Thoughts on Edmonton’s new City Manager

On Tuesday evening I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to meet Simon Farbrother, the City of Edmonton’s new City Manager. He started on Monday, just less than three months after his selection was announced. There were a lot of people there on Tuesday, so I only had a couple of minutes to introduce myself, but based on that quick interaction and Simon’s brief remarks to the crowd, I can say that he seems very genuine, personable, and intelligent.

Simon is no stranger to Edmonton. He earned his MA in Geography from the University of Alberta in 1985, started as a city planner at the City of Leduc in 1989, and after moving up there, left to become the City Manager of Spruce Grove in 1997, a position he held until 2005 when he became Chief Administrative Office for the City of Waterloo. You can read more about Simon’s background here and here.

I never really had the opportunity to interact with Al Maurer, Simon’s predecessor, but by most accounts he was a competent manager and all-around great guy. He joined the City of Edmonton back in 1970, as a traffic operations engineer. He became the department general manager in 1982, and went on to lead the Asset Management & Public Works department, and the Corporate Services department, before being appointed City Manager in 2000. During his tenure, quality of life remained constant (93% in 2000 vs. 91% in 2009) as did overall citizen satisfaction with City services (79% in 2000 vs. 72% in 2009 – all figures come from the Citizen Satisfaction Surveys of those years). It’s easy to find negatives too, such as the ballooning amount spent on consultants ($22 million in 1999 vs. $92 million in 2008). When Al joined the City, the population of Edmonton was about 430,000. When he became Manager 30 years later, Edmonton had grown to about 660,000. And today, as Simon takes over, Edmonton’s population sits at just over 780,000.

Obviously, Al Maurer and Simon Farbrother are quite different from one another. Al spent his entire career at the City of Edmonton, while Simon has moved around (and not just in Canada either, he earned his BA from the University of Portsmouth). Simon has never worked at a city with a population greater than 100,000 while Al has throughout his entire career. Al’s education was in engineering, Simon’s was in geography and economics. And of course, Simon is quite a bit younger at 49 than Al is. Here they are:

I was by far the youngest person in the room the other night, so maybe that’s why I took note of the age difference. I don’t want to make too big a deal of it, but I quite like the fact that Simon is a bit younger. My guess is that he’s younger than many of the other senior managers at the City, so I hope he uses that to his advantage. He said the right things in his letter to citizens, citing the need to “take advantage of new technologies and emerging opportunities” and generally exuding optimism and excitement for the challenges and opportunities ahead.

We’ve got a municipal election coming up on October 18, 2010 – maybe the average age of City Council will come down too?

Congratulations to Al Maurer on his retirement, and on the creation of the Al Maurer Awards Fund to recognize excellence in public service. And good luck to Simon Farbrother – I look forward to seeing Edmonton grow and prosper under his watch!

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