DALLAS — Working in city government wasn’t Dallas city manager Brian Latta’s plan when he went to college.
He earned a degree in geography through Brigham Young University’s environmental sciences department and took a job with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Cody, Wyoming, as a wildlife biologist.
Latta, 40, said the work was fascinating, but he soon realized it wasn’t for him — at least in the longterm.
“It would have been like a career position. I would have been there the rest of my life, and I wasn’t really settled down, I guess, at that point,” Latta said. “I wasn’t ready to settle down.”
He was still single, and wanted to have a family someday.
“It wasn’t going to happen if I would have stayed there, or it would be less likely to happen,” he said.
That was when he started working for local government, taking a job with the city of Provo, Utah. He worked in the planning department.
“They trained me, and then with my geography degree, I had some education,” he said.
He took a few planning courses and found a new career direction. Latta spent a year in Provo before moving to Clark County, Wash.
“My environmental background was beneficial to them, as well, on the county planning side of things,” Latta said. “They deal a lot more with those environmental issues a lot more at the county than they do at the city.”
Latta worked there for almost two years. During his time there, he met and married his wife, Wendy.
“Then the economy went in the tanker with 2008, so then I moved to Corvallis,” Latta said. “I got a job with the city of Corvallis in their planning department and went to Oregon State University while I was there.”
After five years of working in Corvallis and finishing his degree at Oregon State, Latta moved to Harrisburg, where he was the city manager for six and a half years.
“That’s when I jumped into city management,” Latta said.
With that job, he found his career passion.
“I think what drives me to stay in city government is the ability to make a difference in the lives of people,” Latta said. “I really enjoy being able to help and help the people, you know the average citizens who want to be able to improve their lives and be able to do something with their property.”
In Dallas, Latta and his wife, with their children Navy, 11, and Bertram, 9, have found the place they would like to stay longterm. He said he would like his children to finish school in this community.
“Dallas as a community, I think, really fit that. I think that Dallas, as a community, fits with a lot of my personal beliefs,” Latta said. “The things that they support and stand for are things that align with me and my family. It’s a great, safe community, and a good place to live.”
Professionally, Latta said he sees plenty of opportunity for Dallas to grow, and he wants to help make that happen. He believes Dallas is on the verge of more residential growth, but more critically, Latta sees potential for more commercial and industrial businesses making Dallas their home.
“We are at that point where we either need to grow or not grow. By not growing you are forcing all your citizens to find those services elsewhere, so I think that Dallas is ready to expand their commercial-industrial footprint,” Latta said. “With many of the industries of the last 20-30 years going away and land sitting vacant, I think there’s good opportunity to bring some of that back, see that growth in those sectors here in town.”
Latta said the proposed Mint Valley Paper manufacturing facility is an example of the kind of industrial development he would like to see.
He also supports efforts for the city and other organizations, such as the Dallas Area Visitors Center and Dallas Downtown Association, to work together on behalf of the community. Latta took part in a plan with the Polk Community Development Corporation and DDA to assist the DAVC in staying open in the short-term. It was slated to close at the end of October.
Latta said the DAVC has a key role in welcoming people to Dallas and drawing visitors here. He said the city should support that mission.
“I think that we need to improve our ability to demonstrate that through our actions and through our words,” he said. “I think that we can be a very welcoming organization, and should be, and a good partner to the other community organizations that are out there.”
The proposal keeps the DAVC open and staffed for the next sevens months, giving the organization time to work with the city and DDA on longer-term plans. Now the city retains all the transient lodging tax funding charged to hotels and motels in town. The purpose of the money is to host community events and promote tourism through marketing Dallas. The city hired its own staff for both functions.
Latta said all options are on the table as to how that money should be distributed in the future.
“Right now, we certainly don’t want to give up any of the options for how that might look longterm. What this does is it gives us basically the next seven months to figure out what that longterm vision is going to be,” Latta said. “It could result in more of the TLT tax dollars that the city now has and is using for that marketing piece going to the visitors center. It could stay with the city or it could be given to someone else. There’s lots of different ways to look at that.”
Latta said he’s also looked at the Dallas Urban Renewal District plan for more opportunities to create programs that will help invigorate the district, which encompasses the downtown area. The district is estimated to generate $9 million in revenue that can be spent on projects to improve the “street scape” and renovate buildings.
“We’ve spent about $2 million of that, so we have a good amount of money left,” Latta said. “And there’s a lot of opportunities that exist to help businesses and property owners inside that boundary. … I’m really excited about that. I have a lot of experience with that, and some good successes and some failures that I’ve been able to learn from.”
Latta said the city council will meet in January for a goal-setting session, which will further define his objectives as a city manager. He said he wants to be around to see the longer-term goal come to fruition.
“I’m ready to be in a community for a long time where I feel I can add a lot of value. A lot of the things that I mentioned earlier, as far as the industrial growth, and the need for that, the commercial growth and the need for that. Continuing to expand and accommodate new residential growth, those are all things, with my past experiences and my skills, that I can really add that value here for a really long time.”