Garden Grove

Scott Stiles’ western journey

SCOTT STILES, Garden Grove’s city manager (Tribune photo).

By Jim Tortolano/Orange County Tribune

His dream was to become a sports writer for The Minneapolis Tribune. But he took another path that led him out of the snowy upper Midwest to the sunny Pacific Coast, from watching football games to watching over a city of 175,000 people.

Scott Stiles, 64, has for the last seven years been the city manager of Garden Grove, through a pandemic that sparked a severe economic slump, a surge in political protest and a return to relative normality.

“Can you imagine loading up your covered wagon and heading out west to relocate your family,” said Mayor Steve Jones, tongue in cheek. “Well, that’s exactly what Scott Stiles did about seven years ago and within a very short period of time, he built relationships and gained the trust of the entire community.”

SCOTT STILES addresses the audience at a Garden Grove Neighborhood Association meeting in 2018 (Tribune photo).

Once Stiles set aside his ambition to be an ink-stained wretch, he began studying city planning and embarked on a career than led him to become the assistant city manager of Cincinnati and – for a time – the interim city manager of that metropolis of over 300,000 people.

His 2,168.8-mile sojourn to the City of Youth and Ambition started as a surprise. “A guy called me out of the blue about the job in Garden Grove,” he recalled. “I wanted to be a city manager. Our two daughters were 11 and 9 at the time, and my wife Kelly said, ‘If this is what you want to do, let’s go on an adventure.’”

The city council here, he found, was looking for someone “from the outside,” and Stiles was chosen, covered wagon and all.

Upon arriving he said, “I knew we needed to stabilize things first. There was a lot of nervousness about me. Was I going to come in and fire a bunch of people?”

There was much about Garden Grove that impressed him, but some eyesores stuck out, such as the hated “rusty skeleton” on Garden Grove Boulevard.

“I told people that if I didn’t get anything else done, I would get that done,” he said. Now the eight-story Garden Brook Senior Village is welcoming its first occupants and looks to be an attractive anchor for the booming Brookhurst Triangle area.

Without taking credit for all the improvements – he always gives kudos to staff and the city council – he is able to point to some significant progress over the last seven years including a one-cent sales tax that stabilized the city treasury and funded a major expansion of the police department, the SteelCraft urban eatery, progress in the hotel corridor with three new major hotels soon to break ground, the prospect of the unique Cottage Industries project near the Civic Center and the planned Navigation Center to address homelessness.

The pandemic was a trial for everyone, and especially for city workers. “We have just a fantastic group of employees. They will run though a brick wall for this community,” Stiles said.

There are still challenges to meet and he has no plans to retire any time soon. “I’ve got to work for a while,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of bills to pay.” Spoken like a dad with two daughters to put through college.

Like all wise city managers, he likes to call the city council members his “boss.” But Jones – whose tenure as mayor mostly matches Stiles term – has a different outlook.

“It has been a blessing and an honor serving together under Scott’s leadership as our city manager.”

And how many sports writers get called a blessing?

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