His assignment will be to try to reverse the economic fortunes of Palo Alto in the form of loss of millions of dollars in sales tax and other revenues in recent years.
Fehrenbach, known for his energy and outgoing approach to people, will begin his new post Aug. 16 as part of the city manager's office, city officials announced.
"As we confront the fundamental changes in our business environment, Tom's combination of Palo Alto knowledge, talent and experience will help us to retain our strong economic position as a center of commerce and innovation," Assistant City Manager Pamela Antil said in a memo Tuesday evening informing the City Council of Fehrenbach's selection.
Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie, to whom Fehrenbach will report, co-signed the memo.
Fehrenbach replaces Susan Barnes, who retired in June but who has continued working part-time as a consultant pending naming of a new outreach manager. The salary for the position is $123,053 per year, plus benefits, according to the city's Human Resources Department.
"After an extensive search Tom was selected as the best fit for Palo Alto," Antil said.
"He brings experience as a small business manager here in downtown Palo Alto, which provides excellent insight to the needs of our small business community.
"Additionally, Tom provided leadership with the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, which gives him a broader business perspective," Antil said.
Fehrenbach has years of business experience, but also has a light side, participating in a video to promote Palo Alto as a site for a Google grant to provide high-speed fiber and broadband to Palo Alto last spring. He also has performed karaoke at local events.
In recent civic issues, Fehrenbach opposed a business-license tax that went down to defeat last year, but he earlier supported the concept of "civic engagement for the common good" as a top city priority.
Engaging the community with an eye toward the "common good" is completely different from simply engaging the community, he said.
"The common good ensures there's room for everyone's voice."
Fehrenbach commented on his impending career move:
"Although it's difficult to leave Borel, I'm excited to go to work for the city in this new capacity.
"There are certainly challenges to face — especially in light of these uncertain economic times. However, I look forward to engaging with the community around thoughtful economic development so that we may continue to make Palo Alto a great place to live and work."
He earlier was a loan officer for Stern Mortgage Company of Palo Alto, and was vice president and store manager of Sports Gallery Authenticated of Palo Alto.
In 2001 he received a bachelor of science degree in interdisciplinary studies in social science, with a concentration on human resources and society, from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. He is a Palo Alto resident.
The magnitude of Fehrenbach's challenge was outlined in the introduction to the recently adopted $139.4 million city budget for fiscal year 2010-11.
"General Fund revenues are still under duress and are expected, at best, to climb slowly out of their trough," the introduction said. It cited evidence that the fund "has hit a 'revenue bottom.'"
But it warned that "continued high unemployment, low consumer confidence, restrained business spending, and credit restrictions could reverse or constrain revenue performance."