Three city managers in Ventura County announced their exits in 2017, starting with retirements in Ventura and Moorpark, followed by a resignation in Oxnard. While all have since left their positions, only one city has hired a new city manager.
In July 2017, Ventura City Manager Mark Watkins announced that he would retire by early December after serving in the position since March 2013. His salary and benefits were just over $300,000 for 2016. On Dec. 2 and 3, the Ventura City Council was wrapping up interviews at City Hall with a handful of the city manager finalists and had selected a candidate and offered the job. The next day, Monday, Dec. 4, the Thomas Fire engulfed the Ventura hillsides. That was also the same day that longtime City Councilman and then-Deputy Mayor Neal Andrews, 74, took over as mayor, on schedule, from Erik Nasarenko. Andrews stint as mayor is only for one year because of the change to even-year elections. Within a couple of days, Andrews came down with double pneumonia.
“I went downtown the day after the fire; I couldn’t breathe; I had to leave downtown,” said Andrews, who has had chronic lung problems for much of his life. “I couldn’t even be in the Midtown area; I was able to hole up on the east side. Even so, it just got to me.”
From Dec. 4 through the next couple of months, the City Council and its leadership were in a declared emergency status and the city manager finalist opted out of the position. The name of that candidate was not disclosed.
“A final choice was made, an offer was made, we hoped that the offer would be accepted, the fire happened, and the individual withdrew for reasons that had nothing to do with us or our job, except for the fire,” Andrews said.
The search and selection of the new city manager took a backseat to the aftermath of the Thomas Fire.
“It went from the top item to being nine or 10,” Councilman Nasarenko said. “Identifying when people could get back to homes in the aftermath of something unfathomable” became the focus.
Interim City Manager Dan Paranick, former assistant manager to Watkins, took the reins as the city went into a semi-quasi triage mode, hosting thousands of firefighters at the fairgrounds, working with homeowners who lost their houses and others who had been displaced, plus getting state and federal officials situated to help residents. Even the city manager of Santa Rosa, whose city had endured the loss of thousands of homes to wildfire, came to discuss with officials what they should be prepared for.
“Having Dan, who knows the city and is familiar with employees and their work, was a big asset,” Nasarenko said. “We needed someone who could build a bridge from the last city manager and [help navigate] us with federal and state funding issues, and he has done an exceptional job.”
With the onset of the fire more than four months behind the city of Ventura, both Andrews and Nasarenko agreed that now is a good time to start the search again for a new city manager.
“The fact is, we have started placing greater emphasis on this,” Andrews said. “We renewed the search; that tells you people believe we can refocus our energy.”
The recruiter who had brought the first round of finalists to the city, however, will not be used again for the new search and selection process. Andrews did indicate that he is mindful of new district elections in November and that they might cause concern to candidates who will have new bosses and the city would be represented differently, but that the search must go on.
Nasarenko talked about the selection process, given that he was mayor at the time that the original search began last year.
“I think it is a wide net; we hope to capture within and without the institution [of Ventura City Hall],” Nasarenko said. “I am a big believer in having options and choices for more viable candidates.”
City of Ventura Human Resources Director Elizabeth Foushee said that interested parties could contact her for more information.
“Candidates can certainly reach out to the human resources office at City Hall,” she wrote in an email. “The City Council will soon be selecting a recruiter to reopen the city manager recruitment. Once we have a recruiter, candidates will be encouraged to contact the recruiter directly.”
Foushee is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In August 2017, Moorpark City Manager Steve Kueny announced that he would retire in March after serving in the position for over 30 years and being the city’s only top manager since the city was incorporated in 1984. His salary and benefits were just under $240,000 for 2016. On Feb. 7, Moorpark City Council selected Troy Brown, who served as the city manager of Tracy in San Joaquin County from 2014 to September 2017, when Tracy City Council voted 3-2 to terminate his contract but did not discuss the reasons for that decision. Brown comes to Moorpark with more than 24 years of municipal experience, including serving as assistant city manager in Livermore, plus working as the assistant to city managers of Elk Grove and Riverside. Brown’s annual salary is $206,336, not including benefits.
In December 2017, Oxnard City Manager Greg Nyhoff tendered his resignation, official on Jan. 5, after serving since June 2014. His salary and benefits were $316,622 for 2016.
Nyhoff came to the city of Oxnard after the City Council placed longtime City Manager Edmund Sotelo until his contract expired in February 2013. Sotelo then pursued a lawsuit against the city for retaliation and wrongful termination, but lost the case in court in 2015. Under Sotelo’s watch, Oxnard City Hall came under investigation in 2010 by the Ventura County District Attorney’s office for financial mismanagement and Sotelo had faced scrutiny for not reporting gifts from companies that the city did business with and for loans Sotelo took from the city. According to Transparent California, Sotelo’s full compensation in 2013 was $312,827.
Nyhoff took on many challenges, including trying to improve an antiquated accounting system that left the city vulnerable to the 2010-12 investigation and working with residents who did not agree with rate increases for public utilities, especially a wastewater rate increase that led to the passing of Measure M to reverse it. The court put a stay on Measure M, preventing the reversal. Nyhoff resigned on Dec. 12 after receiving an offer for the city manager position in Vallejo, California, just as the county was verifying signatures to approve a recall special election of four out of five City Council members who initially voted for a new wastewater increase. Even with the recall election on the horizon, on May 1, Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez said that the search for a new city manager is underway, even though the current City Council may not be there when the final choice is made. In addition, Oxnard switches to district elections this November.
“It is proceeding, invitations are out, people are interested,” Ramirez said. “There is a lot of interest locally and statewide, regionally. Recruiting looks at résumés and ranks experience and skills and background, not limited to city manager experience but relevant experience.”
The application deadline for consideration is May 2. Police Chief Scott Whitney is currently serving as interim city manager. Ramirez noted that Whitney wants to remain as police chief.
“I hope we get some good candidates,” Ramirez said. “Oxnard is in a period of challenges. … The process has to keep going.”
For more information about applying, go to https://wbcp.applicantpool.com/jobs/224952.html.