Sustainability Leaders Header-colorImpactNV has a conversation with Trustee Advisory Board Chair and County Commissioner, Chris Giunchigliani. She has been a huge advocate of Green Chips for several years now, has shown tremendous leadership, and taken action whenever possible to help move the organization forward.

October 27, 2015

8cdfb1ad-4ee0-461b-969f-04b78cafeac7As this is a feature about community leaders, what do you think makes a good leader?

Someone who is willing to listen; knows that, more often than not, there is more than one right answer; can laugh at themselves; and is willing to put the time in to really learn about a subject matter.

Do you have a personal philosophy or approach to life?

I have sayings that I definitely believe and live by. One is “If it sounds too good to be true, it is.” and the other is, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” because you can do damage to people pretty easily if you aren’t careful. The way I try to approach life is very hands-on and by trying to be as accessible to my constituents as possible. I do the same thing in my world of politics but I also try to always take time for fun things: we travel, we hike, we read, etc. The type of things that build in quality of life while you run like a mad hatter!

What was your major in college and your path to your current position? 

I was never planning on going to college. My mom was a waitress for 28 years and my dad was an architectural engineer. They worked full time so I consider raising my five brothers and sisters to be first full time job, to a certain extent. Then my folks moved from Chicago to Kansas City Missouri and my dad was driving around town and came back and said, “Listen, I think you can do well in college, there is one just up the street. Why don’t you go over and see if you can get in.”

So, I did. And I did. It had been St. Teresa’s Academy and was just transitioning to a coed college. I cobbled together a few loans, paid my own way through college, and I met some really nice ladies who have been my friends ever since. A couple of us got in to teaching and I started taking some of those classes. They made you go right out into classrooms starting in freshman year to see what was involved and I decided that was my career path. I became a special education teacher.

I taught for 2 years in Shawnee Mission, Kansas – always middle school. I love hormone enraged rugrats! Then I came out here and started teaching at Bridger. I enrolled at UNLV to get my Masters and finished that within a year. I always took extra courses, even in college, I took 18 as a general rule – it was insane. I was also the first female bartender at Jubilation during that time. I became politically active through the teachers union; serving as president at the local and state level. From there, I spent 16 years in the state assembly and ran for the County Commission in 2006, got elected, and am now finishing up my final term. Phew! All that, and I’m only 25 (laughingly)!

Is there one word that best describes how you work?

Hands-on. I do my own homework.

What keeps you engaged/passionate about your job; what drives you?

The people. I love people. Sometimes they yell at you, or cuss at you, but that is their right. If they vote you in, they have the right to argue with you too. But really, they keep me grounded to some extent. The other night, I was at Smith’s Food King, I had just flown into town, I’m in my grubbies, I have no make-up on, my hair is disgusting, the fish line is backed up, and three different people came up to me: “Oh, Commissioner, I need to talk to you about my apartment complex”  and “I need to talk to you about – whatever…” I just said, here’s my grocery list, right your name and number down and I’ll get back to you. So, I’m very accessible! Anyone can come up to me at any time.

How do you re-charge?

Travel. I have been to 85 countries and all 7 continents. Also, going to the house on the mountain, trying to get outdoors, I walk in the morning, I love to read, and listening to good music. Its always a combination of those things.

What are you better at than anyone else and what is your secret?

I take action. I don’t put things off. Too many people confuse motion with action. As a leader, you have to hear it, understand it, find out, and get it done. The more you procrastinate, the more you don’t follow through.  I think I m very good with that part of things. If someone has an idea, and it’s workable, lets discus the pros and cons, and get it done. If not, I get back to them, tell them its not going to work, and the reasons why.

My secret? Being a special ed. teacher helped a great deal. I had to write individual plans for sometimes 20 different kids in a class, each class period. I really learned to listen and to focus tasks so they were worth while for my students and for me. I multi-task very, very well.

Where are you from originally and what has surprised you the most about this community?

I was born in Lucca, Italy and I mentioned growing up in Chicago and Kansas City.

What surprised me the most is its smallness still. I moved here 38 years ago. There were 430,000 people living here – I have no idea why I remember that number! In that time period, this community has been very good to me. You can still meet the governor, you can run into your commissioner in the grocery store; I buy my veggies at the 99 cent store… I tell them, “If I’m frugal with my money, I’m frugal with yours.” and they all laugh at me and tell me if there is a deal on radishes! That is what is the most surprising. Its smallness, but you can still get things done.

What is your biggest hope for this community in the next 10 years? 50?

Long term, I hope for true multi-modality; including light rail and high speed to California. I do think we need to be able to move goods, services, and people throughout the region. We can become the West Coast like the East Coast if we look at these things. Also, we need to finally, actually fund our school system and stop trying to divide and conquer it. Also, we need to come up with some ways to truly recognize the diversity of the community: multicultural centers, more community involvement, and other things that recognize our diversity and applaud it.

What app or technical gadget can’t you live without? 

I am so not a techie. I did not have a cell phone until my husband made me get one – I was probably the last person on Earth not to have one. I can do without any of it if I needed to. I still write on pads of paper with pencil!

What is the best advice you ever received? 

My husband always told me, “Be true to yourself. Know yourself first and don’t let anyone else define you.”

What advice would you give young professionals starting out?

I would say the same thing to anyone starting out – whether in business or politics. Don’t let them define you. You have to decide who you are. You have to look yourself in the mirror everyday.  Also, I’m mentoring three students in high school and I took them to meet with a young couple who started some of the downtown rebirth. The couple told the students not to rely on the technology. If you personally call and go to meet people, they will remember that far more than an email. If you want something badly enough, you have to chase it and you should do it in person.

What is your favorite word?

I have a swear word that was never allowed in my classroom: “can’t.”
Other than that, I think I would just say, “be happy.” If you can’t have fun doing what you are doing, then why are you doing it?

Do you know your Meyer’s Briggs Personality type?

No. I want to say sometimes I’m a type A personality but not really because I’m not a bad anal. So, I would just fit in the personality type that follows through, takes things on, and gets it done.

Last question, what are you reading right now?

I am reading At Home by Bill Bryson (a history of domestic life), I just finished The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks, and I have three other books going right now. I am also reading my Sierra Club newsletter that just came in and Outside Magazine. 

Any final thoughts?

About sustainability, we have come a long way in about 10 – 12 years. When I first got to Carson City, my second session, I wrote the original law that changed building codes to allow renewables. Two to four years after that, I did the photo-voltaic legislation, and two years after that I did the Green Building legislation.  We are still making strides.

Click here for more information about Commissioner Giunchigliani or her work for Clark County.


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