Judging from dueling guest columns in the Trib, at least some disagreement exists about the Waco City Council decision to appoint Deputy City Manager and perennial problem-solver Wiley Stem III successor to City Manager Dale Fisseler, who retires come March. David Littlewood, a McGregor banker, stresses the importance of new blood and new perspectives. He criticizes the council for its “short-sighted strategy, given the city’s potential.” By contrast, LaRaine DuPuy, a community volunteer who has the thankless job of serving on the city’s hard-working Plan Commission, stresses warm gratitude to Stem for agreeing to take the job, given the “vitriol, name-calling, false accusations and hyperbole directed toward him, as well as our current city manager and our mayor.” She describes Stem as an “intelligent, thoughtful, humble man who, unlike his antagonists, does not seek political power or publicity.”
We vigorously second Ms. DuPuy’s bold defense of Wiley Stem. The council’s unanimous appointment strikes us as strategically solid. Rather than needing fresh perspectives at this point, our city is in the middle of significant growth and change, some of it stunning to those of us who have spent time in this area and remember how desolate downtown streets were a decade ago. Amidst everything from infrastructure improvements in the area of booming Magnolia Market (and beyond) to downtown revitalization such as a $129 million development including an 11-story full-service hotel, retail space and 400 residences, residents will greatly benefit from Stem’s institutional memory ensuring sustainable growth — the sort that doesn’t leave us all regretting our myopia several years from now.
Littlewood says the city should have conducted a national search to find someone for the post. Then again, why assume the expense and time of seeking an outsider when a cool-headed and insightful public servant is already in harness? Experience doesn’t begin to describe Stem’s extensive background. In more than 40 years at City Hall, he has led or been pivotally involved in raising the level of Lake Waco to increase capacity, as well as overseeing water-treatment capacity increases; forging the first information technology plan and development of an Information Technology Department; creating and developing the Waco Metropolitan Area Regional Sewerage System; negotiating dairy litigation and water-quality issues in the North Bosque watershed (Stem has a long history on this one, testifying to his perseverance); and increasing live exit rates at the Waco Animal Shelter, helping raise funds for its renovation and steering operational changes there. And he’s been involved in hotly controversial efforts to plan the next city landfill. And more.
Yet the strategy in all this goes beyond having a public servant continue the work of gifted predecessors and a wide variety of elected city leadership. Stem is 65 and no doubt contemplates a well-deserved retirement. His continued service gives city leadership time to better gauge the abilities of city administrators in the wings, some obviously gifted — unless, of course, you believe real leadership can only come from beyond our city limits.