The Waco City Council is set to vote Tuesday on promoting Deputy City Manager Wiley Stem III to city manager.
Stem, a 41-year veteran of Waco city government, would replace City Manager Dale Fisseler, who has announced he will retire in March. The council will vote on the appointment at its 6 p.m. business session at the Waco Convention Center’s Bosque Theatre following a 3 p.m. work session.
Stem, 65, a Waco native, is best known for his work on building utility projects, raising Lake Waco and rebooting the city’s animal shelter.
Mayor Kyle Deaver approached Stem about the position.
“When someone of his caliber approaches you about possibly taking the job, it’s almost overwhelming to me,” Stem said.
Fisseler and Deaver said Monday that they expect a unanimous council vote for Stem.
“I’ve talked to other council members, and they feel fortunate to have this opportunity,” Deaver said. “Wiley has tremendous experience and has led so many of our big projects. ... Wiley has so much institutional knowledge, and you can’t replace that.”
Fisseler said he recommended Stem as his replacement and will work with him over the next few months to prepare him for the transition.
“I think they’re making a great choice,” Fisseler said. “I felt like it would be good stability for city employees to know that he’s in place. He’s devoted more than 40 years of his heart and soul. You couldn’t find a better guy to take over. ... He’s been involved in every major infrastructure project in the last 40 years.”
Stem said he hoped his lifetime of knowledge about the workings of the city will help make the transition smooth. He said he would be fortunate to be able to work for a strong mayor and council and supervise a talented group of administrators.
“It’s very humbling for me,” he said. “We’ve got a great mayor and council. They truly care and want to do the right things.”
Stem would be the third Waco native in a row to be selected as city manager. Fisseler was City Manager Larry Groth’s second-in-command until he was appointed to the top job in 2014 after Groth’s retirement. Fisseler promoted Stem to deputy city manager in 2015, and he now oversees three assistant city managers: Bradley Ford, Deidra Emerson and Jack Harper II.
Stem started working for the city of Waco public works department after graduating from Baylor University in 1976 and served in water and wastewater management roles before he was promoted to assistant city manager in 1999.
But his family’s roots in city government go even deeper. His grandfather, Wiley Stem Sr., was chief detective for the Waco Police Department. His father, Wiley Stem Jr., served at City Hall from 1955 to 1963 as city attorney and interim city manager, and negotiated the purchase of water from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the new Lake Waco. His uncle, Alva Stem, was director of parks and recreation in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Wiley Stem III negotiated the purchase of more water storage space from the Corps along with the 7-foot pool rise at Lake Waco in 2003. That involved relocating Corps parks and roads on the city’s dime and building the Lake Waco Wetlands to mitigate the loss of wildlife habitat.
Also in the early 2000s, Stem became a staff point person on the city of Waco’s fight to stop the pollution of Lake Waco from dairy farms upstream on the North Bosque River. The city ultimately prevailed in getting state regulators to impose special permitting standards in the watershed.
Stem said those experiences taught him the value of having the backing of an effective mayor, in those cases, former Mayor Linda Ethridge.
He said he found the same help from Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. when the city took over operation of the troubled Waco Animal Shelter in 2012. Stem was the city’s point person as the shelter improved its standards, partnered with local animal advocacy groups and moved to create a no-kill shelter operation with a $3.5 million renovation and expansion.
“I know a lot of people give me credit for a lot of that stuff,” Stem said. “But it was the leadership of great mayors that made the difference in those issues.”
Stem and his wife, Tonette, live on a family farm in Falls County, but under the city’s charter, Stem will have to establish a Waco residence once he becomes city manager, as Groth did when he was city manager.