FAIRBORN — Fairborn City Council members have their work cut out for them as they are tasked with selecting the next individual to lead the community as the city manager.
The decision is between Thomas Thomas of Rock Island, Ill.; Christopher Philbrick of Dumfries, Va.; as well as Pete Bales and Rob Anderson, both of Fairborn and current city employees.
The four candidates had the opportunity tour the city and meet with community members and officials at a reception Feb. 23. They underwent interviews for the position throughout the day Feb. 24, followed by dinner with council members that evening. City council will meet in an executive session Monday, Feb. 27 to discuss details of the search. They are expected to introduce the community to its new leader by March.
Fairborn includes more than 33,000 citizens and Thomas was initially attracted to the position because he is interested in serving a community with a population between 30,000-40,000 members.
He appreciated the access to the interstate, redevelopment efforts taking place in the downtown area of the community, in addition to having Wright State University as well as Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the neighborhood. Thomas said he has experience in working with both universities and military bases as well as running a variety of meetings and creating a master plan. In Rock Island, Ill., his current community, he worked toward establishing a master plan for the community’s parks and recreation department.
“There’s a lot of progressive things [Fairborn] is working on that attracts me,” Thomas said. ” … I’m a hard worker, I put in the hours — it is a 24/7 job. I’m available all the time, phone calls, emails, texts. The last five years in Rock Island, I didn’t have one sick day. I don’t consider what I do as a job, as a career. I chose to do this and I enjoy doing it.”
He describes his greatest strength as finance. He said in current and former communities he served, citizens experienced no tax increases and was able to bring another community, in which he first served as the budget analyst and later as the assistant accounting manager, to a debt-free status.
“All the other skill sets, dealing with the public, I had to work hard to learn,” Thomas said. “But the finance part is my strength.”
For Bales, Fairborn, he said, is near and dear to his heart. Of his 21 years of public service, he said 15 of those were spent with the Fairborn community.
“This was a no-brainer for me — it’s in me,” Bales said. “I wake up in the morning thinking about it and go to bed at night thinking about it. The community is so tight-knit and I’ve made so many fantastic friends. It feels right to me. When you work for a place, the hours you spend, all day and sometimes all night, you can’t help but form an affinity for it as long as you like what you do, and I love what I do.”
He started with the city as the parks and recreation division superintendent, moving to the public administrative services director, to his most-former position as assistant city manager to his current role as interim city manager.
“Every one of those steps has been challenging and rewarding,” Bales said. ” … I know most everyone … I can’t help it, I’ve been here. I’m a collaborator. I’m not the smartest person in the room, but I utilize people’s strengths. I’m fair, so when we need a problem solved, I know who to call, what to ask and I’m not afraid to make a decision.”
He said Fairborn officials have already been working toward economic development initiatives, which would continue to be his focus if he is selected as the new city manager. The city has been taking steps toward ridding itself of blighted properties in order to welcome new development, in addition to revitalizing the downtown and Broad Street areas.
He additionally mentioned the new developments taking place along Dayton-Yellow Springs Road, saying that upon new housing going up, more community members will come, which will attract additional new businesses to the community.
“We are truly a city in motion — we are on the move,” Bales said. “If you’ve been here long enough, you can feel it. You can see the rise. We’re not there yet, not at the pinnacle … Get involved, have faith and be patient. Change does not happen overnight.”
The way Philbrick sees it, his skills and experiences match the type of candidate the city is seeking. The application for the position included information about the Fairborn community as a whole, in addition to the types of skills the next leader must possess.
“My knowledge, my experience and my background, I think, is a perfect match,” Philbrick said. “I wouldn’t have applied for the position if I didn’t think I could come here and help make a difference.”
He emphasized that he said “help” because, “It’s not about me,” he added. “It’s about being part of a great team.”
Philbrick describes his strengths as being adaptable, resilient and a strong team builder. He highlighted that serving as an impactful city manager means seeing an individual’s strengths and capitalizing upon that while working toward correcting or minimizing weak points.
“There’s certainly things I could improve upon,” Philbrick said when speaking of his weaknesses. “I’m not the smartest information technology guy out there … Having said that, I understand the importance of technology, whether speaking of generational issues such as how to connect to millennials, or how to make improvements to how we do business in the community. Efficiency is everything — from how we police our community, to what kind of training we do for our staff.”
According to his resume, Philbrick currently serves as a management consultant in which he specializes in government consulting, focusing on municipal management. He assisted Nebraska City, Neb. officials with developing a candidate profile for a city manager position in order for the selected individual to work well with council, as listed as an example on his resume. It also lists 30 years of experience with the Department of the Army, rising from second lieutenant to colonial “with increases in duty and responsibilities,” the resume said.
“I have found nothing in our tour or meetings or conversations [during the reception] that tells me anything other than this is a great team and I’d be foolish not to want to be a part of it,” Philbrick said.
Anderson initially became familiar with the inner-workings of Fairborn in February 2016 when he was hired as the economic development director. He came to the community from the City of Clayton as the director of development, formerly serving the City of Vandalia as the city manager and assistant city manager, among other local government positions in nearby communities.
“I’ve had the chance to see the assets and resources that are available here and I feel like we can continue to build on the successes we’ve had and make this city what it could be,” Anderson said.
While he brings experience to the table as a former city manager in a neighboring community, he acknowledged that Fairborn is larger than Vandalia, which brings “different” and “exciting” challenges, he said, which is what he is seeking. His background in economic development has allowed him to make connections in the region that could help “make projects happen,” he said.
“I’m not a perfect candidate, I have my strengths and weaknesses, but I feel like I’m collaborative in my leadership style,” Anderson said. “I like to include others in my decision-making because I don’t have all the answers.”
He also acknowledged that having Wright State in the city’s boundaries and Wright Patterson Air Force Base as a neighbor are both assets. And as Fairborn City Schools begins to construct new intermediate and primary facilities at the same time other walls belonging to new developments go up, citizens can begin to see that officials are doing what they set out to accomplish, building trust and strengthening the relationship among community executives and members.
If he is selected as the city manager, he said he will prioritize redeveloping Broad Street as well as strengthening the Main Street/downtown area.
“I consider it (Fairborn) a sleeping giant,” he said. “There’s a lot of resources — we have available land, incredible companies, great staff and a council that’s willing to give incentives, work with companies and be business friendly — all those things combined, we could be something that’s dynamite.”
Reach Whitney Vickers at 937-502-4532.