Now hiring: the perfect city manager
2012 is literally becoming the year of change when it comes to local leadership. Though the future is unknown in the presidential election, as President Obama and candidate Mitt Romney throw barbed daggers at each other to win the election, in Ventura County, things are happening a bit differently. Luckily for the average resident, the change happening in the county is not nearly as bitter as the campaigns for the office of president. Instead, four city managers have opted to resign or retire, and in one case, to fulfill his contract on paid administrative leave.
In Ventura, eight-year city manager Rick Cole handed in his resignation after a majority of the City Council decided it wanted a change in leadership. Cole announced his resignation Aug. 29, and his last day will be Sept. 15. Interim duties have been handed to former Ventura County Chief Executive Officer Johnny Johnston.
In Oxnard, the City Council put 12-year City Manager Ed Sotelo on paid administrative leave in January after his ninth evaluation, though no details were released about the Council’s decision. There had been talks that he would be fired at earlier meetings, but eventually such discussions subsided. Sotelo has been on paid leave for nearly nine months — his contract will expire in February 2013 — but only this week has the Council spoken about searching for a new city manager. Sotelo had also been a key focus of the district attorney’s investigation of corruption at City Hall. Investigators found that he illegally gave himself a $10,000 loan at the beginning of his tenure and improperly gave each top manager at the city a $300 per month bonus in retirement. Assistant City Manager Karen Burnham was recently given the title of interim city manager and a $20,000 annual raise. She will be able to apply for the full-time city manager position. So far, hiring a new city manager before Sotelo’s contract ends hasn’t been a topic of discussion.
In Fillmore, three-year City Manager Yvonne Quiring announced her resignation Sept. 6. Her resignation comes on the heels of a budget passed in June that would require layoffs and a deficit of $1.5 million during this fiscal year. She told reporters she had found another job in the public sector, but it may be safe to conclude that managing such a dire situation for Fillmore may be too much stress for some people.
In Simi Valley, Assistant City Manager Laura Behjan took over as city manager in July when 17-year City Manager Mike Sedell retired. Behjan has stated she will relinquish the position as soon as the City Council finds a new city manager.
It seems curious that the main figureheads of so many area cities are now leaving, whether or not they chose that path. One thing is for sure — it is the city councils’ due diligence to assure their constituents that they find the right people to run their respective cities by taking their time and doing a thorough search. In the last several months, we have seen a slightly confusing exit in Ventura, a precarious lack of oversight in Oxnard, a somewhat hasty exit in Fillmore, and a need for new leadership quickly in Simi Valley. Though few could have predicted any of these ways to vacate the position, we surely hope that the city council members are better equipped and have a better understanding of what they want for their cities, for how long and for what purpose. Otherwise, perceived negative decisions involving the city managers shake local residents’ confidence in their elected officials. Let’s hope this next round of hiring restores confidence to a weary public.