Their Civic Duty

Practitioners pursue public roles that strengthen communities.

November 2, 2013

Getting to Yes

Under Cheryl Temple’s watch, the downtown area of Orting, Wash., has been restored to its former glory. The once-dirty streets have been cleaned up, new lamp posts have been installed, additional turn lanes were paved to alleviate congestion, and a spruced-up park is now teeming with children. In the last eight years, Orting has become a modern small town.

So why does Temple deserve so much credit for Orting’s transformation? Since 2005, the sales associate with Coldwell Banker Bain in Puyallup, Wash., has also served as the mayor of Orting, a town of about 7,000.

“I’ve always wanted to do both,” says Temple, SFR, of her positions as mayor and real estate professional.

Temple, who earns only $1,000 a month from her part-time gig as mayor, pursued public office to change things that rubbed her the wrong way. “We were saying no to outside partnerships—to partnering with the state, the school districts, the county—to make the city better,” Temple explains. “When you have those doors closed, you miss out on a lot of growth. I thought, ‘We need to get outside ourselves.’”

She has focused much of her effort on a particular issue: flooding. Orting, nestled between the Carbon and Puyallup rivers, has endured massive flooding three times in the past 20 years. As mayor, Temple has been able to secure grant funding for the largest project in Orting’s history: building a levee between the two rivers to stave off flooding. The construction is slated to begin at the start of 2014.

Temple got into real estate four years ago, after she already had four years under her belt as mayor. In that time, she built a staff of “rock stars” who, she says, have helped her manage her municipal duties. That makes it easier for her to use her evenings for showings and client meetings. And though she is mindful not to exploit her position as mayor to benefit her real estate business, she concedes it has created some opportunities.

“I have gotten a couple deals because of who I know,” Temple admits. “Having that title [as mayor] does offer a little more oomph in getting deals. ... People enjoy knowing that about me, but I never make it more than that.”

Watching the Waterways

As Carlos Gutierrez races up the coast of Miami on a boat, he can see new towers jutting into the air all along the skyline, a sign of the city’s red-hot housing market. It would signal to him a plethora of commercial and residential real estate opportunities—if that were what he was looking for. But the Keller Williams Miami agent isn’t cruising the Atlantic to shore up business. He’s on patrol.

Since 2011, Gutierrez has been volunteering with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary; as part of its boat crew patrol, he keeps watch over the Miami waters for boats in distress. He’s also a flotilla staff officer in charge of human resources and personnel, responsible for running applications, fingerprints, and tests and collecting dues for new trainees.

“It’s a way to get involved with an organization whose sole purpose is to do good,” says Gutierrez, who typically devotes 12 hours a month to Coast Guard work. “You get to put on a uniform. You get to help people.”

He is in training to be an interpreter for the Coast Guard. Aside from English, he speaks Spanish, French, and Brazilian Portuguese. That’s where he sees a big portion of his value. In 2010, Coast Guard interpreters were essential to relief efforts after the Haiti earthquake, which killed more than 200,000 people. That’s the kind of help Gutierrez wants to provide.

“It’s a huge satisfaction,” Gutierrez says, “just knowing that I could do something that could potentially save a life.”

His experience as a leader in real estate has prepared him for the fast pace of the Coast Guard.

“Everything I’ve learned in the business world, I’ve used to help the Coast Guard—keeping all the members on the same page, keeping everything organized and flowing as smoothly as possible,” Gutierrez says. Volunteering with the Coast Guard “makes me a little more confident, and it shows my contribution to my community.”

And when it comes to his real estate business, his Coast Guard experience helps him stand out to clients. “It’s something interesting to tell people that they don’t hear every day,” Gutierrez says.

Becoming Part of the Process

Sharon Halperin, SFR, admits she didn’t know a lot about the inner workings of her suburban Chicago village of River Forest, which has a little more than 11,000 residents. An agent with Gagliardo Realty Associates who has been in the business for six years, she had no idea how decisions were made by the village’s board—and that bothered her.

River Forest was wrestling with hot-button issues: a failing storm sewer system, new development, and home rule, which requires a certain population size for a municipality or county to set up self-government without a charter from the state.“I was concerned because, working in real estate, all of this affects property values,” Halperin says. “I feel that finding new ways to generate revenue, other than property taxes, is crucial to River Forest.”

Halperin decided to run for village clerk. She didn’t have a hard-fought road to the unpaid post. She ran unopposed for the clerk’s seat and was elected in March. Since then, she’s been getting up to speed with her duties, being the keeper of village documents and ordinances.

The village board meets twice a month, and Halperin anticipates broader duties as clerk going forward. She notes that her personal network is growing. “As clerk, I meet new people all the time, and that’s a big part of real estate—widening your circle,” she says, “but that’s not my main focus.”

All Hands on Deck

When Hurricane Sandy slammed into the New Jersey coastline last year, Doug Tortorelli, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker Flanagan Realty in Toms River, high-tailed it to a local shelter as fast as he could. He went there not so much for his own protection but to make sure that the hundreds of families who would be arriving as the storm bore down were safe.

As a volunteer with his local Community Emergency Response Team for seven years, Tortorelli led the charge in securing a school for evacuees. His CERT partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide goods to people who came to the shelter. As people and their pets—30 busloads of them, Tortorelli recalls—filled the hallways of the school, he and other volunteers dispensed cots and food and shared their personal cell phones so evacuees could call their loved ones.

“We really weren’t sure how big and bad the storm was going to be,” says Tortorelli.

It was bad.

Ninety percent of the housing stock in Toms River was damaged by Sandy, some units so severely that they were submerged in five feet of water, according to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. And as more and more families crammed into the school Tortorelli was manning, the situation grew more chaotic.

“People were showing up barefoot and drenched,” Tortorelli says. “The school was almost like a mini city at that point. It began choking the hallways. It was like Noah’s Ark. People didn’t want to give up their animals.”

Tortorelli took to the streets once the worst was over and helped pass out FEMA pamphlets to home owners with information on how to file insurance claims for property damage. That’s when the real scope of destruction became clear to him.

“Houses were lifted off their foundations and dropped,” Tortorelli says. “Homes were squished like an accordion against other houses. Cars were destroyed.”

For weeks after Sandy was over, he kept working for his community’s recovery. What gave him the motivation to keep going, even as exhaustion filled every ounce of his body, was his belief that his job as a real estate agent is to help people.

“Real estate is about helping the community in general,” Tortorelli says. “Giving back to the community is extremely important. If not me or others like me, then who?”