Jim Armstrong

Paul Wellman

Jim Armstrong

The S.B. Questionnaire: Jim Armstrong

Santa Barbara’s Retiring City Administrator Reflects

Monday, August 11, 2014
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My first encounter with Jim Armstrong at the movies more than a decade ago. I had no idea he was Santa Barbara’s city administrator, but he and his wife, Linda, were clearly film fans, so I struck up a conversation with them as they sat on the aisle, two rows from the screen, like always. She was vivacious, passionate, and animated, raving about the film she’s just seen. Jim (or “Bim” as she calls him) was quite the opposite: shy, listening intently, but clearly enjoying his wife’s excitement.

That first meeting and the many since made me understand how Jim can be both unobtrusive and effective in his role as Santa Barbara’s top bureaucrat. For so many years, he’s helped make our town a better place while sitting back and quietly enjoying seeing the city grow in strength and prominence.

I was happy that, before retiring from his position, Jim spent some times answering the Proust questionnaire.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

George C. Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff in World War II, and later Secretary of War and Secretary of State. During the War, he was the ultimate behind-the-scenes player who had to prepare our nation for war. I have nothing like the responsibilities that George Marshall had as Chief of Staff of the Army. But I do have a role behind the scenes to make sure all the moving parts of our city government work well.

What is your current state of mind?

I am generally happy and contented. I am ending a fantastic career in city government with the city organization in great shape. However, I am also a little apprehensive about retiring. When you are a very organized person like I am, it is a little unnerving going into this next phase without a real plan in place. But I am sure I will find lots of different experiences to keep me motivated.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I am goal-oriented. At work, I like to have a plan in place for just about every aspect of my work. At home, I am also that way. And of course, it sometimes drives my wife nuts.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would like to learn to relax more. I am very high energy, and have a hard time just relaxing and kicking back.

What is it you like most about your job?

I love the incredible people with whom I get to work. That includes some very smart and talented employees who care deeply about the city. And it includes a diverse group of citizens who volunteer to serve on the City Council, volunteer boards, and commissions, and on various non-profit and business groups. Santa Barbara is the special place it is today because so many people are involved in every facet of the community.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Having a great marriage for almost 36 years with my wife Linda.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A nice dinner with my wife Linda at a great restaurant with a beautiful view. Add in a great bottle of wine. Sitting outside at the El Encanto or the Biltmore comes to mind.

What is your greatest fear?

My greatest fear is not aging well. Even though I have tried to keep in good health, it scares me to think I might end up with a debilitating illness in my last few years of life.

Who do you most admire?

The man I have admired the most over the past several years is Nelson Mandela. He was an incredible role model who suffered for so many years under apartheid. Yet once he was released from prison, he made it a point to work with his oppressors and set South Africa on a course of relative peace and economic growth. The rest of Africa, and the world, need more leaders like Nelson Mandela.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Traveling to far off destinations. Linda and I love to travel and experience different cultures and lifestyles. Even though we have traveled extensively over the years, there are still so many more places I would love to see.

What is the quality you most like in people?

Passion and a sense of humor. I love to spend time with people who are passionate about what they do, whether it is their job or their hobbies. Over the course of history, the passionate people are usually the ones who have created the most change and progress.

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

My pet peeve is people who are not totally honest and straightforward. I don’t like to play 20 questions to find out the truth about an issue.

What do you most value in friends?

A sense of humor. When I get together with close friends, I love to just kick back, enjoy a nice bottle of wine, and laugh until the tears run down your face.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

The word I tend to over use is “great.” The term I tend to over use is: “Just thinking out loud.”

Which talent would you most like to have?

I would love to be able to draw well. I have no artistic talent whatsoever.

Where would you most like to live?

Santa Barbara, of course. Even though I love to travel, it is always so great to come back home to this amazing place.

What is your most treasured possession?

Our airplane. A 1972 Beech Bonanza V-Tail.

On what occasion do you lie?

Not very often. But I have learned to be very diplomatic over the years.

Who makes you laugh the most?

My wife, Linda. She has an infectious laugh and sense of humor, and you can’t be around her very long without laughing out loud.

What is your motto?

“Take the high road.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Leave us with one more good bit of advice.

How do we fill the $400 million unfunded liability for city staff pensions and infrastructure maintenance back log that you ran up during your term as city administrator?

When you finish that question, how are you going to spend your own quarter of a million dollar a year city pension you will now get for the rest of your life?

That's about $20,000 a month. The little people you left with this city pension liability would like to vicariously enjoy this largesse with you.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 10:09 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I don't think loon would see Jim on "the high road", but that's just my take on this picture. Jarv, I do agree and constantly whine about our mayor DROPPING her 4-pt Reform Plan of Sept '12 which would have tackled the pension issue, a real one. I don't think we have a lot of City pensioners at the $240K per year payout, so you exaggerate horribly.
Since Measure M lost, drop all the cant about road maintenance.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 10:45 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Hard to learn what city pensions actually are besides based upon a percentage of final salary times longevity since the city has refused to provide this data to Transparent California. I believe Armstrong was hitting close to $300,000 a year before retirement.

So shall we all now respectfully request the city cooperate with the Transparent California website so current employee records are up to date and we also learn what city pensions look like that we will be long paying for instead of city infrastructure and present city services?

Knowing this ahead of time might make a more level playing field when our city employee union-endorsed council members start their arm-length negotiations with those very same city unions, working on our behalf.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 11:55 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Jarvis, I thought that the $400 mil unfunded maintenance backlog was County, not City.

Does the City also have that amount of unfunded maintenance?

art (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 1:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

City: approx $200 million in maintenance backlog and $200 million in pensions according to the last time City CFO Robert Samario poked his head out to talk about this during the 2013 elections. He claimed this amount was growing, but don't know what the status is in 2014 - or what the city personnel costs look like for 2013 or 2014 because the city has refused to publish these numbers.

County trimmed their one billion pension liability down to $800 million of late. Not sure what their maintenance backlog is, but Peter Adams wanted approx $20 million a year to go out under Measure M just to tread water, which voters rejected.

Both organizations over-promised and under-delivered. No distinction there, and both have been elected progressive free-spending majorities during this unfunded liability free fall time.

Revenue growth actually comes from real sources and not from magic money that simply falls from the sky. Voters need to assess where they want to grow revenues when they vote continuously to grow expenses.

Bring in more rich people to increase property tax values of homes is one way. Making downtown retail attractive for rich people to spend discretionary cash is another.

Turning even more real estate over to sudsidzed low-income residents does not grow revenue and actively diminishes it. Eating the rich or demanding they alone pay their fair share and carry the load for others won't cut it either.

Tourism and oil are the only flexible revenue avenues both the city and county have left to play with. Or rapid development like Goleta is now pursuing.

Take your pick and choose your poison if you are ever going to pay off these growing liabilities. And of course there are always new taxes as we have continued to see of late too - but so far the gaping hole never gets filled..

Selling the Clark estate to get increased property taxes is a reasonable option because city staff pensions are sacred and skim off their share from the top of everything from here on out..

Mistakes were obviously made a few decades ago but no subsequent city council did anything to remedy this train wreck now coming down the rails that has all our names on it. Happens. Hold on.

Or you could vote in new independent fiscally conservative majorities who do not carry the benediction of the Democrat party. Naaaaaw, not gonna happen. So you will see fewer and fewer services or benefits for local residents while city staff salaries, benefit, perks and pension continue to climb through the work. No other way the math works.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 2:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Santa Barbara is much better off without him. Jim Armstrong felt it was a good idea to refuse to compensate a homeowner after the city of SB ripped up his driveway. All the homeowner wanted was to have his driveway restored to the condition it was in before city workers wrongfully tore it up.
Talk to JOSEPH LIEBMAN, Esq. Law Offices of Joseph Liebman, 4250 Mariposa Dr. Santa Barbara, Ca. 93110. tel. 805 563.2421 fax 805 569.6045 cell 805 448.5656. He was the lawyer on Brost Versus City of SB. Trial took place 12-13-13 before Judge Anderle and the concerned property was located at 478 Conejo Road. Thanks to Armstrong, instead of costing the city $25,000 in repairs it cost that plus another $100,000 in attorney's fees.

Oh, and don't forget, the City paid $11,000 to 'The Sintra Group' to investigate Peter Lance's News Press allegations against SBPD officer Kasi Beutel, and Armstrong buried that report in Beutel's personnel file, so the public has never seen it.

His departure is good news that could only be better if we could renege on his pension.

DarrylGenis (anonymous profile)
August 12, 2014 at 12:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

My favorite motto...

touristunfriendly (anonymous profile)
August 12, 2014 at 5:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

DarrylGenis will only be friends with Armstrong if he drinks a bunch of wine and plows into some people or cars; thus making him a prospective client and income opportunity.

skaterspoint (anonymous profile)
August 13, 2014 at 12:18 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Or, he could make the 'Sintra Report' public and I would consider that repentance.

DarrylGenis (anonymous profile)
August 13, 2014 at 6:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Skaterspoint, check out:

... hollingsworth, darryl genis, dean hollingsworth, dale gunder gary gunder, jimmy navarro, strider wasilewski, chris smith, mark brown, mark egbert, lonnie ott, mark ruby

DarrylGenis (anonymous profile)
August 13, 2014 at 6:40 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Nice. Darryl.. i know a bunch of people in that list too

skaterspoint (anonymous profile)
August 14, 2014 at 1:26 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Now you know where I learned to scrap with 'kooks'.

DarrylGenis (anonymous profile)
August 17, 2014 at 8:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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