Will Manley: former Galesburg librarian now Tempe City Manager

By Mark Hebard

Arizona’s Valley of the Sun, home at last count to over three and a half million people.

Will Manley’s office, as City Manager of Tempe, sits in what is arguably the cultural, entertainment, and educational center of this burgeoning metropolitan area. ñ home of the Arizona Cardinals, the Anaheim Angels spring training complex, the Fiesta Bowl, Arizona State University, and downtown Tempe’s Mill Avenue, whose shops, restaurants, and clubs rival any found in nearby Scottsdale ñ or Phoenix.

The city’s population of 185,000 is the same as Salt Lake City, Des Moines, or Little Rock. From his desk he can see ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium a few blocks away. Twenty-three years ago, from his desk in the Galesburg Public Library, his view encompassed mostly the comings and goings at Dave’s Book and Card Shop. Today he oversees 1,600 full-time employees and a budget of over a quarter billion dollars.

Manley, now 56, was director of the Galesburg Public Library from 1979 to 1982. "My Galesburg experience was really critical to my success now. I used to say to people when our councils would have disagreements and many department heads would say "It’s getting too political." "You ain’t seen nothin’. I came here from Galesburg, Illinois; that was political!"

Indeed, Manley’s years in Galesburg coincided with one of the more heated political era’s in recent city history. Mayor Jerry Miller, alderman Frank Johnson, City Manager Larry Asaro, and Assistant City Manager David Walker were some of the major players, Manley recalled. "The infighting was amazing. Good people were caught up in it and so was I to the extent that I was viewed as an enemy of Frank Johnson. I learned a valuable lesson in how to avoid appearing to belong to any one faction ñ and how destructive cliques and factions within a city can be."

After leaving Galesburg, Manley spent two years as director of the Tempe Public Library before deciding, in 1984, to broaden his experience in municipal government when he was named Tempe’s Assistant Director of Community Services. He eventually became its director in 1999. He also went back to college and earned a masters degree in public administration from ASU.

Then, in 2000, the normally placid Tempe City Hall was rocked by a discrimination scandal. Heads rolled, and when the dust settled, only two department heads were left ñ the Fire Chief and Will Manley. The search for a new city manager began, And Manley threw his hat into the ring. "Since my department was physically separated by several miles from City Hall, I was able to sell myself as the outsider-insider. We had an extremely exhaustive and open search process with six major public forums. I was able to use my presentation skills and contacts within the city to my advantage."

On April 1, 2001, with over 200 applications on the table, Manley was named Tempe City Manager.

Bookended by the two big engines of Arizona State University and Sky Harbor International, the nation’s fifth busiest airport, Tempe is an economic juggernaut in the Valley. It’s the area’s leading jobs importer, with thousands more people coming into the city to work than leaving to work in Phoenix, Scottsdale, or Mesa.

Manley is also overseeing the largest commercial, entertainment, and residential project currently underway in the valley, located smack in the middle of the dry salt river bed on the city’s north side, and adjacent to the man-made "Tempe Town Lake." And while other valley cities continue to expand and chew up more of the Sonoran Desert, Tempe is land-locked. "Over 96 percent of our land is already developed," according to Manley. "That means our population density and ethnic diversity is the highest in the valley, not to mention our land values."

Manley’s proudest moment as City Manager, however, revolved around one of his great loves, baseball. The Los Angeles (Anaheim) Angels were set to pull out and head to the western suburbs. Manley intervened and developed a rapport with angel’s owner Arte Moreno. "Imagine me, the librarian, having lunch with the billionaire owner of the Angels." Moreno signed a lease that will keep the Angels in Tempe for 20 years.

Recalling his days as Galesburg librarian, Manley remembers taking the first steps towards computerization, opening the upstairs for programs, and most importantly, expanding the childrens’ department and youth services. "When I got there the library was only 20-years-old ñ and underused. Adults would tell me how much they missed the old library and how great it was. I figured the best way to get adults in was to make them bring their kids."

His involvement in the City didn’t stop at the library doors. He was elected to the C.U.S.D. #205 School Board in 1981, wrote a weekly column in the Register-Mail entitled "Snow balls in the book drop," and did a weekly radio show on WAIK.

He’s well aware of the area’s current economic situation. "The strengths of Galesburg that I took with me were its neighborhoods, local media, and sense of community. I say that because we have such a glaring lack of those attributes here in Tempe. Those things, and of course Knox College."

Manley hasn’t just spent his time in Tempe engrossed in city government. He’s had ten books published since 1982, made over 150 major speeches to regional, national, and international conferences, And he still writes two monthly columns, "Will’s World" for American Libraries magazine, and "The Manley Arts" for Booklist magazine.

There’s another short list Will Manley’s name is on ñ an unwritten one, containing the names of those people who come to Galesburg and then leave, taking with them the inherent qualities cities like Galesburg possess, and leaving behind a better place.