Adam Pirrie signs on for one-year term as city manager
by Steven Felschundneff | firstname.lastname@example.org
Late last summer, when Adam Pirrie was working as Claremont’s finance director, he had never given much thought to becoming the city’s top executive. However, following the abrupt departure in October of former City Manager Tara Schultz, Mr. Pirrie was asked to fill in as an interim and found that he really liked the job. Now he has accepted the position on a more permanent basis.
During its regular meeting on Tuesday, the Claremont City Council voted unanimously to offer the permanent city manager job to Mr. Pirrie, although for a one-year term to start. He will continue to hold both the city manager and the finance director titles for the next year.
Under an agreement penned by the city’s attorney, Mr. Pirrie will have the option to return to his old job in February 2022, and the council could elect to hire a executive search team to find a new city manager. The city plans to hire a part-time annuitant to assist in the day-to-day operations of the finance department.
“On January 26, 2021, the city council met in closed session to discuss the process and timing of hiring a permanent city manager. The city council recognized that Mr. Pirrie has performed exceedingly well as acting city manager bringing a sense of calm, continuity, and competence to the role,” city officials said in a statement. “The council also recognized that it is beneficial to the organization and community to have stability and institutional knowledge in the position over the next year while the city faces unprecedented challenges like the ongoing pandemic and undertakes several significant projects.”
Mr. Pirrie’s employment in Claremont began in 2003 when he was hired as an accountant. He has since been promoted to positions of greater responsibility and was given the finance director position 10 years ago.
He was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and moved to western Australia when he was six, where he was raised until moving to the United States in 1990 at age 16. He received a bachelors’ degree in biology from UCLA while completing other course work in accounting and has been an accountant for his entire career.
Mr. Pirrie and his wife Sasha have three boys Joseph, 25, Benjamin, 18 and James, 15. They have lived in Upland for 15 years and before that resided in La Verne and Pomona.
On an unabashedly warm and beautiful winter day in Claremont, Mr. Pirrie took a few minutes out of his schedule to discuss the challenges facing the city as well as some of the skills he brings to his new position.
“It’s been interesting,” Mr. Pirrie said about his four months as acting city manager.
“When you work in finance you have a general sense of how the city operates and what each of the departments are responsible for, but when you work in the city manager’s office you obviously have a more in depth knowledge of what everyone is doing. So I have been exposed to this whole new range of services and programs that extends beyond what they cost and how to pay for them.”
The city faces some big challenges as it emerges from a year of cornavirus shutdowns that disrupted just about everything from personal interactions to the health of our local businesses. It seems a rather difficult time to take on such a high profile position. So why does Mr. Pirrie want the job?
“I love this community. I love serving it and I will be honest with you, six months ago it was not something I thought of doing, but the last four months have really given me a chance to be exposed to something new,” Mr. Pirrie said.
“Working in the city manager’s office has given me the opportunity to be a manager and to manage people, which I have really enjoyed. I also believe we have a great group of employees and I would love to bring a sense of stability and calm to the organization to allow those employees to continue to provide the excellent services that they do.”
He is looking forward to some of the challenges the city will face over the next few months, and his background in finance may be just what the city needs to negotiate what will undoubtedly be a rough economic rebound. This includes crafting a balanced budget by late June.
“My experience having developed budgets for so long is going to make it simpler if I continue to have a managing role in that process,” Mr. Pirrie said. “Making sure that we can continue to develop balanced budgets is going to be really important to me.”
However, balancing the budget is not the only priority for the city manager, and residents have consistently cited a long list of city services that need to be sustained. From the nutrition program at the senior centers to Camp Claremont and maintaining the trees that make Claremont famous, these are the “standard of living” issues that make Claremont a great place to live.
“A lot of those service and programs contribute to the quality of life of our residents and making sure that we can maintain that quality of life with the available resources is going to be very important and I think having the finance background is going to position me a little better to help do that,” Mr. Pirrie said.
The city does not have excess funds to help businesses directly, but it can identify ways to be more flexible, including temporally relaxing business regulations and launching programs such as al fresco dining which converted parking spaces into dining areas. In addition, the city has waived some business application fees.
“A lot of it has to do with supporting our businesses. The city can play a role in that as can our residents by shopping local and supporting the businesses that have been impacted by COVID,” he said.
In addition to supporting existing businesses, clearly future development plays a major role in ensuring Claremont’s economic future, including the area south of the existing Village which is covered in the Village South Specific Plan.
“Identifying some of the larger projects where we have land that is available for commercial development and finding development that is consistent with the culture of Claremont and the character of Claremont, that it is also tax generating so we can continue to sustain the city’s operations and continue to make it a community that has a high quality of life,” Mr. Pirrie said
Beyond the economy, crafting the housing element and addressing affordable housing are huge issues for Claremont. There are a number of mandates coming from the state including the Regional Housing Needs Assessment figures that Claremont and other cities are responsible for.
“Developing a housing element that will address those housing needs in the community is going to be huge and it’s something that we are going to be working on over the next six months,” he said.
The La Puerta project that will potentially see a residential development is going to be working its way through the process over the next one to two years.
During Tuesday’s city council meeting Mr. Pirrie’s appointment received almost universal support except for one dissenter during public comment.
His annual salary will be $224,000 plus the benefits that are standard for the position, including four weeks of vacation time, a CalPers contribution of eight percent and six months severance.
The city will save an estimated $288,000 over the next year by not filling the finance director position, according to a presentation from City Attorney Alisha Patterson, although part of that savings will be offset by the wage paid to the annuitant. The city will save an additional $30,000 by avoiding the expense of contracting with an executive search firm.
“The city is facing unprecedented challenges over the next few years. Having someone with Mr. Pirrie’s skills, experience, and institutional knowledge is invaluable to city as we make critical decisions for Claremont’s future,” Mayor Jennifer Stark said in a statement.
“I am extremely honored that the city council chose to extend the permanent position to me. Their faith in my ability to lead this outstanding organization and serve Claremont is humbling and overwhelming,” Mr. Pirrie said.