[Source: Adam Klawonn, Phoenix Magazine, June 30, 2009] — Last week, Phoenix City manager Frank Fairbanks announced he was retiring in November after nearly 20 years in the driver’s seat at City Hall. Today, Phoenix has grown to become the fifth largest city in the country with more than 1.5 million people. Obviously, Fairbanks was successful. But even as thankful as some folks are for his work, there are others who are just as thankful that he hung up his shingle. This is not in a negative way, mind you, but in a way that looks forward to hiring a fresh set of eyes — one that focuses more closely on Downtown development.
Despite his good work, Fairbanks was often viewed as a hurdle by hardcore fans of the Downtown lifestyle. Even as they pleaded with City Hall to focus more on the area, Fairbanks was loathe to invest more public money there for development and infrastructure because, thus far, he felt he wasn’t seeing a real return on the city’s investment. As a result, most of the new policies affecting Downtown came from the community-at-large and the office of Mayor Phil Gordon — and sometimes encountered resistance from Fairbanks.
There’s already talk of where the next city manager should come from. City officials have said they will conduct a national search. The final approval rests with the City Council. Some folks would like to see Phoenix court managers from cities with vibrant downtowns and light-rail transit. This includes places such as Denver, Salt Lake City, and Portland.
This could be a the turning point for Downtown that those Phoenix crowds were looking for, says Dean Brennan, a former Phoenix planning official who is now a principal with the Project for Livable Communities. “Getting someone with downtown [development] experience in a city where they have a light rail system would be a great combination,” he says.
You haven’t heard the last of this topic. The conversation will only get louder as November gets closer. We’ll have a feature that paints the complete picture later this fall. [Note: For other viewpoints on this topic: “Phoenix will miss Frank Fairbanks,” Arizona Republic editorial; “The model modern city manager,” Jon Talton, Rogue Columnist blog]