Tom Bakaly was tapped as the Park City manager in 2003 largely based on his financial acumen, having already helped guide the Marsac Building through the aftermath of a 1990s embezzlement scandal and then charting a fiscal course for City Hall as the 2002 Winter Olympics approached.
Bakaly, who stepped down as the city manager on Friday to become the top staffer in the Hermosa Beach, Calif., starting on Sept. 4, said in a Wednesday interview he is leaving City Hall with the government's finances in healthy condition. He was hired as the finance manager in 1995 and Bakaly was Park City's crucial figure in budgeting matters over his 17-year career at the Marsac Building.
Park City weathered the economic downturn of a decade ago well, and it performed far better than elsewhere during the more recent recession years. The mayor and Park City Council set the policies, but it was typically Bakaly and his staffers who crafted them for the elected officials. Bakaly pointed to growing tax revenues and Parkites' willingness to pass ballot measures to fund some construction projects as being critical to the financial situation.
"We've been able to get an incredible amount done and we were able to stay financially strong doing it," Bakaly said, acknowledging that City Hall had a "solid financial foundation" before his arrival.
He said budget policies, which have generally been conservative during his tenure, and a reorganization of City Hall early in his time as city manager were important to the situation now. Those choices were not made under the stress of a faltering budget, when layoffs could be more likely, he said.
Bakaly noted that City Hall has strong financial reserves and the municipal government is "well balanced, financially." He highlighted ratings agencies repeated upgrades of City Hall, something that saves money in interest when bonds are sold. He said the municipal government's ratings climbed from an A- in 1995 to the AA+ it enjoys now, a five-notch increase.
Bakaly is 48 years old and lived in Park Meadows most of his time in Park City with his wife, Pam, and their 13-year-old son, Henry. He arrived in Park City from the municipal ranks in Pasadena, Calif., and was soon seen as perhaps the Marsac Building's most ambitious staffer.
His rise was unprecedented. He was promoted twice into City Hall positions that were created for him to fill -- the director of capital management and budget and the assistant city manager. He was seen as the front-runner to become the next city manager upon the departure of his predecessor, Toby Ross. Bakaly emerged from a national field and became the city manager in early 2003. He said it is unusual for a staffer in a municipal government to stay so long in the same city.
His ascension to city manager followed a year after Mayor Dana Williams was sworn into office for his first term. The two have enjoyed a partnership from across a political divide, with Williams coming from the left and Bakaly being the conservative. Bakaly said the two complement each other well and share common interests like the music of the Grateful Dead.
"We both sort of grew into our positions together," Bakaly said, admitting there were some conflicts early on.
Bakaly describes a legacy of both brick-and-mortar improvements and a betterment of the overall workings of the municipal government. He said a "culture of high performance" has become ingrained through the ranks. Bakaly said employee morale is high compared to other municipal governments and Parkites give City Hall high grades.
"I believe we are a high performance and accountable organization," Bakaly said.
The brick-and-mortar improvements he sees as notable include the Old Town transit center, which was built with federal monies as the Olympics approached, and the Park City Ice Arena, paid for with funds authorized by voters in Park City and the Snyderville Basin. He is also pleased with road improvements and the expansion of the bus system into the Basin.
Bakaly said he wanted City Hall to progress further than it has in the long-running negotiations about the Treasure development on the slopes of Park City Mountain Resort overlooking Old Town, the pivotal development dispute during his time as city manager. He said he wanted talks about an idea to build a repository to store contaminated soils to have been finished.
"I've never been bored here. I thought coming from a bigger city I might not be challenged," he said. "That's never been the case."