Tom Frutchey took the helm as Paso Robles city manager a couple years ago and joined a crew of leaders around the county charting a course toward a renewed spirit of regionalism.

An experienced captain who has held city manager positions around the state as well as private sector and nonprofit leadership roles, Frutchey sat down with us recently to talk Naval aspirations, time travel and cycling with SLO City Manager Derek Johnson.

We hear your last name has a colorful connection to Pennsylvania, where your family is from – will you share it? 

There is a small community called Frutchey, built around what was originally a horse and carriage rest stop along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Family lore had it that the rest stop was started by a horse thief in our family tree; I was definitely not allowed to associate with that branch of the tree!

What did you want to be growing up?

I wanted to travel through time and, among other stops, be like Horatio Hornblower, the fictional captain of a British Navy man of war during the Napoleonic Wars.

What’s something you do every day? 

I try to ensure that, at the end of every day, I can say I earned my salary, having made the community better off by at least a commensurate amount.

How do you spend time outside work?

I am a big “West Wing” fan (I have all the DVDs), I am reading “Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind,” by Yuval Harari, and I am a serious road bicyclist (who can’t stay up with Derek Johnson even when he is pulling me with a bungee cord).

You have a background in the private sector – how has that shaped your approach to city management? 

Working in all three sectors—public, private and not-for-profit—has shaped my approach in many ways.  Maybe most importantly, it has helped me learn what needs to be different between business and government, and what can be the same.

Democratic decision-making needs to be inclusive, to ensure that every citizen has had a chance to participate if he or she wants, that every perspective has been given appropriate consideration, and that the resulting decision works for the long-term benefit of the overall community, not just one segment.  On the other hand, decision making in the private sector can be made by the owner of a private sector company, without consulting anyone if that is what he or she chooses and based on whatever criteria he or she chooses.

Government operations, however, should and can be just as agile, efficient, and high quality as the best-practice operations in the private sector. “Good enough for government work” was an expression originating during World War II, in light of the high standards necessary to build the planes and tanks for the war effort. It was a compliment, not a criticism; it recognized that it was challenging but necessary to meet or exceed the established high standards. There is no reason for any of us to accept anything less today.

What’s been the most surprising issue you’ve had to deal with in your current position? 

The challenges private and public-sector employers alike face in attracting high-quality employees to the Central Coast. We have been very fortunate in our recent hires, but the pool is never as deep as I think it should be, given everything that this area has to offer. Incomes are relatively low given the cost of housing, there are often relatively few similar jobs to sustain a career path, and the trailing spouse can have problems finding a new job.

What is one thing you want to see happen in our region in the next five years? 

The intense and inclusive regional collaboration that will be necessary to minimize the impact of the loss of Diablo Canyon and to develop and implement a successful set of strategies to achieve lasting economic vitality for this county.

What is one thing you want to see happen in Paso Robles in the next five years? 

We know that Paso Robles will grow; the current population is now 31,000, while build-out is about 44,000. The key for our community is finding a way to grow without losing what makes Paso special, including: the tight-knit community values, the openness and neighborly spirit, the willingness to tackle the big issues and big opportunities, etc. Many cities have found out that, in growing, they lost what they cherished.