Wiley Stem

Former Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. (left) credits Deputy City Manager Wiley Stem III (center) with, among other things, leading a challenging restructuring of the long-troubled Waco Animal Shelter, including facilitating its attaining status as a “no-kill” shelter.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file

When I read in the Waco Tribune-Herald that the Waco City Council was considering Deputy City Manager Wiley Stem III to serve as our next city manager, I was shocked! My first thought was: “Why on earth would he even want that job in light of having been repeatedly vilified recently over the landfill issue?”

Why, indeed?

While I don’t know Wiley Stem well, having served on the Waco Plan Commission since 2012, I’ve been in meetings with him and have had one-on-one conversations with him. He’s an intelligent, thoughtful, humble man who, unlike his antagonists, does not seek political power or publicity.

Mr. Stem could easily have said, “Thanks, but no thanks!” to the job offer. No one who has witnessed the vitriol, name-calling, false accusations and hyperbole directed toward him, as well as our current city manager and our mayor, would blame him. I’m convinced Mr. Stem accepted the call to be Waco’s next city manager because he has a servant’s heart and cares deeply about our city and its future — just as he has since joining city staff 41 years ago.

He’s given his professional life to this city and has more to give. I won’t repeat the numerous ways in which he’s improved our quality of life, but if you missed the article highlighting his many accomplishments on our behalf, I encourage you to read it at Wacotrib.com.

The Waco City Council has been criticized for not conducting a national search or public hearings before appointing Mr. Stem. Waco has a council-manager form of government, with power concentrated in the elected city council. The council is then responsible for appointing the city manager, city attorney, city secretary and municipal court judge. These appointments do not require public input nor do they require a national search. Our last two city managers, Larry Groth and Dale Fisseler, were both hired from within and appointed city manager without a national search and without public input.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to serve on several search committees for leaders of organizations. It isn’t always necessary or beneficial to perform a national search to find the right person, especially if there’s a qualified, respected individual already on staff. Hiring from within is often advantageous because the person understands the culture and history of the organization.

Case in point: Several years ago I was part of a search committee that spent a great deal of money to conduct a national search. The finalist was vetted, references were called, everything was done correctly, only for us to find out within a few months of hiring that the individual was not the right fit for our organization because she did not know the organizational culture or history, had no intention of putting down roots and was using our organization as a springboard to a better position. She didn’t last long.

More recently, while serving on another search committee that was considering conducting a national search, a search committee member shared a similar story. This time the person who was hired after an extensive national search was caught in a compromising situation shortly after having been hired. Needless to say, that didn’t go well! After hearing this story and realizing the perfect candidate was already on our staff, we decided to hire from within. There have been no unpleasant surprises and this person is actually leading us from good to great because he has a history with our organization and staff and knows how best to do that. Selecting a new leader by conducting a national search doesn’t always turn out badly, but no matter how many references are checked, no matter how much vetting is done, it’s still risky.

Concern has also been expressed about Mr. Stem’s ability to oversee the continued growth Waco is experiencing. I’m certainly grateful to Joanna and Chip Gaines for all they’ve done and continue to do for Waco. However, the revitalization of Waco didn’t begin with “Fixer Upper.” It began in the early 1990s and continues today. This is due to the long-range vision of city leaders and citizens — the building of Cameron Park Zoo and Heritage Square; the opening of River Square Center; renovation of the Waco Convention Center, Hippodrome and the Praetorian; the opening of Lula Jane’s and the Waco Downtown Farmers Market; the building of Baylor University’s McLane Stadium; and much more.

Our great city has not in any way been limited by a powerful few. Rather, our city leaders, along with wonderful citizens, have been innovative and taking risks for years to breathe life back into Waco. Larry Groth, Dale Fisseler and Wiley Stem were instrumental in overseeing much of this growth. I’m confident Mr. Stem, who was heavily involved in the development of Waco’s new city plan, which calls for sustainable growth, will continue to champion smart development that makes sense for all citizens of Waco rather than the haphazard, unfettered growth we’ve all witnessed in other cities.

Born and raised in Waco, having worked for the city for 41 years, Wiley Stem is known to us. He knows our history, our culture and our community. He has the best interests of Waco at heart. I applaud the City Council for unanimously voting to approve him to serve as our next city manager and I’m grateful to him for saying yes.

LaRaine DuPuy chairs the Waco Plan Commission, is a member of the Board of Trustees of Presbyterian Children’s Home and Services and of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas and is an elder serving on the Session of First Presbyterian Church Waco. She has worked with numerous other civic and charitable organizations.