By Jesse Duarte
Incoming City Manager Gary Broad comes from the town of Ross, an affluent community where the desire to maintain a small-town ambiance clashes with the pressure to grow and accommodate changing demographics.
Broad recognizes the obvious parallels between St. Helena and Ross, where he simultaneously performed the duties of a town manager, finance director and planning director. His account of Ross’ last general plan update was reminiscent of St. Helena’s political climate.
“At the beginning there were a lot of people who said, ‘We don’t want to see anything change at all from the way it is,’” Broad said. “So the art in doing the general plan was to focus on what people liked about the community, and then figure out how you could maintain those things while still accommodating the change that needs to happen unless you want to the community to become a museum piece.”
Broad’s official start date is Nov. 14, but he’s already spending time in town and trying to get a handle on local issues.
“As a city manager, you want to be fortunate enough to take a job in a community that’s special, attractive, desirable and that people think is a great place,” Broad said. “I’ve been blown away by the response I’ve already gotten in Ross — everyone has nothing but superlatives to say about what a wonderful community St. Helena is.”
A native of New Hampshire, Broad graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut with a bachelor’s degree in economics and government. He attended graduate school at UC Berkeley, where he received a master’s degree in city and regional planning. He earned another master’s in public administration at CSU East Bay, in Hayward.
Broad worked as a planner in the Lake County Planning Department for three and a half years, living in Lakeport. This was followed by planning jobs in Emeryville and Petaluma.
In 1991, he became town planner for Ross in Marin County, reporting directly to the Ross Town Council. Ten years later, he became Ross’ first town administrator/planning director. His title was eventually changed to town manager, which gave him control over the hiring and firing of city employees.
Broad said his nearly 30 years of planning experience should serve him well in St. Helena, which has been without a permanent planning director for a year, yet faces major planning issues like the general plan update and a hotly contested 87-unit housing project proposed behind the new levee.
“My background is in environmental planning,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to see high-quality development which is sensitively done and protects the environment.”
One of Broad’s first tasks as St. Helena city manager will be overseeing the final stages of the general plan update, even as city councilmembers argue about how much of the plan should be reopened for further editing.
Broad managed Ross’ last general plan update, which began in 2004 and was approved by the Town Council in 2007. His take on St. Helena’s general plan update is diplomatic: “I hope the city will be able to finish off whatever’s unresolved, get the (environmental impact report) certified, and get the general plan approved,” he said.
Broad is familiar with the political factors that often go hand-in-hand with city planning and public administration in general.
“The challenge of a city manager is to be responsive to the council, to your staff and to the community,” he said. “The real art lies in keeping all three of those relationships on an even keel. When you’re dealing with one of those groups, you have to be aware that the other two constituencies will be concerned about your relationship with the first group.”
Broad said that balancing act “helps me make sure I don’t go too far toward any one of the three. It forces you to be reasonable when you remember that the other two constituencies are going to be involved.”
Broad says he was aware of St. Helena’s recent political controversies — such as the no-cause firing of former City Manager Mary Neilan — before he applied for the job. During interviews with the council, he “tried to size up what the direction of the council is, how they approach things, whether they want to go in a positive direction, whether they want good governance and whether they’re going to be responsive to the city manager.”
“They were very positive, forthright, and supportive of me in terms of how they felt my skills could help the city,” Broad said. “I felt like I could work with the council, work with staff and involve the community to create a better situation than the way things were prior to my coming here. I think a lot of positive things could happen here in a relatively short timeframe.”
Taking a pay cut
Broad’s base salary in St. Helena will be $155,000, which is $40,000 less than what he was making in Ross. Broad said this is the third time he’s changed jobs and accepted a salary cut.
Broad said that when he first entered the public sector, he knew he wouldn’t earn as much as he would in the private sector. He also said his salary in Ross reflected that he was actually doing three jobs, acting as the equivalent of city manager, planning director and finance director.
“I would have been looking at a pay cut with pretty much any job change,” he said, adding that his 20-year tenure in Ross included a number of salary and merit pay increases.
“I’d just really reached a point where I wanted a change in environment, new challenges and a new organization,” he said. “I was extremely fortunate that the St. Helena job was available and the salary was high enough that I could still cover my expenses.”
Broad currently lives in San Rafael, but his new contract with St. Helena gives him a strong incentive to move, offering $24,000 in housing assistance and $15,000 for moving expenses.
Based on his early interactions with councilmembers, city staff and local citizens, Broad is optimistic that his stay will be a long one.
“It’s been very uplifting to be so welcomed on board,” he said. “I feel like it’s the start of what I expect will be a very positive period going forward.”