May 13, 2014

City manager finalist from Kansas is ‘ready and capable’

Penny Postoak Ferguson is one of two finalists for the Fort Worth job.

Penny Postoak Ferguson knows what it’s like to get stuck in rush-hour traffic on Interstate 35.

So when traffic jams kept commuters from getting where they wanted to go, one of the departments managed by Ferguson worked with area transportation partners to get public transit buses down the highway’s shoulder at peak times to relieve congestion.

That I-35 is not in north Fort Worth, but in the Kansas City area, where she works as a deputy manager for Johnson County, Kan.

And for a long-term solution, Ferguson said, she is working with other municipalities to create a regionwide transportation system and looking for alternative funding sources.

Ferguson, 45, with more than 20 years of experience, is one of two city manager candidates the Fort Worth City Council will interview Thursday to replace Tom Higgins, who announced his resignation in October.

The other candidate is David Cooke, retired county manager of Wake County, N.C. Roderick L. Bremby, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Social Services, withdrew from consideration Tuesday.

While Ferguson has not held the top managerial position before, she said she is ready for the job in Fort Worth.

“I am aware of things that impact the whole organization and not just the departments that report to me, so I think that would be in line with what I do now. Just a greater percentage of my time will be spent on the overall organization and less time spent on the details within a set of departments,” Ferguson said.

‘Ready and capable’

Johnson County Manager Hannes Zacharias said Ferguson can build relationships and is especially talented in balancing tight budgets.

“She came on the tail end of our downsizing efforts in Johnson County and helped guide us with the departments and agencies under her,” Zacharias said, praising her fiscal experience.

Ferguson led the merger of the environment and public health departments because of money concerns, and she helped keep tight budgets as property valuations fell during the recession, Zacharias said.

She has experience with many of the same obstacles that Fort Worth faces, overseeing transportation in Johnson County and working on large technology improvements. The county just rolled out a new branding initiative and customer-friendly website.

“People were confused about what the cities do and what the county does, and so we did a branding initiative that clearly says these are all the services the county offers,” Ferguson said.

The next phase of the technology project is to store the same customer data across departments, she said.

Perhaps the greatest challenge that Ferguson would face in Fort Worth is that she has never been the top dog in municipal government.

But, as Ferguson’s former boss, San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley, said, “there is always a first time for all of us.”

“I think she is certainly ready and capable,” said Sculley, who recruited Ferguson to come to San Antonio in 2006 to help make the city government more efficient and customer-friendly.

A key player

And Ferguson was crucial to doing just that, Sculley said.

Ferguson chaired a customer service team, oversaw the development of a new terminal at the San Antonio Airport and managed several departments, including Capital Improvement Management Services.

Ferguson was vital to the planning and execution of a $550 million bond issue, the largest approved by San Antonio voters at that time, and was part of the budget staff that helped the city maintain a triple-A bond rating from all three major agencies, Sculley said.

“She is very capable, very dedicated and hardworking. And she works well with diverse groups of people. She is very pleasant to work with,” Sculley said.

She was so great to work with that Zacharias, who had also been Ferguson’s boss while she was assistant city manager in Hays, Kan., from 1997 to 2000, hired her away from San Antonio to work in Johnson County in 2010.

Ferguson, who is married and has a 4-year-old daughter, said her experiences could help “the great efforts that have been underway in the city of Fort Worth.”

“Things like being named the most livable city and even the distinction of being the most country city in the USA shows they have history and identity,” Ferguson said. “And there is a lot of demonstration of coming together as a community to address various issues and make improvements.”

Ferguson was also deputy city manager of Overland Park, Kan., from 2005 to 2006; assistant city manager of operations in Overland Park from 2002 to 2005; core manager and executive director of budget and research for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., from 2000 to 2002; and a budget analyst and assistant to the assistant city manager in Austin from 1993 to 1997.

She received a Bachelor of Science in business administration at the University of Kansas in 1992 and a master’s degree there in 1994. She also attended Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan.

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