Office Doors: A Day with Jeffrey Barton

City manager of the City of Phoenix


I get up early and pray before I get my day going. I then tool around the house to mentally prepare to manage my day. I use this time to either finish reading or work out. I’m a financial guy and used to be the budget director who navigated the city through some of its most treacherous financial periods, so I turn on the news and listen to what’s happening in the markets. I’m also an avid music lover and used to DJ in college, so I sometimes listen to music to get my head in the right place. Because I know when I get to work, I rarely have time for myself as the days are packed with meetings on top of meetings.


I like to arrive at the office when there aren’t many people in the building and it’s still quiet. It gives me another opportunity to catch up on emails and check my voicemail to see if there are any emergent fires I need to respond to, public records requests from media, or anything that happened overnight with Police and Fire that I may have missed.

There is no one-size-fits-all to my day. The City of Phoenix is a council-manager form of government. The benefit of this structure is that you have a professional-level administrator orchestrating the day-to-day and the council-setting policy. It’s my team’s and my job to figure out how to make that policy live and breathe. I have one-on-one meetings with my direct reports and a standing weekly meeting with the mayor. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are somewhat formulaic because these are council days when we have policy and formal meetings. We spend a lot of time making sure departments are prepared for their presentations and council agenda items are ready for discussion.

As Phoenix is the fifth-largest city in the country and the largest city in Arizona, I meet with my peers — East and West Valley city managers — as well as business owners and community members.


I came to the City of Phoenix in 1999 from Pennsylvania and Georgia, which were very different culturally, politically, historically, aesthetically and environmentally. When I first got here, Phoenix was the sixth-largest city in the country, yet it functioned like a really small town. But then, as people came here in droves and the population almost doubled in a decade and a half, the speed at which things happened changed drastically.

One example is we are having discussions to better serve the population that were previously not taking place. Back in the day, it was common for council votes to be 9-0, with rare dissension among the group. We’ve now become accustomed to 5-4 or 6-3 votes. It’s healthy to have discussions and differences of opinion because that’s when you get a better product.


We are growing into our own and accepting the fact that we’re the fifth-largest city in the country. We’ve got an actual downtown that doesn’t shut down at 5 p.m. We have Friday and Saturday night concerts and events and major sports that people attend. Phoenix has diversified its economy, minimized exposure and lessened the burden of a recession’s potential impact. We’ve also done a great job looking outward and working with our community to have greater community involvement in everything from budget to policing.


I grew up in public housing with lesser means. I chose government because I wanted to give folks who grew up like me an opportunity to have what I didn’t. I knew local government is where a lot of conversations happen if you’re really trying to make a difference. It’s at the local level where those changes manifest.

Being the first African American city manager in Phoenix’s history is a huge accomplishment. I went to Morehouse College, a historically Black college and university, so it’s an even bigger deal for me. I grew up without a father and my parents weren’t involved in my life. I was raised by my grandmother, who dropped out of school in sixth grade, and my grandfather couldn’t read or write. My grandmother is my guiding light, and it’s heartwarming to be in this position.


When I was in high school, my aunt and I helped start a nonprofit that provided education and tutoring for kids. Attending Morehouse College instilled a sense of purpose and obligation to participate in a community-based movement. My wife and I are involved in our sorority and fraternity’s community events, and we bring our kids along. My father-in-law ran two community organizations, and my daughter and her boyfriend started a nonprofit in Atlanta that does local clean-ups and donates money to a recovery center for women.

I’m on several boards — Valley of the Sun United Valley, Greater Phoenix Chamber, and Greater Phoenix Economic Council. I also serve as chair of Arizona Financial Credit Union’s audit and supervisory committee. We’re public servants through and through. It’s inherent in who we are.


I take the last hour of my day and purge emails before I go leave the office. When I get home, my wife has a “no electronics at the table” policy. She doesn’t allow cell phones and likes to go around the dinner table, ask everyone about their day and have active conversations. My wife has a very solid family unit, and they do a lot of things together. It’s the first place I learned what a family looks like because I didn’t have that construct growing up. We hang out watching mindless TV or continue our discussions. I am not a huge sleeper, so I read, catch up on emails or watch TV after everyone has gone to bed.

To learn more, go to

About Julie Coleman

Julie Coleman is a contributing writer for Frontdoors Media. She is Principal of Julie Coleman Consulting, providing strategic philanthropy consulting services for individuals, families, businesses, foundations and nonprofit organizations.

From Frontdoors Magazine

Back to Top