Scott Stiles wasn’t looking for a new job when he got a call from a recruiter about the city manager opening in Palm Springs. His first reaction? “Darnit!”
Stiles, who took over as the city’s chief executive last week, said Tuesday he was perfectly content in the same role in Garden Grove, where he worked for seven-and-a-half years. Still, the idea of living in a small, sun-soaked desert town instead of an urban city of 171,000 in Orange County was just too strong.
“I was enjoying myself immensely there,” he told attendees of the monthly Organized Neighborhoods of Palm Springs (ONE-PS) meeting. “I never applied for a job in seven years. But when the recruiter called, I just said, “Darnit!”
Eight days and roughly 1,000 meetings and introductions later, Stiles said he knew his gut reaction was correct.
“Everybody has been very welcoming,” the 64-year-old said. “I would be very pleased if this was my last job. I hope to be here a very long time.”
Meeting with representatives from all 52 recognized city neighborhoods was special, Stiles told a packed room at the Palm Springs Police Department Training Center, because the city he spent 27 years working for, Cincinnati, had 52 community councils.
“I’m well familiar with the importance of neighborhood organizations,” he said, adding that his masters’ thesis was on the effectiveness of community councils. “It’s not lost on me the importance of your role in the community.”
After a week being out and about in the community with his wife and high-school-aged daughter (a second daughter is away at college), Stiles said he already feels right at home.
“There’s a real sense of community in places like here,” he said. “I’ve already been walking downtown and seen people I know. And I’ve only been here a week.”
If walking downtown and meeting with the community seems like a familiar approach, it is. Palm Springs Police Chief Andy Mills, who also brought decades of experience with him when he took over the top cop job in 2021, routinely walks city streets engaging with residents and visitors alike. Stiles said he and Mills almost immediately hit it off and share an interest in seeking new solutions for old problems.
Like Mills, Stiles said addressing the city’s homeless crisis will be his top priority, followed closely by work on the related issue of affordable housing. Partnering with the city’s hospitality businesses is also a priority.
Much of the work on homelessness will be familiar. In Garden Grove, Stiles worked to stand up a navigation center — similar to one planned in northern Palm Springs — and to bring mobile care, including mental health care, to those on the streets.
He also understands how urgent addressing the crisis is to city residents but quickly points out that homelessness is a problem up and down the West Coast that “is not an issue that respects regional boundaries.”
“In Orange County, every city thought they had the worst homelessness in the county,” he explained. “There’s no one size fits all solution. It takes multiple efforts and ideas to solve it.”
So far, Stiles said he likes the direction the city is headed in when it comes to addressing the issue, but he also knows there are steps that can be taken prior to opening the navigation center, which may not fully open until 2024.
“The quicker we can get beds up to help people, it will be that much better to help our police department,” he said, pointing to recent efforts launched by Mills to reduce the numbers of unhoused people living outside.
“Operation Relentless Sun is a good approach,” said Stiles. “It combines compassion and accountability.”
Stiles plans to bring a bit of compassion to his new job, he said, hoping it’s evident to city employees and the community in his approach.
“My mother gave me the best advice I ever received,” Stiles explained after meeting with the ONE-PS members. “She said, ‘There’s a reason God gave you two ears and only one mouth. That’s because you should spend twice as much time listening as you should talking.'”
“I try to be a good listener,” he added. “There are a lot of people with good ideas who don’t have a way to implement them. I want to listen to all those ideas and make sure to ask, ‘how can we get them implemented?
“We’re going to make lots of mistakes. I’m going to do stuff that I’m going to learn from. And I’ve got a lot to learn.”