Goodbye, Gary

I just said goodbye to our City Manager, Gary Luebbers.  His last official day is Saturday, but today is his last day in the office.  He heads from here to his retirement in Utah.

There are a lot of things I could say here, and I’m not quite sure where to go.  Gary has affected the lives of everyone in Sunnyvale over the past five years, whether or not they realize it.  He’s been the City Manager through perhaps the toughest times in Sunnyvale’s history.  He had to lead us through an unprecedented economic crash, and he had to do it handicapped by a particularly contentious council.  But he brought us out of it with services intact, major improvements to our infrastructure, two new parks, the beginnings of a new branch library, and a budget that is now structurally balanced and the foundation for stable services in years to come.  He did this while the state was trashing redevelopment agencies and plundering city coffers to solve its own revenue problems.  And he did this without going to war with our bargaining units, without incurring debt, and without the need to raise taxes.  It’s an amazing accomplishment under very bad conditions.

But that’s not what I’m thinking about today.  I’m thinking about a friend that’s moving away.

The relationship between a councilmember and a city manager is an odd one, particularly in cities like ours.  Technically, I’m his boss, and I review his performance and make decisions about his employment terms.  But I’m not really his boss, in that I’m just one of seven who contribute to those decisions.  I’m not permitted to tell him “go do this”.  More important, I come from a profession that cares more about abilities and contributions than titles and position – where it’s very common for a manager to work on tasks alongside and even occasionally under someone that reports to him.  Engineering is very much a meritocracy, and it engenders a lot of trust in “people who can get things done”.  And Gary gets things done.  So our relationship has developed into one of trust, mutual respect, and a whole lot of collaboration.

And it’s a relationship that has been (largely) free from the usual political nonsense that surrounds us, something very unusual in a political arena like ours.  I’ve valued that a lot, and I think Gary has as well.  We’ve gone through similar difficult times and had to make hard calls and solve tough problems together, and that’s just naturally led to a friendship beyond work.  I’ve had dinner at his house, and he’s had dinner at mine (for the record, he’s a better cook than I am, although he has Jeannie and I don’t).  I’ve lost way too many ice cream bets to him.  And I still assert that he cheated when he paid off his one losing bet by inviting me to a public safety ice cream event.  Not fair, not fair at all.

I’m not good with change, and this is a very hard change for me to to deal with, along with losing two colleagues that I’ve served with since the beginning, in just a few weeks from now.  Sunnyvale will survive, and we’ll thrive.  We’ll find a good replacement for Gary, we’ll rebuild Sunnyvale’s leadership with the new council and the new City Manager, and we’ll move on to solving the next challenge and accomplishing the Next Big Thing.  I know that Gary is moving on to better things, and I’m happy that he gets to do so.  But I’m going to miss Gary very much.


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