Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax is leaving for a position in Dallas. The City Council, labor leaders and others say he’s worked quietly and well here for the past five years. DEAN J. KOEPFLER Staff file, 2012
Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax is leaving for a position in Dallas. The City Council, labor leaders and others say he’s worked quietly and well here for the past five years. DEAN J. KOEPFLER Staff file, 2012

Politics & Government

As city manager leaves for Dallas, many say Tacoma’s ‘man of mystery’ helped set the city straight

December 28, 2016 03:57 PM

UPDATED January 11, 2017 05:26 PM

Tacoma’s city managers typically have fallen into two camps, says former mayor and Tacoma historian Bill Baarsma.

Some were outgoing and a visible part of the community, and some were more reserved, choosing a behind-the-scenes management style and shying away from the spotlight.

That’s T.C. Broadnax, Baarsma said.

“He’s probably kind of the man of mystery,” Baarsma said. “People didn’t really know him.”

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That quiet nature was part of Broadnax’s appeal when he was hired in 2012, a former City Council member said, and served him well as city manager.

Broadnax, 47, is the second manager hired from out of the region who was recruited away from Tacoma to manage an even bigger city after serving with a City Council that was full of praise for him, Baarsma said. The other was Bill Donaldson, who left for Cincinnati in 1975.

Baarsma also praised Broadnax.

“The fact that the council is to a person very supportive of him says a lot about his ability to deal with policymakers,” Baarsma said. “I give him credit.”

Broadnax is leaving Tacoma for the same position in Dallas after nearly five years with a good reputation and high praise from many. The move is seen as a huge career boost, because Dallas is the third-largest U.S. city with a city manager-council form of government.

His first day there will be Feb. 1. His last day as Tacoma’s chief executive will be Jan. 24, the city said.

The fact that the council is to a person very supportive of him says a lot about his ability to deal with policymakers. I give him credit

Bill Baarsma, former mayor and Tacoma historian

Many who worked with Broadnax say he’s leaving a legacy of professionalism and transparency. He’s credited with righting the city’s finances, increasing equity and setting Tacoma on a path to financial sustainability.

Having previously worked in government in right-to-work states, he had a learning curve in union bargaining, but was a quick study and treated labor with respect, said Ryan Mudie, president of the city’s firefighters union.

“T.C. had a job to do, and I think he was an honest man with me and my organization,” Mudie said. “He didn’t pull any punches. He did his job. We had our differences, but we respected the job that needed to be done.”

When he was hired, Broadnax faced a $60 million hole in the general fund amid the depths of the economic recession. When the City Council interviewed applicants for city manager after it fired former chief executive Eric Anderson, Broadnax immediately stood out for his financial chops and his quiet manner, said state Rep. Jake Fey, who was on the council when Broadnax was hired.

“He had some big-city experience, and he also had kind of a calming, kind of relaxed way about him,” Fey said. “I think that served him well.”

Another applicant with a boisterous personality stood in stark contrast to Broadnax, Fey said. The council went with the man with the more reserved disposition.

“We needed that, we really needed someone to get about managing the finances of the city and taking a fresh look at the finances,” Fey said.

Tacoma’s form of government, which Fey called a strong city manager, weak City Council form, puts a great deal of trust in the city manager.

He had some big city experience, and he also had kind of a calming, kind of relaxed way about him. I think that served him well

Rep. Jake Fey, a former Tacoma city councilman who was on the council that hired Broadnax

“You run the risk of a strong personality accumulating power, and that was what had happened under the previous person. But it’s my observation that he didn’t do that where he probably could have,” Fey said of Broadnax. “But he got about the business of what we hired him for, which was to straighten out the finances.”

Baarsma said Broadnax also kept up an unusually good relationship with the City Council, members of which lavished him with praise in his most recent performance review and gave him a $9,000 pay raise earlier this year.

The stars aligned for Broadnax to succeed in the role partly because he had a good relationship with a council that trusted him, former City Manager Jim Walton said.

“I think he was also blessed to have a council that wasn’t trying to be legislators and managers, and that’s another really critical thing for city managers because there are too many people who serve on the council that in this form of government, they get out of their lane. They try to do both,” said Walton, who was city manager from 2003 to 2005.

Broadnax said among the things he’s most proud of in his time in Tacoma was his work to restore faith in city government.

“Some of the things I’m happy about … were my ability to help work with the council to navigate throughout the budget difficulties in the 2012 and 2013 and 2014 budget issues,” Broadnax said in an interview, adding that he helped “build back some level of trust and credibility in local government here.”

He credited his work in meeting with communities across Tacoma and taking pains to explain the budget process and what goes into it.

$252,000 Broadnax’s base salary in Tacoma

$375,000 Broadnax’s starting salary in Dallas

$400,000 Salary of retiring Dallas city manager A.C. Gonzalez

“I don’t believe the level of engagement and information shared was done at the level that I did it in my first year and obviously in every other budget we’ve produced,” Broadnax said.

“I think that if there was any statement I’d heard more than usual, it was that many people would come up to me and say they’d lived in this community for many years and said this was the first time they ever really understood the city’s budget.”

As Broadnax took the reins in Tacoma, there were deep cuts and layoffs, notably to police, fire and public works.

There were tough conversations to be had with union leaders, but Mudie said the city manager spent time with him and his group, had an open door policy and earned their respect, even as the department faced severe cuts.

After years of paring, the city eventually found itself on stable ground.

A $6.7 million budget deficit was projected for the coming 2017-18 budget, and further axing of services, including possible closure of libraries, was feared.

But when Broadnax announced his spending plan for the next two years, it was notable for what it didn’t cut, and for what it added: For the first time in years, the city’s fire and police departments are boosting their payrolls and adding positions, though they’re still not close to being at pre-recession staffing levels.

“He inherited all these problems,” Mudie said. “This is the first year that we didn’t face cuts in the biennial budget process, and we are grateful for that, and I thank T.C. and his staff, and the City Council most importantly for listening and wanting to provide services.”

Broadnax did his job, said Alice Phillips, head of the IBEW Local 483 union, whose members work for Click Cable TV, but she’s concerned about the job her members have to do now with fewer resources.

She said the City Council should look more locally for its next city manager to spare the city the cost of relocating a new hire and whatever staff members the boss brings.

I’m asking the City Council right now to look regionally for a replacement — you can’t tell me there aren’t good people in Washington or Oregon that are capable of running a city this size

Alice Phillips, head of the IBEW Local 483 union, whose members work for Click Cable TV

“I’m asking the City Council right now to look regionally for a replacement — you can’t tell me there aren’t good people in Washington or Oregon that are capable of running a city this size,” Phillips said.

Broadnax said he doesn’t know whether the members of his executive staff who came with him from his previous job in San Antonio will follow him back to Texas.

In Dallas, Broadnax confirmed, he will be paid a base salary of $375,000 a year, almost $125,000 more than he was paid in Tacoma.

That figure will go up to $395,000 in February 2018.

His contract provides for $35,000 in moving expenses and a $700 monthly car allowance, according to the Dallas Observer.

Before he leaves, Broadnax has been asked to draft a request for qualifications for the city manager performance evaluation committee, due Jan. 4, that will help them solicit a national firm to recruit a new city manager.

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud