Every day, Collin DeWitt takes a brief respite from his duties as Gilbert town manager and wonders how in the world he got the job.
Specifically, why did the Town Council in February 2010 choose the fire chief as the person most qualified to manage Gilbert’s day-to-day affairs, even on an interim basis?
However, when DeWitt talks about how his work in the fire department prepared him for serving as manager, one realizes he is answering his own question.
“In fire service, all we do is help people,” DeWitt said. “The fact is service is all firefighters do, and this job is all about providing service — helping get people from A to Z — and giving town employees the opportunity to serve. Those things in the fire department probably prepared me to give service at this level.”
This week is DeWitt’s last on his current job. He will return as fire chief when Gilbert’s new town manager, Patrick Banger, officially takes over on Aug. 15.
DeWitt departs content with his service during a time when the town dealt with budget challenges.
“I’ve tried to walk a straight line and meet the expectations of the Council on a daily basis,” DeWitt said. “That takes a lot of effort in itself. We also have 1,100 employees. I just hope that I didn’t disappoint anyone, met their expectations and hit the mark and kept us out of trouble as much as possible.
“I am extremely pleased with the situation we’re in now. We’re in a position now where the next manager can carry us to the next era of Gilbert’s existence.”
The 62-year-old DeWitt was tabbed as manager after the Council requested George Pettit’s retirement. DeWitt, who made no secret of his desire to hold the job temporarily, immediately stepped into a messy budget situation, with Gilbert facing a $15 million shortfall.
The deficits have been navigated without significant tax increases, layoffs or cuts in town services, thanks in part to savings-fund transfers. A $6.9 million general-fund deficit is projected for fiscal 2012-13, rising to $15 million by 2014-15.
Still, town officials have been encouraged by better-than-projected sales-tax revenue and new capital investment in the just-completed fiscal year, and monthly home-permit figures in Gilbert remain among the Valley’s highest.
“Many cities have done worse than Gilbert,” DeWitt said. “Our personnel have stayed together, and any layoffs were due to a decrease in work. With the housing slump, for example, we didn’t need as many people doing inspections. I think the town has fared well.
“The employees have given in every respect, even as their dollars became less valuable because we haven’t been able to give cost-of-living raises. We have the least cost of service in the Valley. That’s just the way it is for us, and it has helped us survive this time period.”
DeWitt was instrumental in Gilbert’s securing a 8-foot-long, 1,500-pound steel beam from the World Trade Center that has been displayed at events around the town. The beam will find a permanent home in a 9/11 memorial that is being built outside the Gilbert Municipal Center.
As for handing over the reigns to Banger, DeWitt said he plans to introduce him to all of the pertinent people.
But he will have few words of wisdom. Banger, DeWitt said, already comes in equipped to do the job.
“People have trained for this and lived for this job. I have not,” DeWitt said. “All I have is what I have. I came into it with an understanding of the essentials. I’ve never been a town manager, but I felt I needed to do this job for the time period that the Council needed me to.
“It was a labor of love in the process.”
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