Scottsdale city manager brings conscientious approach to municipal governance

Scottsdale City Manager Jim Thompson outside of City Hall Tuesday, April 18. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

Tucked away in the corner of Scottsdale City Hall is a modest office inhabited by a seemingly modest man — but a man who says his mission in life is to serve.

Turns out that idea of public service is more than just a soundbite or the most recent nomenclature of the municipal leadership arena because for the last 30 years the drumbeat of those marching orders is what Scottsdale City Manager Jim Thompson has been walking to.

Current and previous colleagues of Mr. Thompson say he walks the walk.

“The more I interact with Jim Thompson the more impressed I am with his knowledge and expertise in city government,” said Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips in an April 17 statement.

“He has an incredible sense of what government’s role is in a community and the ability to bring compromise with all parties. His academic credentials and past history speak to the community that we have a city manager who weighs all aspects of an issue and comes up with common sense, economically feasible solutions.”

Mr. Thompson has been on the job about three months, has a base salary of $211,162 and receives four weeks of paid vacation annually. He has an annual allowance of $5,000 for professional development and receives a six-month severance package similar to previous Scottsdale city managers.

Mr. Thompson, who served as Casa Grande city manager from 2003 until earlier this year, oversaw city operations there touting a $175 million annual budget. He has also worked over the last 20 years in positions at Bothell, Wash., and Bullhead City.

He has been a member of the Arizona State Personnel Board since 2004. Also, he has been a professor in Arizona State University’s Department of Public Affairs since 2011.

Scottsdale Councilwoman Linda Milhaven says Mr. Thompson is a man who can think on his feet — and those thoughts carry water, she contends.

“He is smart, thoughtful, caring and capable,” she said in an April 18 statement.

“He is high energy. He quickly sizes up situations and acts quickly to move things forward. He brings great experience and expertise that will help us make Scottsdale an even more special place. He is open and frank and able to chart a clear direction that respects and balances competing priorities.”

A view from the top

Former Casa Grande Mayor Bob Jackson says the reputation of Mr. Thompson is something he is happy to help embolden.

Bob Jackson

“I had a really good relationship with Jim,” he said in an April 18 phone interview. “I had just unseated the current mayor and on my first day in office I went right to Jim’s office. The rumor that was going around was I ran to get rid of Jim.”

Mr. Jackson, who is now termed out of elected office at the city of Casa Grande, says rumor or innuendo never carried much weight for Mr. Thompson.

“I think he had heard the rumors too, although he didn’t really lead on he had, but we had a great working relationship for nine years,” he said. “Our prior city manager was very popular — I don’t think a lot of people didn’t know who he was.”

From 2007 to 2012 Mr. Jackson points out the city of Casa Grande, as with all Arizona cities and towns — was hit hard by the Great Recession. Through Mr. Thompson’s leadership, the city is now on excellent financial footing.

“We went through some very difficult budget experience,” he said of fiscal years 2007 through 2012. “I don’t think there was a better person that Jim to handle that.”

Mr. Jackson says Mr. Thompson successfully initiated and implemented a $200 million capital improvement plan with benefits still being reaped in the northern Pinal County municipality.

“He has the ability to understand the politics of a city council, how to handle the relationship with council and how to work toward the initiative to accomplish council goals,” he said of Mr. Thompson’s leadership. “I was mayor for 9 1/2 years and I can’t remember a controversial topic.”

Mr. Jackson describes a man that is not seeking the limelight, but one who understands the glare of popularity.

“He didn’t want to be out in front of it,” he said of Mr. Thompson’s reluctance to feed his ego. “Jim has a lot of strengths, but by far his biggest strength is finance.”

Jim Lane

Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane says, at first blush, Mr. Thompson appears to be the right fit for the municipality he’s elected to serve.

“Jim has been able to walk a very good line in how to help the council develop policy rather than develop policy for the council,” Mayor Lane said Tuesday, April 18 following a Global Ties Arizona event in Scottsdale.

“He is a pragmatic and reasoned guy. Before Jim, we seemed to have this assumption that some groups have been misinformed or not informed to create a desired action. Now, we are thinking we have to at least get the facts out there.”

Mayor Lane points out Mr. Thompson is not necessarily telling members of city council what they want to hear.

“He really says it straight. He may couch it given your position, but he will tell you how he sees it,” Mayor Lane points out. “He is not a big talker, but he certainly expresses himself well. I think people appreciate a frankness in any conversation. He is a guy who understands the politics of his position but doesn’t get into the politics.”

Leadership vs. management

The Scottsdale Independent sat down with Mr. Thompson Tuesday, April 19 and discovered a man who is well spoken, looks people straight in the eye and appears to calculate everything about himself — even how he constructs his thoughts.

“You truly need to understand yourself before you can understand anyone else,” Mr. Thompson said April 19 at his office at City Hall.

“This gives a greater perspective on all topics. Those appropriate ways of thinking about things. There are multiple ways to get there.”

In constant pursuit of knowledge, Mr. Thompson says his thirst for knowledge has given him a conscientious approach to the world around him.

“It is not about the money,” he said pointing out he has forgone a state pension to be employed at the city of Scottsdale. “Leadership and management are two completely different philosophies of thought. I try to bring the best practices for everything I do. If there is one thing that I focus on it is that I love to serve. That is why I am here.”

Scottsdale is the straw that stirs the economic drink of the Valley of the Sun — and being at the helm of the municipality is a feather in anyone’s cap, Mr. Thompson points out.

“Scottsdale is one of those communities that is regionally recognized by the state. Scottsdale matters,” he said. “It is truly branded. It gives me the opportunity to continue excellence at the highest level.”

Mr. Thompson contends his biggest problem is time management and becoming versed in the nuances of a municipality the size of the city of Scottsdale.

“I have met with more and more employees — they are who are making the difference,” he said pointing out a recent efforts to get to know the employees of Scottsdale by holding office hours at a police substation or attending the recent Hard Hat Breakfast.

“I am trying to be as engaging as I can.”

With three decades of municipal leadership under his belt, Mr. Thompson says the city of Scottsdale has all of the civic elements he is familiar with.

“I am bringing 30 years of what I do,” he said. “From urban areas to suburban areas to rural areas — Scottsdale has all of these.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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