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Management Decisions: Springfield narrows search for city manager

Two finalists emerge to succeed Greg Burris

Posted online

Springfield officials by month’s end plan to announce the winner of a nationwide search for a new city manager.

The winning candidate would assume the post before the July 1 start of the 2019 fiscal year, said Cora Scott, the city’s manager of public information and civic engagement.

Both finalists recently came to Springfield for a final interview with Springfield City Council, as well as visits with city staff, community groups and local media.

Council narrowed its selection to Jason Gage of Salina, Kansas, and Wayne Pyle of West Valley City, Utah. One of them will succeed City Manager Greg Burris, who plans to lead the city’s Give 5 senior volunteer program after a decade of serving as city CEO.

Scott said the city would not disclose the number of applicants during a May 21 news conference.

Lamar to Salina
In Kansas, Jason Gage oversees 480 employees and an annual budget of $137 million for the city of Salina, which has a population of 49,000, according to information provided by Springfield officials.

Gage has served as Salina’s city manager for 13 years, previously working in city manager roles in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and De Soto, southwest of St. Louis.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, as well as a master’s degree in public administration at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Gage was born in the southwest Missouri city of Lamar, and returning to the area serves as an overriding reason he seeks the Springfield city manager spot.

“I’ve spent most of my professional career in Kansas,” Gage said, noting he’d consider working in Springfield a step up. “I really feel that I’m ready to apply myself in a broader context, with the opportunity to come back to the area that I grew up pretty close to, in my home state.”

As Salina city manager, he led a $155 million downtown redevelopment project. It includes a $12 million fieldhouse, a $19 million hotel and conference center, a $4.7 automotive museum and new downtown housing, according to Salina Journal reporting.

Work on related infrastructure and street improvements started earlier this year, according to the newspaper’s website, Salina.com.

In 2012, Gage established a so-called continuous process improvement program, through which Salina saved some $2.9 million in city costs during the past four years, according to information provided by Springfield officials.

Last summer, Gage was one of five finalists for the city manager of Topeka, Kansas.

“In some ways, it’s an easy decision. But it’s a difficult decision,” Gage said of a potential move. “It’s sort of like leaving family to join a new family, so it’s sort of bittersweet if that opportunity arises.”

Second city, Utah
Farther west, in Utah, Pyle oversees 800 full-time equivalent employees and West Valley City’s annual budget of $100 million. The city comprises 140,000 residents.

He has worked for West Valley City for the past 19 years, also serving as assistant city manager for the suburb of Salt Lake City, according to his biography at WVC-Ut.gov.

Taking the city’s CEO post in 2002, Pyle is a former U.S. Army Reserve veteran of 20 years who worked primarily in military intelligence and civic affairs, a role he said translates into municipal leadership.

Pyle attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, for his undergraduate studies and a master’s degree in public administration.

West Valley City – Utah’s second largest city – was incorporated in 1980. Pyle said he originally moved to Utah in 1985 to attend BYU. He’s originally from Wichita, Kansas.

Springfield, he said, seemed like a good opportunity, namely with extended family living between the Queen City and the Stockton Lake area.

“I’ve always had this tie to the area, and Springfield as a city has always been one that interested me from a city manager perspective,” he said.

Pyle said he’s not actively looking to relocate.

“It’s definitely a growing experience, coming here,” he said. “Springfield is really akin to Salt Lake City in size, scope of operations, budget, number of employees and that sort of thing. Plus, it has the form of government that I’ve grown up in.

“That’s attractive to me,” Pyle said. “It’s definitely growth, for sure.”

Information provided by Springfield officials credits Pyle with creating West Valley City’s economic development master plan, which resulted in “hundreds of millions of dollars” in new development, redevelopment, and business retention and attraction.

His city manager tenure includes oversight of a legally embattled West Valley City Police Department, as well as an unjustified police killing of a suspect during a an undercover drug raid, according to local media reports.

The city hired Keller, Texas-based Strategic Government Resources to help recruit and screen candidates. The application deadline was March 30. Springfield City Council chose the two finalists.

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