Blake Thomas’s first day on the job as Director of the Department of Community and Neighborhoods (CAN) was a little like his first day of school: It came with homework.
Its work Thomas sought out after meeting with directors and team leads in each of CAN’s seven divisions — Building Services, Community Engagement, Engineering, Housing and Neighborhood Development, Planning, Real Estate Services and Transportation.
His assignments include reading materials and books, along with information about the processes, relevant ordinances or other plans related to the work of each division. Work he hopes will help will flatten the information curve he’s faced since taking over in August.
“I’m really excited to dig in,” said Thomas in a meeting with the Salt Lake City Council. “I am committed to ensuring the success of each of CAN’s individual divisions with the ultimate goal of day-to-day actions that lead to the best outcomes for the city.”
In part, Thomas said, he’s excited about taking the helm at CAN because the department does tangible work that Salt Lake City residents really care about. Their commitment to their neighborhoods, he said, drive an important interest in CAN projects.
“I think the diverse backgrounds and experiences of residents provide ideas and insights that ought to be considered by city staff,” Thomas said, who is also a resident of Salt Lake City. “I love working with external stakeholders and hope to be an effective diplomat for the city.”
As a leader, Thomas said, he is committed to frequent and transparent communications between CAN divisions, the Mayor’s Office, City Council and other city departments. He said he also values collaboration, saying that when done well, it can result in less community disruptions for residents, work consolidations and costs savings. Additionally, he said he’s committed to working with regional partners, think tanks, nonprofits, local stakeholder groups and individuals to advance shared interest in building sustainable and equitable communities.
“It’s my intention to have a lens of equity in everything that comes forward from CAN.”
Thomas believes the role CAN plays in developing and improving Salt Lake City communities provides many opportunities for policy and processes that create and promote greater equity. Those could include the city’s approach to the housing supply and tenant protections, to planning and zoning changes that remove barrier to equity and the management and preservation of city-owned assets to streets designed for multi-modal uses, walkability and more. Such goals are increasingly important as the cost of living in Salt Lake City continues to rise while wages lag, he said.
“I love Salt Lake City,” Thomas said. “And I’m willing to listen and collaborate with anyone to meet our shared goals of smart, equitable and affordable growth.”
Thomas comes to CAN with broad experience in government both at the state and local level – from the Governor’s Office of Energy Development to Salt Lake County.
Most recently, Thomas was the county’s as Economic Development Director, where his responsibilities included serving as the Executive Director of the Salt Lake County Redevelopment Agency. At the state, Thomas’ focus was on renewable energy development and alternative transportation projects.
Thomas is a graduate of Utah State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and a master’s in Human Dimensions of Ecosystem Science and Management from the Quinney College of Natural Resources.