The First Days on the Job

Tacoma city manager says he’s up to challenge

He has yet to find a permanent address, gets lost driving around town and hasn’t quite adjusted to the time change.

LEWIS KAMB; STAFF WRITER, Published: 02/25/12 6:00 am

He has yet to find a permanent address, gets lost driving around town and hasn’t quite adjusted to the time change.

But T.C. Broadnax – Tacoma’s new city manager, arriving via Texas amid a municipal budget crisis – isn’t worried about getting used to his new ZIP code. All of that will come in time, he said.

What he’s focused on now is getting up to speed – on the budget, with the City Council and key staff, with the community and its concerns.

Broadnax, 43, a married father of six, started work on Feb. 13. Chosen by the council following a national search, the former assistant in San Antonio and Pompano Beach, Fla., said he’s excited to take on his first top administrator’s job.

The News Tribune sat down with Broadnax Thursday to discuss a range of issues, from his leadership philosophy to his basketball game to his mysterious initials.

Here are some highlights from the conversation:

TNT: Have you moved here yet?

Broadnax: Not permanently. But temporarily, I’m staying in the downtown area, which is convenient. My normal commute used to be 35, 40 minutes a day to work. So getting to work in one minute is very, very good for me. It allows me to get here early and stay as late as I want.

TNT: Are you waiting to get to know Tacoma better before you move your family here?

Broadnax: Well, as most husbands know, it’s typically the wife who chooses where you’re going to live. I’m going to wait until my wife gets here and have her really take a look at the city, you know, and the areas. … But yeah, we want to wait. We bought a home pretty quickly when we moved to San Antonio. I think we made the right choice, but I think we want to take our time a little bit to figure out where we want to stay.

TNT: What have you been doing in your first few days on the job?

Broadnax: I’m really trying to engross myself and play catch up to where we are in what has been the most overriding issue for the past several months, and that’s the budget. I’ve been spending quality time, as I call it, with the council and the mayor, trying to get their perspective. Not only on the budget, but what they feel some of the things are that are important to them and their constituents.

And really, spending a lot of time getting to know my leadership team … just talking to them about some of the perspectives I have on their given areas and some of the things that I hope we can work on once we … get this budget matter under control.

TNT: Interim City Manager Rey Arellano already charted a course to address the budget that’s well underway. Is that plan something you’ll allow to play out or will you change it in some way?

Broadnax: I think as the city manager, I’m going to own what happens once my tenure starts. I don’t have any qualms with the direction the budget efforts have been going. I think if I add any value, it will really be to look at it from an outside perspective, as a professional manager.

Now, being here, I can give my thoughts on how that approach lines up with how at least I’m seeing what might be the issues and challenges heading beyond just 2012, into ’13 and ’14. I want to make sure that I at least have a comfort level and share that comfort level with the council as well as staff.

Hopefully, we’re going to be recommending some things very shortly that will allow us to close that gap for this year, and then we’ll be able to get our attention focused on what the long term structural issues are with our budget.

TNT: You were able to transform a grim budget picture in (Pompano Beach) Florida when you worked there. Do you expect to replicate what you did there to improve Tacoma’s budget situation?

Broadnax: What I like to share with people is that when I was over (the) budget in Florida, I think that was a different time. We weren’t in the middle of a big recession, and the laws were a lot different as they related to property taxation. …

I think the budget perspective I will bring hopefully is an added benefit, and if you ask me if that’s a skill that’s a strength for me, I’d say definitely. But it’s a different time and a different situation.

One of the things I’ve always said, it’s easy to prepare and manage a budget when times are good, but it really demonstrates what your skills are to manage a budget in difficult times. It fosters a desire for me to want to be here, because I see it as a challenge.

TNT: Are you planning to make any changes in your leadership team?

Broadnax: Well, obviously we’re all making changes right now. There’ve been a lot of changes. There were people here who are no longer here due to budget issues.

But I think it’s a responsibility for me coming in to really do an assessment, a diagnostic, of the organization as a whole, just to see how our departments are functioning and to really take a good look at our people and see if they’re in the right places for us to be successful…. I don’t have any preconceived notions what the changes will be. I owe it to the council as well as the staff here to really do an honest assessment, and to see where we can make some improvements.

TNT: You’ve mostly been an assistant. Now, you’re in charge. Has that been a difficult transition?

Broadnax: You know, it has not been difficult. As I’ve been saying through this entire process, I’ve been trained every day to be a city manager. And, I think when I sat down in the seat on the 13th, it was a natural next step for me. I don’t think I was overwhelmed in the job, and I don’t think I will be.

TNT: What is your leadership philosophy?

Broadnax: A community-oriented philosophy. The first thought beyond the day-to-day management rigors really comes from the perspective of the community and what they expect from us and what they need from us. And then that dovetails into how we really go about meeting those needs.

As it relates to governance, (my philosophy is) different probably than your traditional city manager, where it’s ‘I run the city, the employees are my employees, the council makes the policy and never do those two bleed over into each other.’ I obviously understand the ­council-manager form of government. But I really view the relationship I have with the City Council – which ultimately impacts citizens – as a partnership …

TNT: In five years, when you look back at your work here, what priorities will you hope to have accomplished?

Broadnax: Hopefully, there will be too many to name. But if you were to ask me for three big things or four, I’d say a thriving downtown and waterfront with a lot less empty storefronts and more people walking around.

Second thing, I’d say are thriving neighborhoods that feel they are connected to City Hall and the people in City Hall … neighborhoods that are safer, hopefully with streets that are in a lot better condition, and with people who generally just feel like Tacoma is where they want to remain the rest of their life.

The third thing would be that the (city) organization is functioning at a higher level, and people are articulating that we’re doing a better job and they can say the city is in a better place.

TNT: When you were interviewing for the manager’s job, I told you I was going to find out what T.C. stood for. So, I know your name now. Is that something you want to talk about?

Broadnax: That is not something I want to talk about.

TNT: It’s a family name?

Broadnax: It is a family name. But, I’ll say this – and hopefully, you don’t go there with it – but the issue is, well one, I changed my name, first of all. But I think it speaks to what I thought was a business decision.

TNT: You changed it legally to T.C.?

Broadnax: My name is legally T.C. But there was always a long discussion about my name, the family name, and I’m the type that I want to get directly to business. I just don’t want to stop and talk about (it). Only people from Kansas know the name, in theory.

TNT: You grew up in Kansas and I read that you played basketball and did quite well.

Broadnax: I was OK. I played at the NAIA level – Division II now – at Washburn (University). Yeah, I was good in the day, I thought. I see these little young kids today and I go, ‘Wow.’ I thought I could jump high back then, but these kids. Wow.

TNT: Have you visited any neighborhoods?

Broadnax: You know what? I’ve been in City Hall most of the time. On a good day, I would say I’m out of here by 7 o’clock. But I’ve driven around and gotten lost a few times – purposefully, just to see if I can find my way back.

If I can just figure out my directions around here, as far as what’s north and south. Give me some landmarks. I’m used to much bigger buildings. In San Antonio, I’d see the Tower of America and I’d know where I’m at.

TNT: If the mountain ever comes out …

Broadnax: Then I’ll have my landmark?

TNT: Have you seen it yet?

Broadnax: You know what, I think I saw it once. It’s funny. The sun came out one time – and I say one time, because I’d been here like four times and had never seen it. And the sun came out and I was like a vampire. You know, ‘What is that?’ I was like, visors down, shades on. ‘What is that?’