First 100 days: New town manager looks to the future

Kevin Burke recently marked his 100th day in the position of Paradise Valley Town Manager. Mr. Burke, far right, is shown here during a recent council work session. (Photo by Terrance Thornton/Paradise Valley Independent)

Kevin Burke recently marked his 100th day in the position of Paradise Valley Town Manager. Mr. Burke, far right, is shown here during a recent council work session. (Photo by Terrance Thornton/Paradise Valley Independent)

As Kevin Burke’s first 100 days at the helm of Paradise Valley approaches, it appears the picture couldn’t be any rosier nor the landscape more tranquil at Town Hall.

The new town manager’s employment contract is for five years and includes a base salary of $195,000. Mr. Burke serves at the pleasure of Paradise Valley Town Council.

He has over 20 years of experience in city management, having previously served as city/town administrator in West Tawakoni, Texas and Wellington, Colo.; administrative services director in Littleton, Colo., and deputy city manager in Boulder, Colo, according to Independent archives.

Thursday, April 16 marks Mr. Burke’s 86th day in office with the 100-day mark rapidly approaching — a typical benchmark of when elected and appointed leaders often look for initial results.

“I wasn’t looking for a new job, but when the brochure for Paradise Valley came across my desk it caught my attention and then I just couldn’t shake it,” he said of his initial interest in the Town of Paradise Valley.

“The more I looked at the position, the more appealing it was. A beautiful place. A focus on core services. Decent resources. I also started my career in small towns and like how close to the action you get as the manager of a small town. You can make a bigger difference, which is the reason I got involved in government work.”
With minor legislative acts at Town Hall since the beginning of 2015, Mr. Burke points to the creation of a two-year plan within council chambers as a significant move forward for the municipality.

“I guess I subscribe to the old saying that ‘if you don’t know where you are going, any place will do.’ And, we don’t want to be just any place,” he said of the council’s marching orders decided upon during a recent council retreat.

“Our elected and appointed officials know what needs to be worked on to make this a better community and when you can find that consensus and steer the positive energies of the municipality toward it, good things will happen.”
Priority No. 1 is to meet council goals, Mr. Burke contends.

“Obviously my first priority is to accomplish what the mayor and council set as our goals,” he said.

“Organizationally, I want to establish Paradise Valley as a premier local government organization that is known for efficient service delivery, creative problem solving, and professional conduct.”

While council goals are the priority, internal communication and resident interaction needs to improve at the Town of Paradise Valley, Mr. Burke says.

“We must always be looking to improve everything we do. That’s the culture I want to instill,” he said.

“On the immediate front, I am trying to improve this phone system so citizens can actually find who they are looking for and get that human. It was a challenge I had as an applicant and so I suspect many residents have it as well.”

A major challenge on the horizon for Paradise Valley is a financial one, Mr. Burke says.

“In some places we have decent financial resources to address problems, but are limited by a 1979 law (the Expenditure Limitation Rule) that doesn’t fit today’s municipalities,” he said.

“The fact that 80 percent of the state’s municipalities have had successful citizen referendums to work around this law tells you about its practicality. The unfunded liability of the public safety pension is a very real issue that can eat an organization’s financial health from the inside out.”

In addition, Mr. Burke points to dilapidated infrastructure in need of reinvestment as a challenge on the horizon for the municipality.

“We have very real infrastructure issues looming — as most municipalities in the country do — and we need to get ahead of these before we are dealing with wide-spread failures. This is a financial issue as well,” he said.

The brass tax

While Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins is encouraged by Mr. Burke’s early performance, he also says time will tell how it all comes together for the elected and the appointed at Town Hall.

“Time will tell whether Kevin’s reputation as a consensus builder follows him to Paradise Valley,” he said.

“So far, the town council has been very pleased with his efforts to be inclusive when prudent and a decision maker when necessary. His personality and skill sets seem a good fit for our community at this time.”

Mayor Collins says he has seen municipal efficiencies grow during Mr. Burke’s early tenure.

“The town council has adopted a lofty set of goals and objectives for the next two years,” he pointed out.

“Kevin has done a very good job understanding and aligning the activities of his organization to improve day-to-day operations and preparedness while making solid progress on those new initiatives, goals and objectives that the council has presented him.”

In terms of dealing with what Mayor Collins calls “critical priorities, programs and projects that are under way or planned,” Mr. Burke has excelled initially, he says.

“His ability to listen carefully, take notes, collect supporting or background facts and data, and then provide informed judgments or recommendations in a timely manner is top notch and demonstrated,” Mayor Collins said.

“He continues to make himself widely available to residents and is an ardent supporter of government transparency and public involvement and that makes him a good fit for this council and the town.”

Mayor Collins points to efforts revolving around improving local storm water retention and mitigation as an example of things to come.

“Kevin’s quick leadership on the storm water issue is a great example of how (he) operates as a town manager. He listened to residents and council on recent storm water management issues and on April 23 will present robust short- and long-term recommendations to council and residents on how the town should move forward on the issue.”

Mayor Collins says Mr. Burke is a quick study on topics of challenge to the overall community.

“The ability to accurately understand the scope of the challenge, engage the community in a meaningful way, and deliver tangible results and recommendations within a 100 day timeframe is not only remarkable for municipal government, but reflective of his effective leadership and the skilled organization he manages,” he said.

Paradise Valley Councilman Jerry Bien-Willner also likes what he is seeing from Mr. Burke.

“As one would hope for after the election of a new council, the mayor and council have made excellent progress in discussing and building consensus on our shared values, goals and priorities for the town along with related tasks,” he said.

“Mr. Burke has adeptly facilitated that process and has been a valuable and dependable resource. Of course, we have also remained dilligent in attending to the various issues at hand for the town.”

Councilman Bien-Willner says he likes Mr. Burke’s leadership style.

“While Mr. Burke is only several months into his tenure, I have been impressed with his leadership,” he said. “He has shown himself to be organized, dedicated and intelligent, as well as being a good listener and communicator.”

Mr. Burke’s comments on council are just as rosy.

“The way they professionally and respectfully discuss and debate policy issues is the model every town manager hopes for,” he said of Paradise Valley Town Council.

“While we are still early, and we haven’t had too many votes, you know you have a good council when there is a different alignment of members on different issues and it’s not factional voting. The citizens of Paradise Valley can be confident that all viewpoints will be fleshed out and while the mayor is excellent about trying to address all of those concerns in the policy solution, that can’t always happen and you will have respectful disagreements and split votes. Which are incredibly healthy.”

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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