There wasn’t a clear linear path Justin Hess took to reach Burbank’s city manager position.
He’s been working for the city for 22 years, starting as an intern for the planning department and slowly working his way up the ladder.
He served as the city’s financial services director, management services director and, up until this past June, as assistant city manager.
Then, on Sept. 24, after a closed-session meeting, the City Council announced that Hess, 44, will be Burbank’s new city manager. He started on Tuesday.
Hess replaces retiring City Manager Ron Davis, who was at the helm for the past 3½ years with a total of 20 years of service to Burbank, most of which were spent as general manager of Burbank Water and Power.
Davis’ last day with the city was Sept. 30.
While Hess said he did not know what he wanted to do early in his career with the city, he added that working for a smaller city like Burbank made him feel like he could make a difference, and he thinks he can continue making a difference in his current position.
“I didn’t start out thinking that I wanted or needed to be city manager,” Hess said. “It was more like, ‘Heck, this is cool. I can actually make a difference, and it’s a perfect city to do it in.’”
Since June 26, Hess had been serving as acting city manager while Davis took an extended vacation before his retirement.
Hess said he saw his time as acting city manager as an opportunity to prove that he was ready for the city’s top position, and he believes he did just that.
“Justin has a remarkable track record of success here in Burbank,” Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy said in a statement.
“He understands the needs of the city and has helped to set the course of where we are going in the future. Mr. Hess’ proven leadership skills, extensive knowledge of the city and his time both as an assistant and acting city manager has confirmed that he can successfully lead our city into the future,” she added.
There were whispers of Hess becoming city manager in 2016 when then City Manager Mark Scott resigned from the position.
While city officials ultimately went with Davis, Hess said that he knew he wasn’t ready for the position at that time and that he would need a few years in the assistant city manager’s job to get a better grasp of being in the head leadership role.
“I owed it to the city, as well as myself, to get a bit more experience before making that leap into city management,” Hess said.
“It’s a big job. When you go into it, you need to go into it eyes wide open. I knew where I was in my career, at the time, and needed a bit more seasoning,” he added.
Hess said he took away key information about how to run the city from every city manager who has come before him — from Robert “Bud” Ovrom to Davis.
However, Hess credits Davis for taking him under his wing and cultivating him to the be the best he can be.
“That’s one of the things that I’d like to continue, where you’re training and professionally grooming people while they work,” Hess said.
He said he understands he has big shoes to fill. Davis has been credited with pulling the city-owned utility out of financial disaster and for helping the city get its finances in check.
As Davis was able to achieve those significant accomplishments, Hess said he feels confident he can continue and build on the successes of his predecessor.
Hess said he is focused on getting all city employees to pay half of their pension costs, working with the city’s newly formed Infrastructure Oversight Board to pay and fund deferred infrastructure projects and making the city as a whole operate more efficiently.
“Rather than cutting budgets, we want to look at how we want to do things better,” he said.