Amanda Folendorf

Mayor of Angels Camp, California

Angels Camp is an historic Gold Rush town in Calaveras County, California, in the northeastern part of the state. In early January 2018, Amanda Folendorf was elected mayor—one of the few Deaf people holding a governmental office.

Please tell us about your background. Growing up, going to school, etc.

I was raised in Angels Camp and was mainstreamed. My parents were not aware I was Deaf until I was 7 years old. I was born with diaphragmatic hernia, which led to many surgeries before I was able to leave the hospital. The damage from the surgeries and medications was unknown at that time. My parents had regular checkups with me growing up with the doctors, yet no one knew I couldn’t hear. I had adapted to my deafness at an early age by lipreading. Due to that, I had “faked” my way through doctor visits and other testing that never showed any signs of deafness.

When I was 7, my teacher told my parents that something was very wrong. I was behind my peers in reading and spelling. After more testing, the doctors still couldn’t figure out what was wrong. As a last resort, the audiologist decided to do one additional test: he covered his mouth and went through all the words and sounds again. Needless to say, that was paramount. My charts dropped and the testing finally showed how much I actually couldn’t hear.

Right away I was fitted with hearing aids, put in speech therapy, and my school developed an IEP for me. Living in a very rural area, where the ADA was just starting to takes effect, resources were very limited. I fell through to an area of how to “deal” with me. I had managed to develop speech, adapt to visual cues in social settings, and had strong communication with my parents, which many deaf children with hearing parents struggle with. With the help of my mother and a few others in the school district, I got through. I was introduced to SEE and dabbled in ASL, but I didn’t want to be known as “different," so I shied away from anything that made me stand out, including my hearing aids.

Once in high school I lost the hearing aids and pieced my way through to graduation. My junior year of high school, due to the lack of resources the school was providing, I signed myself out of the special-education system, which at that time was the failed No Child Left Behind. It was a risk I was willing to take, given that the public-school system at the time could not appropriately provide me with what I needed. That same year my VR counselor introduced me to Gallaudet. I was soon accepted into Gallaudet and in the summer of 2004, I entered the New Signers Program (NSP) and started my journey into the Deaf Community. That was the first time I learned about tools I never knew existed. It sounds silly now, but closed-captioning, OMG, what a difference that one thing made in my life!

After a few years at Gallaudet, I moved back to California and attended Sacramento State University—CSUS. I graduated in 2009 with a degree in Political Science with a concentration in International Relations.

Growing up, I really did not feel I was “different,” but inside I guess I knew I was. I was expected to do everything that my sister was doing. I mainly focused in sports, softball and cross-country. I eventually ended up playing for the Gallaudet Bison’s softball team my freshman year of college. My parents created an “I could do anything” environment for me. There was never a can’t, it was you can and will.

What inspired you to get involved in local government and politics?
The biggest inspiration was my family. I grew up with the majority of family members being actively involved in our community in different ways. My grandfather was on the hospital board, helped shaped it into the health district it is today, and ran the volunteer fire department with a group of locals. My father served on the city council for over 25 years with some of those years as Mayor. Watching my father help shape some of the organizations and development in the town I now enjoy, was paramount in [learning] how effective you can be in local government.

For example, my father along with other members of the community came together to create what is now our water and power authority, currently called Utica Water and Power Authority JPA. This group managed to purchase this from PG&E in the 1990s, the water rights and hydropower supplies are what now not only provides water to Angels Camp, but also the surrounding townships. Now I get to proudly serve on that very board with another original member who worked alongside my father. What an honor it is to continue that vision into my own generation! This is just one of many examples where I learned from my father during his time on the council. It was a group taking action and making things happen so later generations could continue to enjoy the same things as they did. My uncle has served through the governor’s appointment on our local 39th District Fair Board, my mother was the backbone of some of the organizations in the community such as Chamber of Commerce, historical society, and the local business association and visitor’s bureau. Growing up in a family that was committed to its community, you could almost say I was born to do this. I don’t really know anything else other than public service.

Another place that helped steer me into public service was the Deaf Community. When I moved back to California I became very involved in the Sacramento Deaf Community, ultimately becoming Ms. Deaf California from 2007-2009. Through those years I had amazing mentors that not only helped me continue my discovery of who I am as a Deaf individual, but also steered me into understanding grassroots advocacy. How to fight from the bottom up. The exposure that I was able to have traveling the state representing California Association of the Deaf (CAD) as both Ms. Deaf California and later as the CAD Youth Director, allowed me to work with the community and youth to bring about change for Deaf individuals. It will always be one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences [for me]. Those individuals—they know who they are—helped build my confidence in public speaking, express my mind, most importantly, how to use words and actions to create positive change.

I'd like to know more about your career (even though it's really only starting.)

Before starting school at Sacramento State, I worked as an Intern for the local congressman, Dan Lungren. This is where I really started to get involved in understanding how important both local and federal government relationships are and the importance of being involved. My last year at CSUS I started interning at the State Capitol at different offices. Some days I would spend writing op-eds for the Senate Republican Caucus and the other days I was interning at the Capitol for Senator Tom Harman. Through these experiences I realized I wanted to have a career working in politics. In 2009, the Great Recession was at its worst. As a recent graduate, it was difficult to find a job. Like many of my peers, the reality of moving back home with my parents was all that was left for me to do. I stayed longer than my needed commitment at the Capitol as an intern, hoping that something would open up. It never did.

Earlier that year I had submitted an application with the Federal Government in hopes to get a federal job after graduation. Time came and went. A couple of months after graduation, I finally got a call for an interview with the DoD in the Bay Area. With no other options in sight other than moving home, I said yes to the interview. I really could not see myself moving back home, at least not yet. I was offered a job as a supply technician for DoD at Moffett Airfield in Sunnyvale, California. I worked at Moffett from 2009 to 2014. In summer of 2014 I was able to transfer to the Forest Service as an Administrative Support Specialist on the Stanislaus National Forest, Mi-Wok Ranger District, where I am still currently employed.

Through the vehicles of DEAF LIFE and For Hearing People Only, we have noted Deaf people's participation in local government, and have encouraged Deaf people to get involved. Thus, we're delighted to see Deaf people actually doing it. What does your work as Mayor involved? Lots of meetings, and paperwork?

The thing to understand about City Council in Angels Camp is this is a primarily volunteer position. Yes, we are elected, but we are not paid a salary, only a stipend. The requirements of those in larger cities such as Stockton or Sacramento are very different. Here, Mayor and Vice Mayor are appointed by their city council. As Mayor, you are one of the main links between the constituents and your staff.

Duties include running the city council meetings and attending various committee meetings, and of course some social functions on behalf of the city. It is as much work as you put into it. I enjoy being heavily involved so my plate is much larger than some council members may choose to [have]. A typical month for me usually looks like this: Two city council meetings, up to 3 or 4 committee meetings, and maybe a function or two if there is anything that requires city representatives at. Each of these meetings we have agenda and reading materials to keep up with. Now that I am on my last year of my term, I have handed over some committee appointments I enjoyed to others so they can take on leadership roles representing the city.

Day-to-day operations are led primarily by our City Administrator. It is her role, not the council's, to deal with personnel and operations that keep the city running. Council members are here to set the policy which staff is to implement. I give kudos to our city staff—they work very hard and make our ideas happen.

What's the flap about marijuana? Has Angels Camp banned its use for recreational and medicinal purposes? Where do you stand on that?

In 2015, Angels Camp city council at that time banned growing medical cannabis within the city limits, but grandfathered in the ability for a medical dispensary. In 2016, Prop 64 passed in California, forcing local governments to take a position on recreational cannabis regardless of their ordinances related to medical cannabis. This set a motion across the state where a wave of cities and counties trying to meet a January 1, 2018 deadline of taking a position or otherwise forfeiting any and all local control to the State. To protect ourselves and keep our local control, Angels Camp currently has an Urgency Ordinance in place that is set to expire in November 2018. This urgency ordinance allows us to continue to watch the state regulations as they unfold, do more research, and work with our community to craft regulation. I believe that regulation is the answer to set Angels Camp in a promising place to deal with this agricultural, recreational, and medicinal product into our future.

What do you most enjoy doing in “leisure time”?

When I am not at work or at city council meetings, I am out at the ranch with my husband tending to our cattle. In 2017 we took over my uncle’s cattle, a few cattle from my father, and also the ranch lease that my uncle has been running for over 30 years. If there are long weekends and we are not visiting friends or family, we escape to Bear Valley, California. Depending on the time of year, we are either out skiing, snowmobiling, ATVing, or swimming and hiking around Lake Alpine. I try to squeeze in some reading here and there (we have a killer hammock) if anything catches my eye or friends tell me it’s a must read.

Anything else you'd like to share?

When you first read my story, it sounds almost too “easy.” In all honestly, how I got here was not. When you hold positions of elected office, no matter what it is, you are at the public’s mercy. One of the hardest things I have had to learn is how to delicately balance being newly married, family commitments, personal wellness, a full-time job, and serving the public. Not all things are done equally, some take the back seat, but at the end of the day, I remember that because of the support from family and friends, I am successful. And despite the critics, having the support from family and friends, is what makes me successful. I have had and will most likely continue to be put down due to various reasons, not all because I am Deaf. Age, gender, you name it. I continue to hold on to those who keep me uplifted and push me to defy the odds.

Recently, I was having a conversation with a close family friend about when I first announced my candidacy in 2014 for city council, how horrified everyone was for me. I learned it wasn’t that they didn’t think I could do the job, it was the instinct to protect me from the cruelty of the world. Needless to say, I proved everyone wrong. When anyone jumps into something that is changing the status quo, remembering who you are and where you are from is what will bring you back to reality of what is important, along with growing a very thick skin to not take all critics personally and to handle it with grace and grit.

2018 is the year of the women. We need to work together to support and push for more females to become more involved, not in only local elections, but in their communities volunteering. Get involved and impact those in leadership. Change does not happen overnight, but through these small changes over time, the impact of change will be even more powerful. I ran on a platform in 2014, and I still carry the same platform, doing this was not just for myself, to make change you have to show change can happen. If one thing can come out of this time as a council member and Mayor, it would be inspiring others to participate and helping others achieve their goals.

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