‘Local government is where a lot of conversations happen,’ Phoenix city manager says

Profiles in Power highlights public officials nationwide who are improving their communities through their dedication, enthusiasm, creativity and experience.

This week’s profile is Jeffrey Barton, city manager of Phoenix.

Public career highlights and education: I started my career as an auditor and witnessed others in the same discipline be pigeonholed into budget and finance roles. The biggest challenge on my path to success was getting opportunities beyond these roles – I had to demonstrate to my leadership and city council that I had a broader skillset. I proved I could take my financial savvy and combine it with skills like problem solving and process improvement, and ultimately deliver better services to our residents. And by showing my range as a professional, I got opportunities to grow into other leadership roles within the organization.

I’m proud that I am Phoenix’s first African American City Manager, especially as an HBCU graduate. And my proudest accomplishment as City Manager is the General Obligation (GO) Bond. With the support and direction of my City Council, I successfully developed a voter-approved $500 million GO Bond Program, which will fund critical infrastructure and rehabilitation needs of city facilities such as parks, libraries, fire and police stations, affordable housing, streets and storm drains without raising the property tax rate. This program brings me pride because it invests in Phoenix’s future responsibly and strategically and will make an impact for generations to come.

What I like best about public service is: I was fortunate that I came into this organization and had people that saw something in me and gave me an opportunity to grow my skills and talent. I think the City of Phoenix does a great job promoting diversity. That mentoring as I was rising through the ranks made it that much more important to me to give back and mentor others, giving time to other employees at all levels of the organization.

Growing up in public housing, you see a lot of the bad side of society, and when I was younger, I always wanted to be in a position where I could help people. As City Manager, I have that opportunity on a daily basis.

The best advice I’ve received: Speak the truth. It was a lesson I learned living in Pennsylvania with my grandmother, Rachel Barton. She’s my shining star, she’s my angel. She passed two years ago. My grandmother only had like a sixth-grade education; my grandfather was pretty much totally illiterate, but they understood the importance of education.

People might be interested to know that: I grew up in public housing with lesser means. I chose government because I wanted to give folks who grew up like me an opportunity to have what I didn’t. I knew local government is where a lot of conversations happen if you’re really trying to make a difference. It’s at the local level where those changes manifest.

Being the first African American city manager in Phoenix’s history is a huge accomplishment. I went to Morehouse College, a historically Black college and university, so it’s an even bigger deal for me. I grew up without a father, and my parents weren’t involved in my life. I was raised by my grandmother, who dropped out of school in sixth grade, and my grandfather couldn’t read or write. My grandmother is my guiding light, and it’s heartwarming to be in this position.

One thing I wish more people knew about Phoenix: I’d like people to know that the city of Phoenix is the country’s largest council-manager form of local government. With 15,000 city employees we oversee the lives of 1.7 million residents.

When I first got here, Phoenix functioned like a really small town. But then, as people came here in droves and the population almost doubled in a decade and a half, the speed at which things happened changed drastically. One example is we are having discussions to better serve the population that were previously not taking place. Back in the day, it was common for council votes to be 9-0, with rare dissension among the group. We’ve now become accustomed to 5-4 or 6-3 votes. It’s healthy to have discussions and differences of opinion because that’s when you get a better product.

Government Market News Staff

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