Keller city manager lays himself off
KELLER — Keller City Manager Dan O’Leary decided that someone from the top management ranks at City Hall had to go. So the person he laid off was himself.
He told the City Council of his decision during a closed session Tuesday, then announced it Wednesday morning.
“It’s a little unusual for a city of our size to have three city managers,” O’Leary said, referring to his two assistant city managers, Steve Polasek and Chris Fuller. “There was a time that was needed, but at this point in time, I don’t think we need three city managers.”
His last day on the job will be April 20.
O’Leary said that his last performance review was good and that he isn’t leaving because of any negative issues with staff or council members. Nor is the 57-year-old planning to retire, although he qualifies for a pension through the state’s municipal retirement system because of his 32 years of public service.
The timing of the resignation was based on three factors, he said. O’Leary wanted to resign before the city elections in May, so people wouldn’t conclude that he didn’t like the election results; before the annual budget process, which begins this month, gets heavily under way; and after the auditor gave a final annual report, which occurred at Tuesday’s pre-council meeting.
“This was the best time,” O’Leary said.
He said he will recommend that either Polasek or Fuller replace him. Polasek oversees finance, information technology, library, and parks and recreation. Fuller oversees community development, economic development, human resources and public works.
Council members didn’t choose a replacement Tuesday.
“They will take that up again at the next council meeting,” O’Leary said.
No other staff reductions are planned, he said.
“There could be others in the future, but there’s certainly not a plan right now or a list with anybody’s name on it,” he said.
Tackling financial woes
The city hired O’Leary in December 2007 after he worked as city manager in San Marcos.
He said he was attracted to the job because of the quality of life in Keller and because he had relatives in the area. He set a goal of creating a more transparent City Hall and soon brought on board the two assistant city managers, hired from Southlake and Colleyville.
In his first year in office, he booted the city’s longtime fire chief and the emergency medical services chief. But the biggest challenge from the start may have been the recession, which cut into tax revenue.
He told city employees that pay raises would not be as generous as in the past and said the tax increment financing district, created years earlier to fund Town Center, was not generating enough money to make bond payments.
To deal with slumping revenue and the tax district shortfall, O’Leary warned that the city would be forced to raise taxes to make scheduled debt payments. To prevent steep tax increases or deep cuts in services, he and his staff looked to reduce expenses.
O’Leary said that over the last few years, his staff has understood the need to do things differently in local government.
“We’ve had a reduction in workforce. We’ve combined services with other cities,” he said.
Those merger efforts are estimated to save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
“We are probably in better shape than we have been in a couple of years,” he said. “I feel we’ve done a good job holding down expenses. Going into this year, it’ll feel better than it has in the past.”
The city has won recognition during his tenure, including being named to CNN/ Money magazine’s list of the nation’s 100 best small towns to live in.
O’Leary oversaw a number of public improvements, including an expanded library, a new fire station and better roads. Plans are under way for expanding the facility that houses the Police Department, jail, Municipal Court and animal shelter.
A big loss
Mayor Pat McGrail said O’Leary’s departure is a big loss. He credits O’Leary’s leadership as one of the reasons Keller became a “city of choice” and one of the best places to call home.
“Dan’s a very special person. We were very fortunate to attract him,” McGrail said. “He’s very unique. He really brought a lot to the city.”
McGrail said now that things are better in Keller, O’Leary is simply ready to move on.
“He’s ready to move on to new and bigger challenges,” he said. “It’s going to be a loss. Wherever he ends up, it’ll be to their benefit. Some other city will be very fortunate to have him.”
Councilman Doug Miller credits O’Leary with putting the city on solid ground.
“He changed the culture at City Hall,” Miller said. “He left the city on a sustainable financial path for the future. He is a great leader.”
O’Leary earns $176,000 annually after the 1 percent pay raise that he and other city staff received last year. He said he will receive the equivalent of two weeks’ pay for unused vacation time.
He plans to stay in Keller unless his next job requires him to move.
“I’ve put my hat in the ring in a couple of Metroplex cities,” he said. “But I don’t have any job offers right now.
“I’m like everyone else. I don’t know if I’m going to find one or not.”
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Susan McFarland, 817-431-2231