Five-time Clovis City Council member Lynne Ashbeck is just as happy to talk to you about Clovis’ success through the recession as she is about the musicals she sings along to: “Les Miserables,” “Wicked” and “Kinky Boots” (we’ll get to that in a bit).
Ashbeck, the fourth woman to sit on the council in Clovis’ 105-year history, won her fifth four-year term in the city’s March 7 elections. She has served the City of Clovis for three decades, starting on the personnel commission in 1987 and moving on to the planning commission before winning her first city council seat in 2001.
“People need to do just one thing in their community and this is what I choose to do,” Ashbeck said. “It’s not better or worse than anything else — coaching soccer, reading to kids, teaching Sunday school ... This is what I do, and it’s been terrific.”
Ashbeck said she’s “perfectly happy” on the Clovis City Council and enjoys impacting communities on the local level.
“The thing about cities is cities are always unfinished business. They’re like humans — they’re growing and busy and changing,” she said. “I really think Clovis has been successful because we’ve done the basics of local government well, and that isn’t an accident. You still have to work at the basics, like potholes and graffiti, but the basics get harder as your city gets bigger.”
Ashbeck said she brings a different perspective and is proud to add to the diversity of the city council as its only woman member, although she didn’t “have a strong feminist side” as she entered college.
“I was a home economics major, for gosh sakes!” she said, laughing.
The Fresno State graduate used to tease her father, who passed away in November, for shaping her life during a single road trip down Highway 99.
“If he had gone down the 101, I would’ve ended up at Cal Poly,” she said. “But he came down 99 and I saw Fresno State. I said ‘I’ll go to Fresno State for two years — no more than 4’ — and that was 45 years ago.”
At the time, Ashbeck thought women could only become one of three things: a teacher, a nurse or a home economics major. She became a registered dietitian after realizing she couldn’t get a job with a degree in home economics, and worked for California’s dairy industry for 20 years in nutrition education for children. “It was the best job for dietitians in California.”
She rolled with the education aspect of her job and moved into the hospital setting as the director of education for Valley Children’s Hospital. Following a layoff, she returned to her alma mater to work as the director of continuing education for three years at Fresno State.
Ashbeck then worked for the California Hospital Association, a leader in health policy and advocacy, for a decade. She drove to Sacramento about twice a week, listening to soundtracks of plays she’s seen. “‘Les Mis’ could get me all the way to the door in Sacramento.”
And that’s where “Kinky Boots” comes in.
“I saw a play a few years ago in Chicago called — don’t judge me — “Kinky Boots.” Oh my gosh, best play ever!” she said, excitedly pulling from her purse a keychain with glittering red boots. “It’s a fabulous story about two unlikely humans (a white shoemaker and a black drag queen in search of high heels that fit men) and all their trials and tribulations and they both struggle with their fathers’ acceptance. It’s the best.”
Ashbeck still listens to the soundtrack as she drives around Fresno and Clovis as the vice president of population health and community engagement at Community Medical Centers, where she just celebrated her second anniversary.
In her current role, she works on policy and government relations while also managing projects that bridge the gap between care in the clinical setting and at home. “Twenty percent of your health care comes from clinical care, while 80 percent has to do with where you live and your socioeconomic status. Hospitals, with the Affordable Care Act, actually, became more aware of that continuum of care.”
Her healthcare background influences the way she thinks about her position on the city council.
“Your environment is a huge factor in how healthy you are. So our parks and our trails and how clean our streets are — there really is a clear link,” Ashbeck said. “Our general plan now speaks to health, how you design neighborhoods speaks to health. Our partnership with the school district in making sure kids have safe routes to walk to school … there are links between the two.”
While the five members of the Clovis City Council don’t always agree, Ashbeck said she is proud they maintain a good relationship and understand their role.
“Collectively we’ve had a really strong council and I’m proud that we have kept that together throughout the recession.The city came through that really well,” she said. “We added park space and public infrastructure during the downturn because you still had to look to the future.”
In fact, Ashbeck credits the forward-thinking city councils from decades ago with the success of the Clovis we see today.
“The way our community is now has nothing to do with me. It’s a reflection of the decisions made by city councils in the 60s and 70s,” she said.
Individually, Ashbeck said she is proud of starting the Clovis Citizens Academy, which offered “field trips for adults” to engage residents in the inner-workings of the city and help them better navigate their community.
Mostly, she’s proud of the community itself. Her own sons, ages 25 and 28, attended Clovis East and San Joaquin Memorial high schools.
“Part of what I love about Clovis is you can still meet people whose mother was delivered by the only doctor in town, or whose grandfather was the first volunteer fire chief. Connecting with those roots is so important,” Ashbeck said. “I never wanted my kids to grow up in a city where they thought the town center was a Starbucks.”
Not that she has anything against Starbucks. Her go-to order there is “a trenta black iced tea, no sweetener, no water, extra-extra ice. I’m not a coffee drinker.”
She’s also not a Netflix watcher. “I can’t binge watch,” she said. “My favorite TV show is Law & Order; it’s the best story on TV now. In 43 minutes, something bad happens, something good happens and it’s all over.”
Her show preference also translates to her favorite books: page-turning mysteries and thrillers by Harlan Coben. “I also just bought a book by Thomas Friedman called ‘Thank You For Being Late.” It’s about the chaos in the world … and the belief that the eye of the storm is a healthy community. Our chance to survive is all local.”
It’s no question that Ashbeck has dedicated much of her life to creating healthy communities, and Clovis is the one most dear to her heart.
“If I didn’t live here, I love Washington D.C. I think it’s a really fascinating city,” she said.
It’s also near where her mom — and soon, her dad — will be laid to rest.
“My mother is buried at Arlington National Cemetery and my father will be buried there April 18th, she said, explaining that 30 people are buried in the historic cemetery each day, so her father, Capt. A.W. Ayers, has had to wait his turn.
“I’m really proud of my parents,” Ashbeck said. “He was an awesome dad. The Navy was his whole life. He served for 34 years. That’s what’s been on my mind — taking my little dad to Arlington and tucking him in there.”