He enjoys kayaking and reading California history, listening to jazz and backpacking. He also likes figuring out the best way to make an organization operate effectively given its resources.
That’s good since he is Benicia’s new city manager.
Brad Kilger, 56, started the post Dec. 13. He spoke with Benicia magazine before then and was quick to say he has more to learn before proposing changes.
“I don’t want people to fear I’m going to pillage and burn what you’ve got,” he says. “Things are good in Benicia, but I will make suggestions as I get to learn the organization.”
Kilger grew up in Southern California. He followed up his bachelor’s degree with an MBA and a certificate in economic development.
He arrives in Benicia after four years as city manager and executive director of redevelopment in Ceres, a town of 43,000 near Modesto. While there, he oversaw the construction of a new community center, the start of a critical freeway interchange expansion, sport facilities improvements and the passage of a half-cent sales tax to supplement police and fire services. He was one of 74 applicants for the Benicia job.
Kilger started his municipal career in the planning department for San Bernardino County in 1979. A decade later, he shifted his focus to economic development and honed those skills in a series of jobs that brought him to Modesto as the city’s community and economic development director in 2002.
But that expertise has taken a back seat given current economic realities. Ceres cut salaries and jobs in the face of declining revenues.
“With all my experience in economic development, the last two years have been spent on labor relations, labor negotiations, city finances,” says Kilger, who took a pay cut as well. “It started out as downsizing and now the term is ‘right-sizing,’ having the right number of employees to serve the community.”
Kilger and his wife, Linda, have two grown children.
What attracted you to the job in Benicia?
I was pretty happy where I was, but the compensation and benefits stopped me and made me take a look at it. I wanted to get back into PERS (the state’s pension program for public employees), so I came out and took a look and I fell in love with First Street. I thought, “This is a real neat community, I need to take a real close look at it.”
I prefer a medium- to smaller organization so I can truly get a handle on it; really get to know everyone I work with. …
It would take a job like this to get me to move. It’s a combination of the community itself, the people in the community, and the challenges of the job.
Why are challenges important to you?
It helps to come to work every day knowing that you’re working on something meaningful, something that’s going to help the community. City managers who are worth their salt always want to be working on something that helps their community.
What challenges do you see tackling here in Benicia?
Well, there’s what’s interesting vs. what’s needed.
The number one priority is establishing a fiscal stabilization program and a strategy to maintain that stabilization. That means you make adjustments in terms of setting priorities for city services.
I do think it’s going to be challenging. One of the biggest challenges is going to be how to best achieve fiscal stability in terms of matching needs and wants.
How does a city create a fiscal stability program?
Essentially what you’re doing is taking your budget process and your fiscal analysis and you’re consistently looking at long-term projections of potential revenues and possible expenditures.
The other part of this is that you routinely evaluate your programs and services in terms of public wants and needs, and in terms of costs and benefits to the community. This way, hopefully, you can make adjustments before things happen and you have to respond.
Benicia is already doing some of that—you have a two-year budget cycle; you have projections looking out five and ten years at pension funds, expenses, revenues.
What are your other goals as city manager?
The second goal is economic development. In a community that isn’t heavily dependent on building permit and sales tax revenue, you have to look at base industries. A base industry is one that brings outside money into the community, like tourism. I compliment the city for its focus on tourism. You’ve made great progress, but there are other steps that we can take.
I think your focus on the downtown is good. The location is supreme, with a very inviting, relaxing setting, the ability to walk from one end to the other and then sit and look at the Strait. It’s all about establishing a unique character. It’s a feeling that a person is left with and gets—that’s what I think Benicia has.
The industrial park is another key component. There are many different types of industrial uses, and you want to support and bring in businesses that are consistent with what the community wants. One of my goals is to understand what really makes that industrial park work. There’s the refinery and there are many other businesses in there, and you need to understand what brought them to Benicia and what the parks’ attributes are.
I’m really happy to see that the city took the initiative to see what local industries’ broadband needs are. Once you find out what businesses need, you learn how you can help them grow. It’s very important to understand the workings of your business parks so the city can help with marketing and doing outreach in target areas. It can be a lot of work, but when it finally takes hold, it brings a lot of benefits to the community.
What do you see as Benicia’s strengths?
Two things: Its location and its character. I really feel that. The forces that impact Benicia now are external, the same forces that are affecting every city these days. We have to be able to deal with those first, then we’ll be able to deal with other issues.
How do you characterize your management style?
I focus on creating and fostering teams with the council, with the staff, with the citizens in terms of establishing common goals. By learning to take a team approach, you start learning the team members’ strengths and interests. …
The number one thing I’ve realized over the years is that it’s about relationships and it’s about trust and it’s about who you’re working with. Some say the ends justify the means, but, really, the means help determine the final ends.
I also know that the city manager sets the tone for the staff. When I was at Ceres, I made a concerted effort to set the tone for the staff to work with the school district. It’s very important to help the schools maintain their quality.
What do you like to read?
I’m a big history buff and I like geology and so I read California history, geology and geomorphology. I just love to understand how man over the years has shaped the environment we live in and the effects it’s had on us. I like to match up the landforms and how it affected humans.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I didn’t have a clue. I’m always seeking the next challenge, the next opportunity—it really helps me in terms of growing my interests.
The chart below is a snapshot of the differences between Ceres, www.ci.ceres.ca.us, and Benicia, www.ci.benicia.ca.us. The chart does not show the increase in cost of living in Benicia and the range of services available in the two towns.