The Flagstaff City Council has brought all four city manager candidates to Flagstaff, and has begun the process of feeling out their personalities, managing styles and background experience.
One way they measured this was by asking the four candidates about the most important parts of Flagstaff’s 2030 Regional Plan, and how they would strategize to achieve the plan. The plan was approved by voters in May 2014, and focuses on topics like housing, transportation, climate change and social justice. Afterwards, members of the different city divisions asked questions of the different candidates: Clifford Moore, the city manager from Yakima, Washington; Greg Clifton, a former city manager from Vail, Colorado; Andrew Bertelsen, the current public works director for Flagstaff; and Steve Barwick, a former city manager from Aspen, Colorado.
The candidates were dressed in suits standing in front of the Flagstaff City Council deliberating desk, and used words like “we” and “ours” to describe the work they could be doing with the city if any of them are hired. Recorded videos of the presentations and parts of the candidate’s interview process are located online and the public is encouraged to write feedback cards to assist with the city’s decision.
The city has hoped to fill the position since former city manager Josh Copley resigned in 2018, but the search has not been easy. This is the third search conducted for a city manager, which most recently broke down due to the salary offered to the candidate.
Since that time, Barbara Goodrich has held the title of city manager.
Moore was the first candidate to speak in City Hall to the division heads. Moore’s presentation included topics like a 90-day leadership plan if he were hired and a concept he called asset based community development.
Values he highlighted included creating more attainable housing as well as streets and pothole repair.
Moore’s idea of asset based community development involved bringing the organizations and businesses in the community of the city together to solve community challenges. He said before implementing this community development, there was a lot of good happening in Yakima, but organizations weren’t helping each other out.
“There’s a lot of good things happening in Yakima, but it's happening in silos, and nobody knows what everybody else is doing — the non-profits, faith-based, school districts,” Moore said. “What we need is to convene all of those entities together and learn about what capacity each one of those organizations brings to the table and how one organization's capacity can be supportive of another.”
He gave an example based upon his home community of Yakima, where they have increasing gang violence and youth homicides. The asset based community development group came with a solution of using United Way trained youth leaders to utilize the church-owned spaces to create a space for youth after school.
Clifton said he based his decision making process on a system of urgency, gathering resources and strategic timing. His presentation referenced recent election outcomes that he saw as impacting the council goals he felt were the most important.
The first of his urgent concerns were for aging waterlines, specifically pieces built before 1965. He felt that the cost of maintenance was normally more than the cost of prevention, citing the waterline breaks that have occurred in town. He felt the breaks can have huge economic impacts and be “catastrophic” if it shuts down businesses and streets.
Clifton said he was excited by the challenge of affordable housing and housing scarcity. He said he was excited to see the many potential lots and areas that could be used as solutions for affordable housing.
“I have served communities where scarcity of land cannot be addressed through any sort of annexation or greenfield development, because there is none. Either it’s a box canyon or things are completely built out,” Clifton said.
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Clifton suggested the possibility of hiring a lobbyist as one way to ensure federal funds for the project are secured for the Army Corps of Engineers’ project. The project is estimated to cost $106 million, with the city’s portion of the bill already allocated.
Clifton also discussed the Fourth Street connection that was included in the last election, and discussed how that would benefit businesses, growth and transportation.
Bertelsen is local to Flagstaff and could easily recount local issues and topics.
As a professional public servant who has worked for both the city of Flagstaff and Coconino County, Bertelsen drew upon topics that needed no introduction for many people in Flagstaff.
Bertelsen listed guiding principles like the environment, prosperity, sustainability, equal opportunities and cooperation. He spoke about forest health and how Flagstaff’s forestry projects are beneficial to the continued community safety, especially in light of the Schultz Fire.
A large topic for Bertelsen was the importance of listening as a city manager, to ensure that work was done right. In his presentation, he returned to the topic of creating community through conversations and the hope of bringing the community into the planning process.
He also believed that putting more money into city staff pay will help Flagstaff become the “employer of choice” for the city; discussions have occurred on Council about the amount of city staff pay.
“I know if the city is invested in me, I know I’m invested in the city,” Bertelsen said. “I also think about our benefit packages, and continuing to look at that and see what is NAU doing? What is Coconino County doing?”
Barwick was the last person to appear before the city division leaders. While Barwick commended the city for their great plan, he said he wanted to ensure Flagstaff planned to achieve success as opposed to confusing an organization going through the motions for results.
He spoke about the concept of people buying a second home, and how in Aspen, second-home buyers near the resorts have caused the home prices to increase, an effect already impacting Flagstaff.
Additionally, Barwick outlined four key components: housing, transportation, land use and climate resiliency as major parts of the 2030 regional plan.
He suggested in order to meet these benchmarks, the city of Flagstaff should create more action-oriented goals. He compared current transportation goals like ones to “improve mobility and access throughout the region” as opposed to his suggested action-oriented goals of “analyze and propose to city council by January 2021 three options to increase alternate modes of travel to reduce peak period traffic.”
He also suggested adding financial incentives for staff success as a metric to encourage people to reach their goals.