Lori Curtis Luther

Administrator, Peoria County
Photography by Kira Kwon

I was born and raised in Olathe, Kansas. I decided early on that I was interested in a professional career in local government and received my Bachelor of Arts degree from Baker University, majoring in political science and Spanish. I then received my Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Kansas.

I began my career working for Kansas City, Missouri, and followed with progressively responsible positions in municipalities in Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin, and now with Peoria County. My ultimate career goal was to manage a mid-to-large-sized organization in a community with a strong urban/rural mix, and Peoria County is the perfect fit.

My husband Chris and I have three sons, ages twelve, eight and four, and we are expecting a new addition next spring. We thoroughly enjoy living in this community and look forward to raising our family here.

Please reflect upon your major accomplishments of 2012.
All local governments are facing exceptionally difficult economic conditions during this sluggish recovery. I am most proud of recommending a budget for the second consecutive year that maintains services, does not raise taxes and sustains a strong financial position for Peoria County. For FY2013, we were faced with a $2.3-million deficit and, through cooperation amongst all departments and elected offices across the organization, attrition and creative management, we were able to offset that deficit and present a balanced budget.

Another accomplishment I'm proud to have been part of was bringing LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) to Peoria. LISC helps communities transform distressed neighborhoods into healthy and sustainable neighborhoods that are good places to work, do business and raise children. LISC has offices in 30 cities throughout the country and chose to open its first office in 15 years in Peoria due to the strong resource and community support system already in place here. With the Caterpillar Foundation's significant investment in the program, I believe Peoria's older neighborhoods will be revitalized with a better quality of life, more jobs and greater opportunities for the residents of those neighborhoods.

I am also proud to have been involved in the expansion of Peoria County's economic development program. Attracting new business and retaining existing business is vital to any local economy, and previously, Peoria County played only a small role in the community's and region's development efforts. Under the direction of the County Board, I was able to strengthen our role in economic development to the point where Peoria County has taken the lead on proposals to attract several large manufacturing firms to the area, as well as the lead in reshaping the region's economic development future. Two years ago, Peoria County did not have an economic development strategy, nor did we have staff dedicated to this critical function. Today, in addition to an assistant county administrator for economic development, we have staff dedicated to local, rural and regional development efforts.

What is your leadership philosophy?
I am a collaborative leader and rely on a strong team to help lead our organization. I believe in harnessing the talents of others to create the most effective and creative approaches to solving problems. It is enormously helpful to work with individuals with different skillsets and backgrounds who can provide different viewpoints.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Life is 10 percent what happens to you, and 90 percent how you respond to it.

What advice would you give to a young, up-and-coming female professional?
Professional women have a tendency to want to feel 110 percent prepared for the next career move before pursuing it. Men, on average, are far more likely to seek those promotions earlier. I encourage young female professionals to take some risks in pursuing advancement. Chances are, they are more ready than they may give themselves credit for.

What is your secret to maintaining a balance between your work and personal life?
I think the secret is not expecting there to be a perfect balance between your work and personal life. Rather than seeking that perfect balance as if they were truly separate and distinct from one another, I attempt to blend the two in a manageable way. Having a supportive spouse is absolutely essential, and I am blessed to have such a wonderful husband.

In your opinion, is there still a glass ceiling for women in 2012?
A Master of Public Administration degree is a standard requirement for the CEO position of cities and counties. And yet, while more than 50 percent of MPA graduates are female, just 12 percent of these positions in local government are held by women—and that rate has remained unchanged for a decade. This statistic begs the question: What is preventing women from either seeking or achieving these top jobs? I belong to an organization that is researching these issues and mentoring young women to try to reverse this trend.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I am incredibly honored to receive this recognition. There are so many exceptional leaders in Peoria County, and I am humbled to be one of those selected for this recognition.

What is your greatest fear?
I have an irrational fear of spiders. In fact, one of my son's plastic Halloween spiders was on the floor the other day and scared me half to death!

What is your favorite movie? Why?
I love The Princess Bride. Inconceivable? Any movie that makes me laugh out loud goes on my favorite list.

What is your favorite way to relax?
I love to read mystery novels for fun and relaxation. iBi