Heather Murtagh/Daily Journal
Burlingame Mayor Ann Keighran, right, presents a plaque and resolution to City Manager Jim Nantell, left, who will be retiring after 12 years of leading the city.
Jim Nantell had one rhetorical question during last night’s Burlingame City Council meeting: "Why couldn’t I be a little younger and continue to think I could do this a lot longer?”
Nantell became Burlingame's city manager in 2000 but has been in public service for 40 years. Last night, Nantell, who is about to officially take advantage of his retirement, was recognized for that dedication. Much of his career was in San Mateo with the last 12 years spent leading Burlingame.
"My only regret in coming to Burlingame is that I didn’t come sooner,” he said.
Mayor Ann Keighran commented that Nantell has excelled in his position treating the city and its staff as an extended family.
"I always felt your strongest characteristic was consensus building. Sometimes, I don’t know how you did it,” she said, pointing to the Safeway remodel as an example of his ability to bring polar opposites to an agreement.
While many people spoke of his accomplishments, most had personal thoughts about Nantell’s sense of humor, work ethic, dedication and community spirit.
Through his 12 years in Burlingame, Nantell had many highlights of which he was proud.
Burlingame now has shared fire services that save the city more than $2 million annually. Sizeable concessions from employees have allowed the city to balance the budget. Nantell was proud to note the creation of $12 million in reserves and a $4 million vehicle replacement fund to protect the city’s ability to deal with difficult budget situations.
Nantell was thankful for voter approval to fund an additional $2 million annually in capital improvement projects and another $32 million in storm drain repair. Over the 12 years, Burlingame took on three long-term planning documents, created a professional human resources department, improved water and sewer infrastructure, planned and funded Burlingame Avenue improvements and streetscape, increased professionalism of the police department and maintained a world class library operation, Nantell said.
He was disappointed that the city was unable to replace the recreation center during his tenure – although talks to create a new plan are starting – and that the general plan has not been updated in more than 40 years.
It was a long path to city leadership.
Nantell was raised as one of six children in Wisconsin. He grew up through community-based athletic programs and took on leadership roles within it until he was in college, working during the summer as a playground leader or overseeing the skating rink. He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a master’s in parks and recreation administration from San Francisco State University. It was the move for the latter degree that brought Nantell and his wife, Christine, to the Bay Area.
After earning his master’s degree, Nantell began working in San Mateo at the Lakeshore Recreation Center. From 1981 to 1985, he worked as the superintendent of recreation and human services and was then promoted to assistant city manager. When the city manager became available, Nantell wasn’t interested. Instead, he took the deputy city manager role in April 1990. While the deputy, Nantell was given a unique opportunity to serve for more than a year as the interim fire chief starting in 1995.
Realizing he was ready to lead a city, Nantell jumped at the chance to join Burlingame when the position became available. In November 2000, Nantell joined Burlingame as city manager.
Nantell officially retired at the beginning of the year but stayed on during 2012 while Burlingame officials sought his replacement. Burlingame recently announced the new city manager, Lisa Goldman, who current serves as assistant city manager of Alameda.
Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.