Checking in with City Manager Mark Israelson

When Mark Israelson started working for the City of Plano, the population was about 50,000 less, the developments that are synonymous with the city itself weren’t yet built and the surrounding cities were about 15% of the size they are now.

Over the last 25 years, Israelson has collected many titles in the organization: senior budget analyst, assistant to the city manager, director of customer and utility services, assistant city manager, deputy city manager, senior deputy city manager and finally city manager, where he recently celebrated five years in the position.

“I’m very fortunate I walked into a situation where the City of Plano has had a long history of great leaders. That’s at the staff level with city managers like Tom Muehlenbeck, Bruce Glasscock and great elected leaders from mayors like Harry LaRosiliere, Pat Evans and Phil Dyer and the numerous council members,” Israelson says. “They really set the tone for what the organization is and how we have customer service. And it’s been my job to help progress that in my tenure here.”

Since you’ve spent 25 years with the City of Plano, how have you seen Plano grow over the years?

It’s interesting. With the growth of cities, it’s almost like every decade you have a different city that you are dealing with. When I got here in the ‘90s, we were still going through some of our growth zones. And then in the 2000s, things slowed down a bit but we started seeing a little bit of a transformation of where the community saw itself. And then in the 2010s, we had another phase of development with things like Legacy West and Toyota and Liberty Mutual. Now, we’re kind of finishing the development phase of things with projects like Haggard Farm on the west side of town, and we’re doing redevelopment simultaneously. We’re doing Collin Creek Mall and the Willow Bend Mall.

You were appointed city manager in 2019, shortly before the pandemic started. How did that affect your time in the position?

We had to learn on the fly. There wasn’t a great playbook or blueprint to work from. The last pandemic that people really referred back to was like Spanish Flu, and that was 100 years ago, so we really had to learn a lot in that time.

Coming out of COVID, we recognized that there’s a lot of changes that have happened in business and in the community. A lot of what’s made Plano successful is the relationships. It’s community leaders and civic-minded citizens working together in close relationship, knowing one another and then working through issues. When you’re forced to separate, it stalls some of those relationships, and it makes it a little bit harder. After COVID, we’ve spent the last couple of years focusing on those relationships and reestablishing open lines of communication and trying to make sure that the community knows that those relationships really matter to us.

What is our focus going forward for the City of Plano?

A lot of what we’re trying to do is stay consistent with the values that made us successful in the first place. So it is valuing things like the education of the community and the school system, and we’re very strong partners with the ISD. The leadership that we’ve had in the organization and in the community that started decades ago; people had this vision for what we wanted in the value of having great open space, great trails, great nature preserves and the ability to walk to a park within 10 minutes of any home in Plano. They set these goals, and they said: “Let’s actually work to achieve them. Let’s just not make sure that it’s something that’s written on a wall, but let’s actually make this tangible and actually drive to it.”

So part of our goal right now is to continue on with that, making sure that these things stay at that same level of quality and that they don’t decline. That’s been a large portion of our commitment.

You see all the orange cones around. You see all the construction. And part of that is because we’re sitting there looking at our infrastructure, and whether its water lines underneath the roads or whether it’s the roads themselves, all that infrastructure has reached that 30 and 40-year mark. What happens after 30 or 40 years is that a lot of it has reached the end of its useful life. It takes more maintenance, more intervention in order to bring it up to where it needs to be and the quality that Plano expects. We’re having to intervene, and we’re having to be more assertive about the way that we’re approaching it.

With enrollment numbers in the school district decreasing and the median age of Planoites increasing, where do you see the development focus turning to?

We’re seeing people retire here and retire in those homes that they raised their families in and stay here. But we’re also seeing that same desire for families who want to raise their kids here, and they want that great school system. We’re seeing the desire come from both ends.

The challenge right now is affordable housing, but we’re working hard on our end to make sure we’re doing what we can in policies and projects to address those things. We recognize that, first and foremost, we’re a suburban community. That’s what we grew up as, and that’s what we are. So continuing with that character is something we will continue with.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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