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Q&A: La Cañada City Manager Mark Alexander

Veteran official discusses the city's past, its present and its future.

August 01, 2013|By Joe Piasecki, joe.piasecki@latimes.com
  • La Cañada City Manager Mark Alexander attended the 100th annual meeting and holiday reception, which took place at FSHA in La Cañada on Tuesday, December 11, 2012.
La Cañada City Manager Mark Alexander attended… (Cheryl A. Guerrero…)

La Cañada Flintridge City Manager Mark Alexander is quick to point out that City Council members drive decision-making and he's quick to give his staff the credit for jobs well-done. But legacies — even quiet ones — aren't built to be ignored.

In June the San Dimas native became the longest-serving city manager in La Cañada's history — the first to hold the city's top post for a solid decade, and that on top of 15 additional years working for the city. Alexander took his first administrative staff position here in 1988, when he was 23 years old, and worked his way up through a variety of posts under three previous city managers.

Alexander isn't much for talking about himself. Perhaps the one exception to his understated persona is his zeal for the University of Southern California, where he earned his master's degree in public administration. Scattered throughout his City Hall office are no less than three dozen items of USC memorabilia — pens, clocks, notepads, photos, paperweights and various other items, many of them gifts, weave a tapestry of cardinal and gold.

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The Valley Sun sat with Alexander on Tuesday to look back at how the city has fared the past 10 years and what the future might bring.

Valley Sun: The city's $13.6-million general fund reserve is larger than its current general fund budget of $11.2 million. At what point should the city stop saving and start spending?

Mark Alexander: The council has adopted a policy of maintaining reserves as somewhere between 100% and 150% of our operating budget. … And $13.6 million is not the highest it's been; $15.4 million was the highest — in 2007-08, right before the recession hit.

Reserves have allowed La Cañada Flintridge to pursue long-term avenues that have really helped the city's finances. Over the past couple of years, the council has been able to pay off [borrowing] from when we acquired the City Hall building, which means we've been able to reduce our annual payments. We've been able to reduce some of the premium costs of our liability insurance and this year, as a result, we're paying zero in insurance premiums. Another [debt reduced by paying early] was our pension liability.

Q. This year's budget sets aside up to $60,000 to hire a communications firm. What messages are you trying to get out to the public?

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