of skills is why often she is sought after to contribute to boards including her recent 5-year term appointment on the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. Additionally, she serves the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and the National Civic League, and she is the Chair of the Public Contracting Committee of the ABA Section of State and Local Government Law and the National Board Chair for Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD).
Rita’s work includes publications that highlight municipal law and the government’s potential to provide constituents with economic equality for all. Licensed in Ohio, Illinois, and the United States Supreme Court, Rita’s vast experiences have generated recognition from Columbus Monthly where she was the cover feature and she was a Best Lawyers in America Honoree.
Roberta “Robin” Cross
IMLA’s Personnel Section Chair
Senior Attorney, Messer Fort & McDonald
Robin Cross has over twenty years’ experience advising and representing local governments and was recognized as an IMLA Fellow in 2013. She has worked as in-house counsel for a statewide police labor union and as a trial attorney for the EEOC. She is licensed to practice in Texas and is admitted to all of its federal courts, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. She is Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She has served as President of IMLA’s Personnel Section since 2018, which led to her being awarded the William I. Thornton, Jr. IMLA Faculty Award in 2021.
City Solicitor, Wheeling, West Virginia
Rosemary Humway-Warmuth serves as the City Solicitor for the City of Wheeling, West Virginia and is in her 25th year of municipal public service. She has served as the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA) State Chairperson for West Virginia and has repeatedly received certification as a Municipal Law Fellow signifying legal expertise in local government practice. She was also previously appointed to the Policy Advisory Committee of the IMLA and to the IMLA National Board of Directors. She has been elected to Secretary-Treasurer, which places her in the position of succession to the Presidency of the IMLA in the fall of 2023.
She has served as a member of the Municipal League of West Virginia’s Legislative Review Committee, consistently working with the State League on legislative municipal issues including, but not limited to, the revising of state statutes for eminent domain actions, annexation, service fees, liens and dilapidated properties, home rule, etc. -whatever appears to be a topic for yearly legislative action of municipal interest, and has worked with the Legal staff of the WV Office of the Governor and the Municipal League on crafting four House Bills, which resulted in or improved current legislation including, but not limited to such issues as: 1) Vacant and Dilapidated Structure Registration; 2) streamlining and reducing business licensing categories; 3) fire debris removal liens on insurance proceeds; 4) revision to eminent domain statutes; and 5) Pilot Home Rule implementation and statutory revisions thereto.
She is the President of the State of West Virginia Municipal Attorney’s Association and a member of the local county bar, sits as a member of its Board of Directors, member of the West Virginia Bar Association, it’s Association’s Government Lawyers Committee and the American Bar Association. She lives in Wheeling, WV with her husband, Brian, and enjoys competitive cooking and has won numerous awards, including the International Chili Society Cook-Offs and Pillsbury Bake-Offs.
Sharae Bassett Reed
City Attorney, Beaumont, Texas
Sharae Bassett Reed is a Beaumont native. Reed graduated from West Brook Senior High and went on to attend Lamar University; where she obtained her Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Management and Marketing. Reed left Beaumont to attend Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, Texas. Upon graduation she returned to Beaumont to join the City of Beaumont legal team as an Assistant City Attorney.
In December 2021, Reed was appointed as the first female City Attorney for the City of Beaumont. She assumed the position on January 10, 2022, on her 11th Anniversary with the City. Reed’s legal experience with the City ranges from Municipal Court prosecution to advocating at the Federal, Texas and United States Supreme Court level.
Reed is a 2014 Forty Under Forty of Southeast Texas Most Successful Individuals recipient, and 2016 Leadership Beaumont graduate. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., The Golden Triangle Chapter of the Links Inc., and of several other civic and professional groups, in where she holds leadership positions. Reed is faithful a member of Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church in Beaumont. Reed is a retired “Basketball Mom.” In her spare time she enjoys traveling, eating good food, and shopping with her daughter, Madison.
Shauna R. Billingsley
City Attorney, Franklin, Tennessee
Shauna R. Billingsley is the City Attorney for the City of Franklin and has served in that capacity since her appointment in February 2010. Ms. Billingsley has worked for the City since 2007, when she was hired as Assistant City Attorney, and served in the capacity of Interim City Attorney from January 2008 until her appointment to City Attorney. Ms. Billingsley has also worked for the State of Tennessee, Department of Commerce and Insurance and prior to that she practiced law in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas area focusing primarily on business litigation and family law issues. Ms. Billingsley is a native of Johnson City, Tennessee. Ms. Billingsley graduated from Texas A&M University School of Law in May 2003 and is licensed to practiced law in Tennessee and Texas. She serves as the Secretary to the Tennessee Bar Association House of Delegates and previously served as the 21st District Delegate.
She serves on the Board of Directors for the International Municipal Lawyers Association and was recently named an IMLA Fellow. She has chaired of the Tennessee Bar Association Public Education Committee and the Local Government Section. She served as the District 11 Representative to the Tennessee Bar Association Young Lawyers Division from 2011-2015. She is an active member of the Franklin Rotary at Breakfast where she served as President in 2012-2013. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the Nashville Children’s Theater. She is an alumnus of the Tennessee Bar Association Leadership Law and Leadership Franklin. She is a member of the Tennessee Bar Association, Tennessee Bar Association Fellows, Texas Bar Association, American Bar Association, American Bar Association Fellows, Williamson County Bar Association (where she served as president), Nashville Bar Association, Tennessee Municipal Attorney Association, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association.
Susana Alcala Wood
City Attorney, Sacramento, California
Susana Alcala Wood was appointed City Attorney on March 19, 2018. An attorney specializing in Municipal law, Susana has worked for multiple cities throughout California. Susana previously worked for the City of Sacramento as a Supervising Deputy City Attorney from April 2001 to June 2006 where she supervised the Code Enforcement Section, and the Advisory Section. As the Code Enforcement Supervisor, Susana directed a team of 5 lawyers and 4 support staff and spearheaded all code enforcement, criminal prosecutions, blight, and nuisance abatement activities for the Office. She advised and trained all city enforcement staff on strategies, code compliance, and administrative abatement procedures, as well as overseeing and working on the City’s first gang abatement action civil injunction. Susana also transferred to the Advisory Section where she oversaw and directed the work of the advisory lawyers that provided general governmental advice to all City Departments. Prior to returning to the City of Sacramento in March, Susana served as the Assistant City Attorney for the City of Stockton from November 2013 to March 2018, where her responsibilities included serving as legal advisor to several Council Committees and Citizen advisory commissions. Susana also served as the Principal Legal Advisor to the Stockton Police Department and was responsible for all administrative functions of the office, including budget and personnel matters. She worked closely with the City Manager’s Office and City Clerk’s Office.
Prior to her work at the City of Stockton, Susana Alcala Wood served as the City Attorney for Modesto from 2006-2013. She was the primary legal advisor to the City Council, Council Committees, City Manager, City Clerk, and City Auditor. Susana was responsible for all administrative functions of the Office along with overseeing and directing hundreds of investigations involving allegations of harassment, discrimination, and related complaints involving city staff, department heads, and city management. While at Modesto, Susana guided the City Council through their shift from general elections to by-district elections, and all the accompanying Charter changes. She worked closely with the City Manager’s Office and City Departments to implement any applicable recommendations.
Susana also previously worked as a Deputy City Attorney for the City of Stockton from January 1993 – April 2001 and for the City of El Monte from December 1991 to December 1992. In both offices, she was responsible for advising multiple departments including Code Enforcement, Fire, Library, and Police. She worked with city staff on addressing and eliminating blight, deteriorated and dangerous housing, and all nuisance conditions including quality of life issues, drug, red-light, and gang activity. Susana began her work with the City of El Monte in 1988 while still in law school and clerked for the City Attorney for three years. Upon passing the California Bar exam in 1991, she was appointed as a Deputy City Attorney.
Tianna K. Kalogerakis
Director of Professional Development, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
As Director of Professional Development, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Tianna K. Kalogerakis assesses the needs of the Law Department and develops strategies, programs and systems to advance the Law Department’s goal to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the organization, and to enhance the skill sets of lawyers and staff.
Before joining the Law Department, Tianna was an associate at Kang Haggerty & Fetbroyt LLC where she handled commercial litigation and business disputes. Prior to Kang Haggerty, Tianna served as a Judicial Law Clerk to the Honorable Lillian Harris Ransom, first at the Court of Common Pleas, then at the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
An active member of the Philadelphia community, she is a Past President of the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia, Incorporated and held several leadership positions in the Barristers, including serving as Chair of the 2017 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Memorial Breakfast. Tianna served on the Executive Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division as an Appointed Member and is an Executive Committee Member of the Temple Law Alumni Women Leadership Initiative. Tianna also sits on the Board of galaei, a QTBIPOC social justice organization.
Tianna earned her Juris Doctorate from Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law and her undergraduate degree from the University of Florida.
Chair, Corporate & Tax, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Valerie Robinson is the chair of the Corporate and Tax Group where she is responsible for providing advice to the city solicitor, the first deputy city solicitor and other City officials on corporate (commercial, transactional, and regulatory) and tax matters. The Corporate and Tax Group consists of the following five units: Commercial Law, Real Estate & Development, Regulatory Law, Tax & Revenue, and Property Assessment. Prior to her appointment as the chair of the Corporate and Tax Group, Valerie served as an assistant and deputy city solicitor in the Finance and Contracts Division of the Law Department and as a senior attorney in the Intellectual Property Division. She has handled a wide range of commercial transactions. That includes construction and benefits contracts, as well as municipal finance matters, commission agreements for artwork, and licenses for film, performances, and events. She served as lead counsel for the City in the papal visit and Democratic National Convention transactions. Her clients have included the Managing Director’s Office; the Greater Philadelphia Film Office; the Department of Parks and Recreation; the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy; and the City Representative’s Office.
Born in New York City and raised in Michigan, she earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and her Juris Doctorate from Villanova University School of Law.
Whitney Payton Aboko-Cole
Assistant City Attorney, Huntsville, Alabama
Whitney Payton Aboko-Cole is currently a Prosecutor for the City of Huntsville. Affectionately dubbed by her peers as “Tough, but approachable,” she is one of four Attorneys responsible for prosecuting violations of city ordinances and state law. A young pioneer and history maker in her own right, it is worthy to note that Whitney is in fact the youngest and first African American woman hired as a Prosecutor for the City of Huntsville.
Whitney is a graduate of Faulkner University’s Thomas Good Jones School of Law. During her tenure in law school, Whitney excelled in both her academic and extra-curricular endeavors. Whitney served as a member of the Board of Advocates mock trial and moot court teams, and was a student ambassador. She was also a recipient and fellow of the Public Interest Law Society Award, and Quarter Finalist in the 1L Moot Court Competition.
Whitney has clerked for the renowned Beasley Allen Law Firm, and the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. Whitney also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in Communication Arts and Philosophy from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Whitney has a broad foundation in law. Prior to her current position, she managed a private practice in Huntsville, specializing in Criminal Defense, Domestic, and Contracts law.
She is currently a member of the Alabama State Bar Young Lawyers Executive Committee, where she serves on a host of committees that include Minority Prelaw and Continuing Legal Education conference planning. She has previously held a position on the Huntsville Madison County Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Executive Board. Serving in these capacities affords Whitney the opportunity to help facilitate the exchange of information and resources between the local and state bar associations. These experiences have proven tremendously beneficial to her legal community, and have helped to foster diversity and inclusion within the Alabama State Bar Association.
Whitney is licensed to practice law in all the Courts of the state of Alabama. She has held and currently holds positons on a variety of civic and social organizations, including but not limited to Epsilon Gamma Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, and Parliamentarian of the Madison County Democratic Women. Whitney is married to her high school sweetheart, Jonathan Aboko-Cole. They have two sons, Wynter (5) and Denver (1) whom they adore. She resides in Huntsville, AL with her family where they are members of the First Missionary Baptist Church.
City Attorney, Colorado Springs, Colorado
Wynetta Massey has been a member of the Colorado Springs City Attorney’s Office since 1990, and was appointed City Attorney/Chief Legal Officer in 2014. She holds bachelor’s degrees from the University of Missouri in speech communication (with honors) and political science, and graduated from the University of Kansas School of Law in 1989. Wynetta is a national speaker on a variety of municipal law topics, including ethics, land use, marijuana regulation, and the Council-Mayor form of government. Wynetta is a member of the Colorado Municipal League Executive Board, and has served as Chair of CML’s Amicus Committee and the Attorneys Section. She also serves on the International Municipal Lawyers Association Board of Directors, is an IMLA Local Government Fellow, and has contributed to IMLA’s Legal Advocacy Program.