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Growth, quality of life: New Fort Worth city manager plans downtown abode

David Cooke 

 

 

Scott Nishimura
snishimura@bizpress.net

Fort Worth’s new city manager and his wife plan to lease an apartment downtown for the next nine to 12 months, and then figure out if they like that scene.

“I’ve probably been to Billy Bob’s on a previous trip, but I hadn’t been to downtown” prior to interviewing for the job, said David Cooke, a former county manager from North Carolina who signed Fort Worth’s offer on May 21 to become its city manager. “I was impressed.”

Cooke, 54, who retired last year as manager of Wake County, North Carolina’s second-largest county, and then took a job as business development director for a Raleigh engineering firm, will start June 30.

He will make a base salary of $315,000 per year.
His compensation package includes health and retirement benefits; $600 monthly car allowance; paid membership dues in the ICMA industry group, Texas City Management Association and Fort Worth Club; relocation costs; $2,500 monthly housing allowance for the first six months; and up to six roundtrips from Fort Worth to Raleigh, N.C.

"Council began this process knowing that selecting our next city manager would be an extremely important decision," Mayor Betsy Price said. "We know that getting the right person would be crucial as we work to maintain a steady and positive growth pattern while protecting our quality of life and improving the way city hall serves citizens, businesses and other stakeholders.”

City Manager Tom Higgins, who is retiring, earned a base salary of $233,000.

Higgins has said he expects to stick around for as long as Cooke needs him.

"We have spoken, and I let him know that I am ready to help in any way in the transition, and for as long as he wishes me to be here,” Higgins said.

Price and the council last week narrowed its search to Cooke as lone finalist after interviewing him and Penny Postoak Ferguson, a deputy county manager from Johnson County, Kan.

The council put the two through written and oral exercises.

In the oral exercises, Cooke said the council asked for the finalists’ views on how the city is organized through the lens of the city budget and what changes and public-private partnerships they might recommend; and how they might use technology and innovation.

“You really can’t do a lot just looking at the budget and the organizational chart,” Cooke said in an interview after he signed the city’s offer sheet. “You don’t know any of the background, you don’t know any of the people.”

Cooke, whose background is in budgets, said he noted that – in his previous workplaces – the budget and capital groups reported directly to the top manager. In Fort Worth, both report to assistant city managers. Cooke said he also asked questions about the combination of economic development and affordable housing.

The questions were designed to get an idea of “how you might approach a problem,” Cooke said. “I don’t think there were really any right or wrong answers.”

On technology and innovation, Cooke said his staff spent a lot of time looking at different ways to use technology to better engage citizens.

Fort Worth, for one, implemented a MindMixer engagement website in time to use it to collect input for the $292 million bond package voters approved on May 10.

On such tools, Cooke said, “I still think it’s early to determine if that leads to more citizen engagement or just a different type of public engagement.”

One major Web tool Cooke and his staff put into place in Wake County was Wake Accountability Tax Check – dubbed “Wake WATCH” – after two employees were found to be abusing travel and entertainment credit card policies.

The county puts all of its financial transactions online starting five years ago.

“Any citizen can review any financial transaction,” Cooke said. “From a manager perspective, it was easier to use than the internal reporting system at times.”

On vision, Cooke said he opted not to draft a new vision statement for the city.

“The city has a vision statement,” he said. “I didn’t think it was my place to redo a vision statement.”

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