Josh Wright is Chandler’s new city manager - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Josh Wright is Chandler’s new city manager

August 1st, 2021 development
Josh Wright is Chandler’s new city manager

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

You can remove the “acting” from Joshua Wright’s title.

As of July 20, Wright is now Chandler’s new city manager following a closed-door meeting July 20 during which City Council picked him for the post from four finalists for the job.

The exact terms of Wright’s new contract will be determined by Council Aug. 12.

Wright said he is excited to lead the city into the next chapter of its history, which is expected to include a massive expansion of Chandler’s Intel campus and the creation of hundreds of new jobs.   

“I think Chandler is in an incredible position,” Wright said. “I think Chandler has long been the envy of many cities in the country because of our outstanding financial position.”

At 38, Wright is one of Chandler’s youngest city managers to be appointed in recent years. The city’s last three managers were all considerably older and nearing retirement age at the time they assumed office.

Wright notably had the least amount of working experience among the council’s four finalists, but he was the only candidate who had a professional history with Chandler.

The new city manager doesn’t think his youthfulness played much of a factor during the appointment process, as Wright tried to focus more on the managerial experience that he brings to overseeing the city’s $1-billion budget and 1,600 employees.

“Age is just a number,” Wright said. “It is much more about the philosophy that you bring and the experiences and skills that you bring to the table.”

An East Valley native who grew up around Chandler and Tempe, Wright attended various Kyrene schools, including an elementary campus located less than a mile from his new office at City Hall.

“I have a perspective on Chandler that goes back many years,” Wright said.

His parents worked in the healthcare field and taught Wright the value of public service from a young age. They were quiet, selfless individuals, Wright recalled, who demonstrated the nobility in serving the local community.

Wright thought he might grow up to work for a nonprofit organization, but redirected his focus to local government as he was attending the University of Arizona.

After graduating with a master’s degree in public administration, Wright worked in various roles for the town of Marana before he was appointed town manager of Wickenburg in 2011.

Wright claims he managed to double Wickenburg’s funding reserves over a four-year period and implemented the town’s first strategic plan.

Once an assistant manager position opened up in Chandler, Wright jumped at the chance to return to his home turf and work at a city he’s always admired.

Under former City Manager Marsha Reed, Wright was responsible for overseeing Chandler’s development, human resources and public works departments.

He helped guide the city through its interactions with Waymo’s autonomous cars and championed converting Chandler’s outdated systems over to digital formats.

Wright was asked to temporarily fill Reed’s spot after she retired in March and Wright plans to stay in the position for however long Council wants him.

“I have no aspirations to work in a larger city,” Wright said. “Chandler for me was always at a different level from other cities.”   

Wright feels his appointment comes at an interesting time when the public’s relationship with local government has started to shift.

The expectations citizens have for public services are beginning to change, he said, and Chandler will need to figure out how it may need to serve its residents differently.

“I think the biggest challenge that we have is defining what the city’s role is in tackling some of these challenges and opportunities,” Wright said.

Unaffordable housing, equity issues, and low police staffing have all been common complaints made by Chandler’s residents in recent years and the city has been attempting to address them through policy and funding changes.

In his application to the city, Wright predicted that one of Chandler’s biggest obstacles in the near future will be finding new ways to retain talented employees.

“We need to find creative ways to grow our own talent, including expanded internship programs and a clearer path to helping staff advance through the workforce into positions of greater responsibility,” Wright wrote.

Wright has said he plans to prioritize boosting the morale of Chandler’s 1,600 employees after a chaotic year that forced many employees to work from home or take on additional duties.

“It is no secret that the past year was one of the most difficult in history and there exist significant pockets of stress and fatigue throughout the organization,” Wright wrote in his application.

Council picked Wright over three candidates who collectively had decades of experience working in public service across the country.

Milton Dohoney, Sara Hensley, and Tom Hutka – who have all been shortlisted for managerial positions in other cities – were also-rans in the competition for Chandler’s next city manager.

Dohoney, Phoenix’s assistant city manager, appeared to be the most familiar with Chandler’s current affairs, having presented a detailed plan to the council outlining how he’d spend his first 180 days as the new city manager.

Dohoney’s plan referenced the need to address local issues like affordable housing, aging infrastructure, and the lack of available land for future development.

Hensley, a transplant from Texas, has mainly worked in supervising recreational departments for various cities and currently serves as the interim city manager of Denton, Texas.

Hutka’s background included overseeing infrastructure and engineering projects for municipalities in Florida and Ohio.

For some council members, the vote came down to picking between Wright and Dohoney.

Councilwoman Christine Ellis said she had been keen on appointing Dohoney due to his impressive amount of experience, but she didn’t feel much of a connection with the candidate during the interview process.

Ellis said she has already built a rapport with Wright since she joined Council earlier this year and feels Wright did a great job presenting himself during the selection process.

Other elected officials echoed their trust in Wright’s capabilities to steer Chandler toward greater prosperity.

“Joshua has proven himself as a natural and inspiring leader and I look forward to working alongside him to continue leading this community in the direction of innovation and excellence,” said Mayor Kevin Hartke.

During a public forum with the four finalists, Wright presented himself as an ethical, independent leader who intends to distinguish his administration from the previous ones.

“I will be my own person,” Wright said. “I will not be afraid to make decisions. I will not be afraid to do the right thing.”

But Wright hasn’t made it to the top without garnering some critics.

Marvin Wessel, a local pilot, had few pleasantries to say about the new city manager after his plane was destroyed in a fire at the city’s airport in 2020.

Wessel, who has a pending lawsuit against the city, accused Wright of being misleading during conversations the two had about Wessel’s safety concerns regarding the airport.

In his application, Wright acknowledged having had to make decisions that weren’t always popular with the public, but insisted his actions have always been reasonable.

“I have often had to make unpopular decisions and deal with difficult situations,” Wright wrote. “However, my life decisions – personally and professionally – have always been fair and ethical.”