Keimach finds new home at helm of the Town of Paradise Valley

Jill Keimach (Submitted photo)

There’s a new boss in town, and she goes by the name of Jill Keimach.

Ms. Keimach has taken the helm as Paradise Valley’s new town manager, which at first blush appears to be a position she has passion.

Hailing from northern California, Ms. Keimach says the quality of Paradise Valley Town Council, coupled with the size and scope of the town drew her to accept the job leading the municipality.

Ms. Keimach officially started with Paradise Valley on May 20, after her employment agreement was unanimously approved by Town Council on March 28.

“I basically came to Paradise Valley to check it out, to see if I was a good fit — they were looking at me for the same thing,” Ms. Keimach said during an interview in her new office at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive.

“The most important thing is the relationship between the town manager and council, and council itself. Working with seven different individuals who are all experts in different areas, all have succeeded in their lives; how do they work together as a team? It’s not a given with all of those individuals that they’re able to work together as a team. I saw they could in Paradise Valley — that’s why I wanted to work here.”

Secondly, Ms. Keimach says the beautiful community that Paradise Valley is drew her in.

“I was looking for a change, and I wanted to work in an organization that had high-caliber staff that I could add value to,” she said.

Ms. Keimach’s last post was as city manager in Alameda California. She was also the town manager in Morgana, California, from 2010-16; community development director for the City of Fremont from 2004-10 and for the City of El Cerrito from 1998-2002; senior planner project manager for the Bay Area Rapid Transit from 1997-99; and a project manager for the Bay Area Association of Governments from 1989-97.

Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner says he and his colleagues are very happy with their selection.

Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

“We’re thrilled that she’s joined the town; we feel that she has a very high level of experience and proven ability in areas that relate directly to the most important aspects of the town manager role — in particular, her background in land-use, planning and development,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.

“She’s been well received by council and we’re really happy she’s with us and excited for this new era.”

Interim Town Manager Brian Dalke worked with the town for less than a year after former Town Manager Kevin Burke took a position with the City of Peoria in August 2018. A national search yielded eight candidates, prior to Ms. Keimach being chosen for the role.

“I’m excited, and I think council is excited to hear her ideas of getting to a higher-level of all of our operations,” the mayor said. “We’re always looking for ways to enhance citizen service. She’s in a great position to have the summer to get up to speed. We’ll be talking about a lot of things over the summer, looking for opportunities to position the council for success.”

Ms. Keimach says she’s in Paradise Valley for the long-haul. She and her husband purchased a home nearby, signaling a start to a new chapter in their lives. While change is afoot for her family, the concept of local government has remained constant.

Remaining authentic to your roots

Local government is an aspect of life Ms. Keimach says she’s been familiar with since her childhood.

Her father worked for the League of California Cities, so it wasn’t unusual to have elected officials over for dinner while she was growing up.

“It was about what was happening at the state legislature, but what was more important: What was happening locally,” she said of conversations around the dinner table.

Ms. Keimach says she wanted to do the same type of work, and enrolled in UC Berkley, where she earned her undergraduate degree in architecture looking for a way to break into local government.

She went on to get her masters degree in city and regional planning, where she found a calling to learn how to make cities feel like they’re unique.

“How do you enhance that uniqueness? Rather than if you look around at a lot of other cities, you go to a shopping mall and see the same stores and same things, you could be Anywhere, USA. What I’ve striven for is to enhance what’s unique about each community I’ve worked for,” she explained.

She started working as a city planner, and has now worked in local government for more than 30 years.

“Initially, I moved around to other cities, mostly to learn about good ways of doing things and what worked, what didn’t work and how to listen to each community,” she said. “As a planner, that’s what you’re pushed into. I’ve worked in pro-growth cities and anti-growth cities; small cities and large cities.”

For the record, Ms. Keimach says she personally leans toward anti-growth.

Pointing out major growth throughout the country decades ago, Ms. Keimach recalled how the character of a community can be changed in the short time of five to 10 years, which then lasts a lifetime.

“How do you make sure a community remains authentic to what its roots are? For me, it’s been historic preservation, keeping what’s there and enhancing the community,” she said.

“I feel very fortunate to be in Paradise Valley, because it has, I think, my own personal values embodied in the community. Having things that are developed in a way that is enhancing what’s already here, and not detracting, not changing it for the worse.”

A difficult period

Ms. Keimach served as Alameda city manager from 2016-18. Prior to her departure, Ms. Keimach had secretly recorded a conversation between her and two councilmembers over who to hire as a fire chief.

Recording someone without their knowledge is illegal in California unless the recording is made under the belief it may show certain criminal conduct. Ms. Keimach says at the time, the city’s attorney had told her it was legal to record the discussion based on past threats.

The situation in Alameda, Ms. Keimach says, revolved around pressure to hire a man named Domenick Weaver as the new fire chief. Ms. Keimach, as city manager, was responsible for all municipal hirings, and wanted to do an open search for the new chief.

Mr. Weaver was head of the local fire union in 2011, when a man drowned in the ocean as public safety personnel stood by on the beach, citing funding cuts, which meant they did not have current training and certifications to perform land-based water rescue.

A 2015 documentary was made about the ordeal, titled Shallow Waters: The Public Death of Raymond Zack.

“These two particular councilmembers who were pressuring me to hire Domenick, said ‘if you don’t hire him, we are afraid that another Raymond Zack incident might happen.’ And, ‘we are afraid’ is a threat. Their second threat was: ‘if you don’t hire him, we’ll fire you and we’ll make it so you never get hired again,’” Ms. Keimach said, explaining the FBI was then involved in the hiring of the fire chief.

Ms. Keimach says she was open and honest about the incident, and told the press.

After an investigation in late 2018, the District Attorney’s Office concluded there was not enough evidence to prove Ms. Keimach broke any laws and she was cleared of all wrongdoing.

“I felt like I couldn’t live with myself if I knew they were going to let another citizen die over pressure,” she said.

She says it was the most difficult time of her career.

“I want to work in a community where it’s about the service, it’s not about who has power. Because this was all about ‘we need to be in charge of Alameda,’” she said.

Ms. Keimach went on to be nominated by local government peers for the 2018 Ethical Hero award by the International City Manager’s Association.

Working toward the same goal

With the turbulent past behind her, Ms. Keimach is focused on working in a thriving desert environment.

“My goal is to continue to provide the best service possible, and service in Paradise Valley and local government is all about the people,” she said.

New Town Manager Jill Keimach will be working out of Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

“Giving the staff — which I think is exceptional staff — the ability to do the best that they do, is what is important to me. Making sure they have the resources, they are respected, and feel valued. The council does an exceptional job of making staff feel valued. My job is to also make sure they know and have the guidance to do the best they can do.”

Deputy Town Manager Dawn Marie Buckland says the staff is very excited to have Ms. Keimach on-board.

“She not only brings her extensive background in city management and in planning and development, but also is a person of high moral character and integrity,” Ms. Buckland said.

“Jill builds successful teams, leads people to be their very best, and accomplishes goals set before her with excellence. Our community and our organization are very lucky to have her on our team.”

Ms. Keimach says she is a very transparent person, and encourages residents to seek her out if they are looking for information. She says she is excited about getting to know the residents and being involved in the community.

“All of the information I have is available,” she said. “So I want to hear from the community, I want to provide as much information as possible, and I am confident once everyone knows all the information, they will be very pleased with what Town Council is doing, what Planning Commission is doing, and what staff is doing.

“Everyone is working toward the same goal: Let’s make Paradise Valley as good as it gets.”

News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be reached by e-mail at mrosequist@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Mrosequist_

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