No Longer Just

Wyatt Shields was officially retained as the City Manager for the City of Falls Church by a vote of the City Council Monday night. Shields, who came on as the assistant city manager in 2003, had been serving since July as the acting city manager following the death of City Manager Dan McKeever, who had served since 2000.

Shields becomes the latest on a short list of city managers who have served Falls Church since its incorporation as an independent city in 1948. His predecessors since the mid-1980s include Anthony Griffin, the current county executive of neighboring Fairfax County, John Doane, David Lasso, Hector Rivera and McKeever.

Shields, 37, is the youngest person to serve in the post, which is considered the most important in a jurisdiction like Falls Church that operates with a city manager form of government, most effective for smaller jurisdictions. In F.C., the mayor and the city council are part time positions designed to offer advice and consent to initiatives from the city manager.

Shields becomes the chief executive officer for the entire City government, including its division heads that include the chief of police and heads of utilities, public works, human services, parks and recreation and other operations.

Speaking for the City Council, Mayor Robin Gardner said, “We went through a very thorough hiring process to make sure we brought someone on board who not only meshed with Council, but had a deep respect for the community and a vision to move our city forward.”

Since McKeever’s untimely death last summer, Gardner added, Shields “has demonstrated an ability to hold City Hall together, and to continue on with the high standards set for the City staff. This has earned him the right to serve as our new city manager.”

In his own statement issued yesterday, Shields said, “Over the past several years, I have developed a strong bond with this city, and am honored to be chosen by the city council to serve here as city manager. This is a special place in the Washington metropolitan area due to our size, history and culture. Our citizens are well informed, active and believe in the importance of community involvement and shared responsibility. I share this belief and am proud to lead a strong city staff that is motivated each day to meet the high expectations of our citizens.”

In comments at Monday’s Council meeting, Shields said the period since McKeever notified his staff of his fight with stage four cancer just after Thanksgiving in 2005 and since his death last July “has been a very emotional year together. We have all spoken from the heart and with more passion in the past year. It was affirmed to us all that there is a great civic infrastructure here.”

 “We are coming into an exciting period ahead. The process of economic development colors everything we will do. We will be called upon to stretch ourselves concerning things like how tall we want our new buildings to be, what we want in them and so forth. Also, listening to employees is key. We need to incorporate all into our decision-making process.”

Shields credited Cindy Mester, who has been serving as the assistant city manager during his period as acting city manager since July. Shields’ wife, Patty, was present at the meeting for the official vote. Shields will earn $147,000 a year.

Shields has a B.A. from the University of Virginia and a Master of Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin. Prior to coming to Falls Church in 2003, he served as town administrator in Scottsville, Virginia. He also worked on the staff of U.S. Senator Charles B. Robb and in the Office of Government Relations at Dominion Virginia Power.

In his tenure as assistant city manager in Falls Church, he managed the annual development of the city’s capital improvement program, leading to the acquisition of additional parkland, new playing fields, a new middle school, an expanded elementary school, and other improvements. He developed the city’s annual legislative program, tracking key issues for the city council on Capitol Hill and in Richmond. With a focus on transportation, he helped secure millions in federal and state funds to continue street improvements in Falls Church and eventual City Center redevelopment projects.