Life as a City Manager’s Child with Alex McIntyre

This is the latest post in a new series about growing up with a parent who is also a City Manager. We will interview a current local government professional who followed their mother or father’s footsteps into public service. You can check out past installments here: Growing Up in City Hall. Today, we hear from Alex McIntyre the City Manager of Menlo Park, California.


alex mcintyre

Alex McIntyre

City Manager at City of Menlo Park, California

Experience: City Manager – Lake Oswego (OR), Chief Assistant County Administrator – Marin County (CA), Town Manager – Tiburon (CA), Town Manager – Portola Valley (CA)

Education: Bachelor of Arts, Political Science, University of California – Irvine and Master’s of Public Administration, University of Southern California

Connect: LinkedIn

Background Check

Alex was appointed Menlo Park (CA) city manager in 2012. Before Menlo Park, Alex was the Lake Oswego (OR) city manager for four years. One of Alex’s biggest achievement in Lake Oswego was the completion of the Lake Oswego Interceptor Sewer.

Alex was Chief Assistant County Administrator with the County of Marin from 2006-2008, and before that was Town Manager of Tiburon from 2000-2006. He also served locally as Town Manager of Portola Valley from 1997-2000. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of California, Irvine, and a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Southern California.

clip_image001Don McIntyre (Alex’s dad), known as one of the deans of San Gabriel Valley administrators, started his career as a planner for San Mateo County and became a city manager at age 29. Don served as the president of the League of California Cities in 1983-84. Don spent 30 years as a city manager, serving in four cities: Los Gator, CA, Oak Park, MI, Vallejo, CA, and Pasadena, CA where he retired in 1990 after 17 years of service.

Raised in Newman, Illinois, Don McIntyre received a degree in history from Millikin in 1952 and a master’s degree in political science from Michigan State University in 1953. He served on active duty as a naval officer from 1953-1957 and retired as a captain from the Naval Reserve in 1975.

Following retirement from city management, Don served as President and CEO of the Central City Association of Los Angeles from 1990-1994 and as General Manager of the Orange County Sanitation District from 1995-2000. Don started his own urban affairs consulting business in 2000.

Q & A with Alex

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What was it like growing up with a parent who was a city manager?  Was there anything you liked, anything you could have done without?

When I was born, my Dad was already a city manager.  My four siblings and I knew nothing else.  So we didn’t really have anything to compare it to.  Kind of like being born into the family occupying Downton Abbey– you know nothing else.

rs_468x264-140103105126-appetiteTo be clear, we were nothing like the Downton Abbey family.  We were a typical middle class family with middle class issues.  While Lord Grantham and his ilk were well known on their massive land holdings in County Yorkshire, the name McIntyre was only generally well known through appearances with certain regularity in the local paper.

To that point, I have complaint with the quality of the local press and its tendency to exaggerate certain civic activities or decisions.  Apparently, this is not such a new phenomenon.  With certain regularity, our good family name was often featured on the front page of the paper in not the most flattering way.  So often, as a kid, like the newspapers themselves, we don’t/can’t have the capability to fully understand complex civic issues, my father’s role and why the press was regularly so surly with him.  I’m sure the English press treated Lord Grantham better.

Did you move around a lot growing up? If so, what was that like?

We moved around a lot – particularly early in my dad’s career.  Not only did we move for jobs, but my parents seemed to like to move within the town we were in.  I lived in 9 homes between birth and college.  We lived in three separate homes in Los Gatos, CA; three homes in Oak Park, MI; one home in Vallejo, CA; and two homes in Pasadena, CA.  In fact, my sister, who is the oldest McIntyre child, attended 12 different schools between Kindergarten and her senior year.  I only attended 5 in that same period.

Moving a lot for me wasn’t so bad.  I honestly believe that all of that moving brought us closer together as a family.  My parents had five kids within a 6 year span (I was #4).  Given the six year age range, really until the high school years, our family remained closed-knit.  Once high school hit, all bets were off.

How did having a parent who is a city manager influence your career choice?  Was there pressure to follow in their footsteps? When did you become interested in pursuing this career path? 

Honestly, having my Dad as a city manager never influenced my career.  In fact, throughout college, I thought that I was going to be an attorney.

1089_wideThroughout high school and college, I had done a lot of community service work and found satisfaction in that type of personal and professional investment.  I never quite connected the dots between what I was doing and city management.

In order to make money after college, I became a waiter at TGI Fridays.  While the cash was good, I could only handle so many late night Long Island Iced Teas before I realized, this wasn’t it.  I moved home and Dad said, “Go get a job.”  That job ended up being a volunteer intern in the City of Burbank, CA.  The dots were connected and I never looked back.

Did you learn any lessons from their career or experience? If so, what are they?

My Dad worked a lot.  His generation invested their hearts and souls into their profession and perhaps, somewhat at the expense of family life.  In fact, the McIntyre annual summer family vacation was to the beaches of southern California (a short drive from Pasadena).  Dad would come down on the weekends and go back during the week.  While leaving five teen-age kids at the beach with Mom may have had its benefits to him, I think overall he believes that that time is something he can never get back.

I’m a believer in work-life balance.  I think that it is necessary for success.  My takeaway was that, of course, one needs to invest in one’s profession….but not at the expense of the family.  I think that most employers today understand this and appreciate it from a city manager.

Has your career path been different than your parent’s? How so?

download (3)My path was somewhat different from my Dad.  My Dad went from working for the County of San Mateo as a planner to being a city manager at the age of 29.  And remained one until he retired.

I took the helm of my first city at the age of 36.  My path had been somewhat more “traditional.”  Rising from the ranks and doing my time in various public sector positions.  I also did a stint in the private sector for three years.  Here is my career snapshot:

  • Administrative Intern/Analyst – City of Burbank, CA
  • Assistant to the City Manager – City of Arcadia, CA
  • Vice President, Norm Roberts & Associates (Executive Recruiter)
  • Town Manager – Town of Portola Valley, CA
  • Town Manager – Town of Tiburon, CA
  • Chief Assistant County Administrator – County of Marin, CA
  • City Manager – City of Lake Oswego, OR
  • City Manager – City of Menlo Park, CA

Do you have a professional relationship with your parent? Do you exchange work related advice?

When I was in Burbank and Arcadia, my Dad was the City Manager of Pasadena (which was nearby).  We would run into each other at the San Gabriel Valley City Manager’s monthly lunch meetings as well as the meetings for the League of California Cities and of course, ICMA.  I was taken to my first ICMA conference in Philadelphia, PA in 1985.  It was quite an exciting time for me.

Later, when I became a city manager, my Dad was still in the profession working for a special district and then later as interim city managers in various cities.  We would often commiserate on the politics of our respective towns.

What does your parent think of you following in their footsteps? Did they think it was a terrible idea or were they supportive?

download (1)I remember when I attended ICMA with my Dad in Philadelphia quite early in my career.  My Dad would introduce me to many of his colleagues and the joke was “must have been the McIntyre kid that got weak gene.”  While humorous on its own, it certainly was never terribly encouraging as far as a career choice is concerned.  I do know that later on, when I first became a city manager, we shared a bottle of special ($$) wine to celebrate the achievement.  I know that he is proud of me.

How did you describe your parent’s job to friends? ‘City manager’ has to be one of the most confusing jobs to explain to non-government folks.

We do a horrible job in the profession of explaining what we do as city managers.  We simply expect people to “know” what it means (trust me, they don’t).  Even as a kid, we never fully understood what my Dad did.  We were hauled into City Council meetings where my Dad would introduce the squirmy McIntyre children to the City Council and staff.  But really, it never made a lot of sense.  We knew that he wasn’t the Mayor, but he could fire the Police Chief.  Also, according to the media, at one time, he earned more than the Governor of the State of California.  Wow!

What advice can you give to kids whose parent is a city manager?

When we are young, it is quite difficult to fully understand what anyone’s parent does.  With a parent in the public sector, the potential to misunderstand is heightened by the press (and the community) in the mischaracterization of a particular issue or event.  When this occurs, I think that kids of city managers should be open to questions from their kids and answer as honestly and appropriately as possible.

Also, to remember, it is not personal (even though, as a kid, it can feel that way).

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