The city has changed hands quietly.
Three weeks ago, David Wilbrecht took over as Blaine’s city manager, after former manager Gary Tomsic officially retired from the post.
Since taking the reins, the mild-mannered Wilbrecht said he’s been studying up, meeting with department heads and going through the paperwork to learn as much as he can about the town he’s been tasked to run. A map illustrating the city’s zoning districts along with a folder full of brochures and rack cards from the visitor’s center cover the table in his office – these are just some of the tools he’s using to get a handle on how the city works and what the city is invested in.
“It’s very similar work to what I’ve done before,” said Wilbrecht, who was formerly city manager for Mammoth Lake, California. “Right now, I’m just learning the details and getting familiar with the particulars of Blaine. It’s a huge learning curve.”
Wilbrecht was hired by the city council after an extensive nation-wide candidate search. “I saw the job and that it was close to
home,” said Wilbrecht, who is originally from Auburn, Washington. “I was really impressed with the way Gary (Tomsic) gave so much notice to his staff. My wife and I talked it over and thought it would be a great opportunity to move back closer to our family.”
The council voted unanimously to hire him after going through the search process.
“He’s very responsive to council and I feel like he’s going to be the type of administrator who’s going to follow through with action plans instead of letting them sit on a shelf and gather dust,” said council member Bonnie Onyon. “My general impression is that he’s doing well so far.”
There’s a lot of work ahead for Wilbrecht, though, and it wouldn’t be hard for him to get lost in the sea of paperwork that comes along with managing a city, but Wilbrecht says he is not one to run a city from behind his desk.
“It’s easy to do it that way,” he said. “You can get caught up in the details and stay holed up in your office, but this kind of work has a very important public side to it.”
The community-oriented Wilbrecht has already been out meeting and greeting people, with stops at local businesses and organizations. He said his interest is in learning how to make Blaine the city its people want it to be. “I want to get to know people and be a part of the community,” he said. “Blaine has the opportunity to do things. It’s nice to be able to follow what Gary’s already done. It’s my job to keep his legacy going.”
Part of that legacy is helping the town grow. “It’s always better to build things than to tear them down,” he said. “But that doesn’t just mean physical assets. It’s school and community spirit as well. The city council is really interested in economic development right now, and bringing in living wage jobs, so that means streamlining things to make the city business-friendly. We have to make it as clear and clean as possible for people who want to open businesses.”
To facilitate that, he’s working with departments to create an easy-to-understand packet to help people get started with their business needs. “It could be as simple as having it located all in one place on a webpage,” Wilbrecht said. “The point is to help people get answers to the questions they have to the best of our ability and feel like they’ve had a good experience in the process.”
Wilbrecht said that his background in public administration – he holds a master’s degree from Seattle University in the field – has set him up well for the position. “I’ve always been interested in city operations,” he said. “I worked in parks and recreation at first, but on the operations side of things, so when I reached a director level it was either look for a job at another parks department or go into city management. That’s where I wanted to go.”
He said he will be meeting regularly with the mayor to assess the needs of the city – “It’s really the mayor’s agenda,” he said, – and then working to find ways to communicate those needs with the citizens. “You’re going to start seeing a calendar of events that will help people know more readily what kind of items are coming up on the meeting schedule,” he said. “Budgeting, grant due dates, when bills will be approved – all that is going to go on the calendar.”
As for beefing up the city’s infrastructure, including adding more police officers to the force, Wilbrecht is taking a measured approach to those issues.
“The worst thing you can do is spend money you don’t have,” he said. “Or hire people with one-time money. We want to make sure the funds are there to support bringing new people in. Right now, we’re waiting to see what will happen.
“We want to be careful about that and make sure that jobs are sustainable and able to be funded for the long term before we do anything new.”