When Carol Giovanatto walks into a room, the air almost vibrates with her style and confidence. Her wardrobe is impeccable, her work is meticulous and her personality resonates with homespun charm.
For the past 12 years, Giovanatto has been in charge of the City of Sonoma’s finances, a tough spot when the economy spun downward and revenues declined.
Now sitting in the city manager’s chair, Giovanatto has additional challenges. But that’s nothing new for a woman who changes her own tires, repairs her own automobile and once served on a pit crew for a race car team.
“My passion for stock car racing began back in high school when I attended races at Ukiah Raceway,” she said. But it wasn’t until 1975 – the year women were allowed in the pits – that she became a member of the “grass roots” crew.
“I fell into it purely by accident. They were down a crewmember, and I knew how to use a wrench. I still love the sound of an impact wrench. And I never broke a nail.”
Although this “hobby” turned into lots of weekends at local short track raceways all over Northern California and Nevada, she never drove the cars, although a favorite birthday present was racecar training at the Richard Petty Driving School in Las Vegas.
Sadly, NASCAR never called, although she remains a huge fan.
“I did everything,” she said, recalling her short track stock car experience. And if you ask her what she’s done in city government, she might answer the same.
She started with the City of Cloverdale at the age of 19, in the position of account clerk. In the course of the next 26 years she served as airport manager, recreation director, public works director, transit manager, finance director and assistant city manager.
“I had not planned to make a career of local government,” she said. “But year after year, I fell in love with it. Any time there was a job to be done, I stepped up to be considered – paid or not – and I worked my way up.”
She wanted to go to college, but work kept getting in the way and she never got there. “Over the years I’ve taken classes and attended seminars specific to city government, but most of my learning has been through mentors and just doing the job.”
After her marriage ended, she decided to look for new opportunities, and in 2001 she was hired by the City of Sonoma as finance director. In 2004, she was also given the title of assistant city manager, and in the course of her employment was interim city manager twice.
She was surprised and honored when she was offered the position of city manager last year.
“I was the one who asked for a one-year term. My reasoning was that if I didn’t establish a solid relationship with the City Council, or if they didn’t think I was carrying out their vision, I could walk away.”
Her year ended and her contract was renewed with accolades, this time for a longer term.