After a week of speculation and closed-door huddles, the Tucson City Council voted unanimously Thursday morning to name Berkeley City Manager Jim Keene as Tucson’s next city manager.
Keene’s start date is Aug. 21. Out of town attending a funeral, Keene could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup praised the manager and the process by which he was selected.
“There are three things we looked for: clear manager experience, someone who understands the Southwest culture, and (a person who has) real expertise in downtown redevelopment,” Walkup said in a phone interview Thursday morning.
Keene served as manager for five years in Coconino County, Arizona, before coming to Berkeley in 1996.
None of the Tucson councilmembers came to Berkeley to see the manager’s work first hand or to interview community members. But Walkup said the Los Angeles recruitment firm that narrowed 40 candidates down to five did go to Berkeley and assess the manger’s work.
Walkup, a Republican leading a mixed partisan council of Republicans and Democrats, said he was particularly proud of the open selection process.
The five finalists selected by the recruiting firm were interviewed by a panel of 15 citizens – each councilmember chose two participants and the mayor chose three. Keene was favored by 13 out of the 15 members, Walkup said. The citizens gave feedback to the council, which also interviewed the candidates, and the council made the selection.
There was some give-and-take around salary and benefits, Walkup said. Keene’s salary will be $160,000 – $30,000 more than the current city manager. His current salary in Berkeley is $154,000, following a 9 percent increase last year.
His start date comes sooner than the September date Keene had hoped for, but later than the July date Tucson asked for. He’ll only get about half the $700 per month car allowance he requested.
Walkup said Keene’s first challenge in Tucson will “be sure you understand the people.” The manager will be working with a staff of 6,000.
“He needs to understand how our system works,” Walkup said.
Then, the manager will have to “become immersed in the establishment of our downtown,” Walkup said. There is a redevelopment project of about $400 million aimed at transforming Tucson’s downtown. It is built in a historic district, inhabited through the centuries by Native Americans, then the Spanish. So Keene will face the job of preservation while developing downtown, Walkup said.
SUPPORTERS PRAISE MANAGER
Mayor Shirley Dean was in Seattle at a mayor’s conference and unavailable for comment; however, Councilmember Polly Armstrong, another of Keene’s strong council supporters, said she refused to believe the move is a done deal.
“I hope he doesn’t go,” Armstrong said, noting, however, “I understand why it is tempting to leave.”
Armstrong pointed to “civil assault from a small group of people,” whom she declined to name. Keene has been under fire for a flawed first-round General Plan process, the erecting of a 170-foot communications tower downtown, and promotion of changes that would weaken the oversight of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Armstrong praised Keene for his work on new “customer-service” initiatives. She also said she admired the manager for his non-hierarchical style of governance, which allowed creativity on the part of his subordinates.
Armstrong said the manager could have got any position in the country he wanted.
“His reputation nationally is extraordinary,” she said.
She declined, however, to talk about the process for choosing a new manager.
“I’m trying to encourage him to stay here,” she said.
Rachael Rupert, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, seconded Armstrong’s praise for Keene.
“Isn’t it ironic that we lost our second city manager to Tucson - both with good business sense,” she said, referring to former City Manager Michael Brown, who was city manager in Tucson for three years, after managing Berkeley from 1989 to 1993.
Rupert said the city needs to look for a new manager with business sense and one who will carry out the bureaucratic restructuring Keene has proposed.
The chamber would like to advise the city on the new manager’s selection.
“Our chair would be more than honored to sit on a committee and be involved,” she said.
“I’d like to de-politicize the process,” Rupert said, with a laugh, noting that it’s not likely to happen in this city.
DETRACTORS LOOK TO FUTURE
Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has waged battle with the manager during his three years on council, said he is also looking forward to a selection process where the community can give its input.
“I’m looking for someone who gives progressives and neighborhoods a chance,” he said, contending that Keene caused issues to bog down mired in the bureaucracy, when he disagreed with them. The Living Wage ordinance that took over a year to get before the council is an example, Worthington said.
A new city manager should be sensitive to concerns such as affordable housing, historic preservation, neighborhood participation in decision-making and open government, he said.
“The selection process should be discussed in public session,” he added.
Pat McCullough, a city worker and shop steward for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, blames Keene for the more-than-a-year it took for his union to get a contract and for trying to change job descriptions without going through the union.
He said the rank and file workers were also unhappy with Keene because of the impression that he favored managers over the workers. While workers got cost-of-living wage hikes, some managers got the possibility of much steeper raises.
“When (former manager) Michael Brown was being selected, there was a way that we had to give input,” McCullough said. “I hope we’ll be involved.”