John Pombier got a royal sendoff, including warm words from Mesa Chief Ken Cost. (Special to the Tribune)

Amazon has recruited the city of Mesa’s No. 2 official, Assistant Manager John Pombier, to serve as senior manager for community affairs in the Phoenix area.

After 19 years with the city, Pombier served his last day on the seventh floor of Mesa City Plaza on July 21.

The city promoted Deputy City Manager Scott Butler to take over as assistant manager and will conduct a hiring process for Butler’s old job.

Pombier oversaw several city departments, including police and fire, where he developed good working relationships with Mesa’s public safety leaders.

His legacy includes maintaining strong relationships with public safety leaders amid waves of national controversy surrounding policing, and launching innovative programs like the city’s initiative to deploy non-police mental health teams in response to select crisis calls.

Mental health response teams operated by partner Solari Crisis and Human Services and co-located with Mesa police went live this summer.

Through it all, Assistant Chief of Police Ed Wessing said, Pombier asked tough questions while maintaining the trust of public safety leadership.

“I always knew where I stood with Mr. Pombier,” Wessing said. “We always knew what his expectations were. In our world, that’s all we ever ask.”

Police and fire officials said this month that Pombier’s direct and hands-on approach would be missed.

“Whether it was dealing with a major sensitive incident or all the way down to a minor incident, I could ask John and get a direct answer, or he would go find the answer and get back to me, which, in my position, I can’t tell you the value in that.”

Fire Captain and Mesa firefighters union president Scott Figgins said that Pombier “made himself available and always welcomed questions and concerns. … He was always willing to work with us on whatever issue we may have had.”

One of the ways Pombier developed credibility with officials was his work ethic.

He started his day at 3 a.m. in order to lift weights before arriving at work between 6 and 7 a.m.

But Pombier said when he’s off work he likes to be off, valuing time with his kids and taking a break from work issues by diving into sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Pombier could frequently be seen carrying a Diet Coke throughout the day, but he said he is naturally high-energy without caffeine.

That seemed evident in city council study sessions, where Pombier usually sat to the side scanning the room, constantly interacting with other city staff in the audience, frequently cracking jokes.

“I’ve always had high energy and I have a hard time sitting still,” Pombier said. “I walk around this building. I’m rarely found in my office, and it’s worked out very good for my job because that helps you connect with the people you work with – as opposed to our cell phones and our computer screens. I like that personal interaction.”

Wessing said Pombier was good at making connections and remembering people.

He recalled how Pombier often showed up to police awards ceremonies and surprised officers with how much he knew about them.

The personal touch paid dividends for the city-police relationship.

“It’s rare for a police department in a city our size to enjoy the positive working relationship that we have with the city manager and assistant city manager,” Wessing continued, “and a lot of that’s primarily due to John.”

As Pombier prepared to step away from city management, he said he was proud that the “connection between our police department and our community is incredibly strong.”

“The way the community supports our police and fire means that we’ve been doing something right,” Pombier said.

Pombier also managed Mesa’s Human Resources, Fleet Services, Environmental Management and Sustainability, and Innovation and Technology departments.

Hundreds of employees across the city departments came out to send Pombier off during his retirement ceremony.

Pombier said he may be most proud that the City of Mesa is “a great place to work.”

“I think creating an organization where frontline employees feel like they’re listened to and they have a voice in what the city does has been my greatest accomplishment,” he said.

Pombier’s move to Amazon is not the first time he has been recruited for a job that will take him in a new direction.

He started working for the city of Mesa in 2003 as the city prosecutor. While in that role, the office won several state awards, and his performance caught the attention of the city manager.

After seven years in the prosecutor’s seat, he joined the executive team as assistant city manager, doing that job for the next 12 years.

Pombier said he’s been interested in taking on a new challenge in the last phase of his career, and he’s been runner up for two city manager jobs, for Glendale in 2015 and Savannah, Georgia in 2020.

“I’ve literally been the maid of honor twice,” Pombier laughed.

Pombier said the Amazon opportunity “came out of nowhere.” 

“Somebody called and said, ‘Hey, I think you’d be good at this.’” Pombier said. “So I took a look and went through their process, and as I went through the process to kind of figure out what they were looking for, it just seemed like a really fun opportunity for me.”

Plus, Pombier said, “I wanted to be Barry Sanders. I wanted to leave (the city) when people didn’t expect it as opposed to ‘gosh, I want this person to go.’”

While he is stepping away, Mesa Director of Communications Ana Pereira said city officials expect to continue seeing him around town.

For his Amazon job, Pombier can live anywhere in the Phoenix metro area, but he and his family plan to stay in Mesa.  

“City of Mesa is, I think 35th, 36th largest city in the country, rapidly catching Tucson to be the second largest in the state, and yet it has a hometown feel,” Pombier said. “And there is a sense of camaraderie within the city that you don’t see a lot of other places. And there’s a sense of diversity and inclusion, that from the outside looking in most people don’t see.”

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