Q&A: New Richardson city manager to focus on city facilities, infrastructure

Don Magner had worked for the city of Richardson for more than 25 years before his appointment to city manager in late February. (Alexander Willis/Community Impact Newspaper)
Don Magner had worked for the city of Richardson for more than 25 years before his appointment to city manager in late February. (Alexander Willis/Community Impact Newspaper)

Don Magner had worked for the city of Richardson for more than 25 years before his appointment to city manager in late February. (Alexander Willis/Community Impact Newspaper)

In the wake of Richardson City Manager Dan Johnson's retirement in late February, the City Council was quick to tap Deputy City Manager Don Magner as his replacement. Having worked for the city in various roles for more than 25 years, Magner said he has developed a strong sense of what he considers to be Richardson's strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for growth. After sitting down and speaking with Community Impact Newspaper, Magner shared some of those beliefs as well as his plans to help lead Richardson.

Talk about the role of a city manager and how that position works with Richardson staff members.

I would say a city manager functions pretty much like a chief executive officer in most organizations; one of my most important roles as city manager will be to make sure that I empower and support our team to really accomplish the council's vision by delivering on the tactics and strategies that the council adopted.

One of the most important things that a city manager does is recruit and retain talent. That's a big topic right now in North Texas; we have such a competitive market here that that's really a top priority, and it's only by recruiting and retaining that talent that we'll be in a position to help the council achieve its vision.

What are some tools you use as city manager to retain quality staff?

Obviously compensation and benefits are important, but even more so today than ever, I think with the younger generation, that's not enough. I think culture's incredibly important; I think making sure people know that they're appreciated, [they] know that we value what they do, and I think making them feel like they're part of something bigger is really important.

What are some best practices for working with the mayor and City Council members that you can share?

I believe that the council is charged with setting the vision [and] goals, and choosing the public policy for the community; as city manager, it's my job to make sure that I provide them with advice on these matters so that they can really make the best choices for the community. To do that, I think it's really important to make sure that we're proving the council with complete, accurate and timely information when they're going through those deliberations about public policy.

I think another best practice is once that policy [or] decision is made, it's my job as city manager to honor that and to implement that as effectively as we can to make sure that the goal's [the council] was trying to achieve have the best chance of being reached. When we both honor that balance, the council/manager form of government can be a very effective governance model.

What are some of the biggest challenges you foresee for Richardson in the future?

A key mission of ours in the future will have to be to continue to sustain our reinvestment in our aging infrastructure. We've done many briefings year after year demonstrating that the vast majority of our infrastructure has really gone beyond its useful age. We've made great strides in that regard; if you look back just one decade ago, we have increased from about $500,000 a year for an annual maintenance program all the way up to $6.5 million a year for things like streets, alleys, water and wastewater projects.

So as we begin to look to this next decade, I believe we have to be really mindful of the capital improvement plan that we outlined for the council recently, [which] outlined about a $400 million capital improvement plan over the next five years. I think being mindful of that capital improvement plan and making sure we keep that at the forefront of our funding priorities will be important.

On a completely different front, we also must be mindful of this incredibly competitive North Texas job market. Talent is an issue; it's not just an issue for the city of Richardson, it's an issue for almost every other city manager I've talked with; it's an issue in the private sector. So I think what we need to do is make sure that as we go out and try to recruit and retain this skilled talent, we remain vigilant about creating this environment or culture in which the very best public servants will want to join our team.

What has been the best piece of advice you have received or experience you have had with Dan Johnson?

I had the good fortune of working with [Johnson] for over 25 years, and I really worked with him in a variety of roles; as he came in as assistant city manager, I was in an entry-level-type position. What I recall most often that [Johnson] and I talked about throughout the years was [that] it's so important to do good work every single day.

What we mean by that is you've got to be very attentive to your core missions, because it's only when you do your core missions in a really exceptional way that you can really turn your attention to some of the more aspirational things. If we forget about doing our core missions in a good way, we won't be able to do Wildflower Festivals, we won't be able to do Cottonwood Festivals, because people expect that the core missions of your service delivery are going to be exceptional.

What are some of your favorite memories from your time with the city of Richardson so far?

I'm proud of a lot of things, [specifically] the time that I spent early in my career working with the neighborhoods. We were able to really change the course of a lot of our neighborhoods and help them remain an incredibly important asset to this community.

We did so many things: everything from helping neighborhood associations form and become active, [to] the home improvement incentive program—that's been something that's resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of reinvestment in our neighborhoods.

Do you have any goals for the city in your time as Richardson city manager?

Short-term, one of my main goals is to really rebuild our city manager's office team and really bring in a couple of assistant city managers that can compliment the skillsets and the experience of our existing team. It's through our office, by the assistance and support that we give to our directors, that all things are done.

I think long-term, I want to make sure that we successfully implement the 2021 bond program, but more specifically, I want to make sure that we are able to recommend and deliver on a library and city hall renovation project that the community will really be proud of. These buildings, in my opinion, are ways that we are going to deliver on programs and services, and part of the goal of the renovations is to make that experience for our users more enjoyable [and] more safe.
By Alexander Willis
Alexander joined Community Impact Newspaper as an editor in February 2022 and helps lead the Richardson and Lakewood/Lake Highlands papers. Graduating from the University of North Texas in 2017, Alexander spent four years as an associate editor for a publication based in the Nashville area of Tennessee, covering everything from local politics to city governments. When he's not writing, Alexander can be found on the tennis courts, hiking, or sampling DFW's wide array of restaurants.