Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax is the kind of guy who prefers to stay out of the spotlight and out of the headlines.
But the headlines he made recently should surprise no one.
It was learned last week that Broadnax, as The News Tribune reported, is one of five finalists for an open city manager position in Dallas — the third-largest U.S. city with a city manager-council form of government, according to the National League of Cities.
I’m not a city manager talent scout, but based on Broadnax’s track record here in Tacoma, my hunch is he has a legitimate shot at the job. Among other résumé-worthy accomplishments, he’s overseen a rebuilding phase in Tacoma, after the Great Recession Era stumbles of his predecessor Eric Anderson.
And, equally important, he’s worked well with the city’s elected officials.
“I’d hire him. Wait, I did!” former City Councilman David Boe told me earlier this week as we discussed Broadnax’s prospects in Dallas.
I'd hire him. Wait, I did!
Former City Councilman David Boe on Broadnax’s chances in Dallas
Boe is not the only current or former council member to sing Broadnax’s praises. T.C.’s annual performance reviews come off like Hallmark cards, with City Council members seemingly trying to outdo one another in effusive praise. Critiques are minimal, like suggestions that maybe Broadnax could communicate a little better, and perhaps be slightly less awesome, because it’s making everyone else jealous.
When it comes to the Dallas gig, Broadnax certainly sounds interested.
“When you spend your career in local government you think about those types of positions that give you an opportunity to impact people’s lives in a positive way and change people’s perspective of government, and I think Dallas is a wonderful stage,” Broadnax, who will fly to the Lone Star State this week for more interviews and a public meet-and-greet, told The News Tribune.
“It’s a great opportunity, I think, for somebody that wants those types of challenges, and I definitely do.”
It’s worth noting that, at this point, all we can do is speculate about the possibility of Broadnax’s departure.
But rest assured, one day — probably sooner rather than later, now that his interest in moving up is known — Broadnax will leave us.
That’s the risk of being in the city manager game, which Tacoma has willfully partaken in since 1952.
If you hire one at the end of their career, or one that stinks, they might stick around for a while.
But if you hire someone of Broadnax’s caliber, an up-and-comer in the midst of their career and interested in advancement, well, eventually the recruiters come a knockin’.
Which, perhaps, brings us back to the question of Tacoma’s form of government — for the 8,763rd time.
Is this city manager thing all it’s cracked up to be?
Next year, including the mayor, the Tacoma City Council will see five terms expire. Significant change is on the horizon, one way or another.
But, now, with a potential — and, up until last week, unexpected — change in the city manager’s office, the shakeup at City hall, and leadership void, could be even greater.
Strong mayor, anyone?
Ducks for cover.
(For the record, Tacoma voters have turned down strong mayor efforts in 1956, 1968, 1970 and 2015.)
Maybe the whole issue of (Broadnax) leaving brings this issue to the forefront again.
Former Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma
Asked if a vacancy would provide an opportune time to take a hard look at whether or not the city manager style of government continues to be best for Tacoma, Ken Miller, who served on the 2014 charter review committee and was one of the folks behind the last year’s failed strong mayor initiative, replied predictably, given his clear preference.
In fact, he said, it might be a better time than most, because a Broadnax departure would provide an opportunity to pose the question without it coming off like an indictment on the person currently holding the job.
“Should T.C. take the job in Dallas, or get recruited for another job, the City Council would have the opportunity to ask the citizens which form of government we would prefer,” Miller said.
“It’s inevitable that if you’ve got a guy in the job, and you suggest eliminating the job, some people are going to think you’re trying to get rid of him,” he continued.
But, “if the job is vacant, or let’s say there is a caretaker appointed for a period of time,” Miller said, it changes the dynamic of the question, for the City Council and voters.
Of course, no strong mayor conversation in Tacoma is complete with input from former mayor Bill Baarsma, who has spent much of his adult life advocating for the change in government.
Baarsma tells me such a change would require a “wave” of momentum, and — not to be a downer for strong mayor stalwarts — but he’s not feeling it.
At least yet.
“I don’t know if that’s there. I don’t sense it’s there,” he said.
Baarsma believes a new strong mayor movement gaining steam will depend on who’s elected to the City Council next year — “and if (Broadnax) takes this new position, how people feel about kind of being rudderless for a while.”
“Maybe the whole issue of (Broadnax) leaving brings this issue to the forefront again.”
Perhaps the 8,764th time will be the charm.