The entirety of the City of Falls Church’s disproportionately large government and civic activist core was in a state of shock yesterday as news spread of the death Tuesday night of a truly nice guy and talented, steady-handed leader, City Manager Daniel E. McKeever. Flags were ordered in half-staff throughout the City by Mayor Robin Gardner.
McKeever, 57, died after an extended struggle with melanoma cancer at the University of Virginia Hospital, where he’d been rushed after a sudden turn for the worse last Thursday. Only days before that, he’d played a pivotal role in an important work session of the Falls Church City Council. Diagnosed with the illness last November, he worked diligently up until last week despite the taxing effects of the illness and a daunting treatment regimen.
Funeral and other arrangements were not known as of press time but will be advertised on the City of Falls Church’s web site when that information becomes available.
In response to the news of McKeever’s move to the U.Va. hospital, the Falls Church City Council voted Monday to designate Assistant City Manager Wyatt Shields as acting city manager in order to carry out pressing official matters. At that time, it was stressed that the appointment was only pending McKeever’s return.
Shields, 37, was named by McKeever as assistant city manager in Falls Church in August 2003.
McKeever is survived by his wife, Cynthia Gannaway. He served as city manager in Falls Church since June 1, 2000. In his six years, he served longer than any city manager since the departure of Harry Wells in 1983. He came into a situation where there had been, in effect, six city managers over the previous 10 years, including official managers and interim replacements.
A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he graduated from East Tennessee State University with a B.A. in sociology and earned a Masters Degree in urban affairs from Virginia Tech. He began his career in public service as a patrol officer with the Roanoke, Virginia, police department, attaining the rank of lieutenant in 1981.
In December 1982, he was named chief of police of Pulaski, Virginia, serving in that capacity until the following June, when he was named interim town manager. Later that year, he was appointed town manager, serving until 1989.
In 1989 he was named city manager of Laconia, New Hampshire and served there until he came to Falls Church in 2000. According to Michael Kitch of the Laconina Daily Sun in comments to the News-Press, “He is remembered here with great fondness. He did not have an easy tenure. Shortly after arriving, a very conservative city council tried to fire him, a part of the city sought to secede and the state reneged on a promise to close the local prison. By all accounts, he conducted himself with wisdom, honor, grace and, above all, good humor.”
According to an official statement from the City of Falls Church’s public information office, McKeever “strongly believed in preserving the City’s unique village community while working towards long-term sustainability.”
Under his leadership, the City experienced an unprecedented period of economic growth and private investment. After years of virtually no growth in the commercially-zoned corridors of the City, no less than five large-scale mixed use development projects were approved and are either completed, near completion, or under construction. Combined, they add an estimated $336 million in taxable real estate value to the City.
McKeever also oversaw the passage of a bond referendum for $30 million to fund the construction of a new middle school and at the same time, assured the City retained its first-rate bond rating by marshalling the adoption of formal fund balance and debt ratio policies.
Insofar as Falls Church is run by a city manager form of government, the role of the city manager is the most important. Under that system, the City Council is composed of virtual volunteers serving over and above other professional or other commitments. The city manager and his staff operate full time in the day to day functions of the City.
In that role, McKeever worked diligently to improve efficiency and morale at City Hall and in communication and cooperation between branches of government and the schools, and in relations between government and the general public.
According to the City public information statement, he “was known for his focus on team management, placing a high value on City staff and inspriring excellence from all who worked for him. He held annual meetings with all employees to keep them informed and solicit input on how to improve efficiency. He appointed a task force that revised the employees’ performance evaluation system to make it more consistent for all employees, and streamlined the City’s personnel policies.”
“Dan has been the guiding hand in the City for the past six years,” noted Mayor Robin Garner. “His ability to work with citizens, City organizations, and regional organizations was inspirational. He has been the steady force that allowed Council to deal with the issues that came before us. Falls Church is a better city because of Dan. He will be truly missed, not just as an outstanding city manager, but as a friend.”
Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry added, “He was a wonderful human being and a gifted leader.”
Former Mayor Dan Gardner, who left office just last month after serving as mayor for roughly the same six year stint as McKeever, said, “Dan McKeever was a tremendous individual, a very caring and conscientious human being I’m proud to have called a friend. He was a professional in every sense of the word and our City has been very well served by a truly capable and outstanding individual.”
“The essence of Dan was that he had it all. He was personable, tough and smart. This is a terrible loss for the City and his friends,” remarked former Vice Mayor Marty Meserve.
Acting Manager Shields added, “Dan McKeever was a great mentor and friend. His leadership over the past years, and more recently the manner in which he battled cancer with openness, spirit and courage, are an inspiration for all who worked with him. We will miss him profoundly, and keep him in our hearts and minds as we carry forward the work of the City.”
Long-time City resident and civic activist Lou Olom commented, “In my opinion, Dan was the most experienced, professional city manager the City has had. He was always well prepared and his biweekly oral reports to the City Council were the best I recall hearing over the past 45 years. Before and during his illness he was a courteous man, energetic, responsive and a thoroughly splendid person. He will be missed by many in our community, and I send deepest sympathies to his lovely wife.”
Other achievements attributed to McKeever during his period as city manager in Falls Church include his advocacy of affordable housing, leadership toward development of a new city center, streetscape enhancements to Broad Street, a strengthening of the City’s water fund, improving the building permits process, supporting public safety programs including a reorganization of the City’s Public Safety Division to combine police, fire, fire marshal and inspections, acquisition of a police computer aided dispatch and records management system, now among the most advanced in the state, and support for emergency management operations throughout the entire City government and the creation of an emergency operations center.
McKeever was an avid baseball fan, among other things joining an entourage from Falls Church to attend the first home of the Washington Nationals in April 2005. He and a group of friends also invested in 1991 to become part owners of a minor league baseball team in Pulaski. Just last week, he proudly touted the first place performance of that team this season.
Condolences can be mailed to the Office of the City Manager, 300 Park Avenue, Falls Church, VA 22046.