Transitions: Compton, CA; Vista, CA; Trenton, NJ and more

“Let’s face it, when good times are rolling and the party is on, so to speak, no one wants to hear that the music is going to shut down.”–former Compton California City Manager Willie Norfleet

Compton, California (population 96,455): Amid financial turmoil and changing political tides, the Compton City Council has voted to fire its third city manager in five years. The council voted 3 to 2 late Tuesday to terminate City Manager Willie Norfleet, effective immediately. Norfleet had worked for the city for about four years and served as city controller until the council fired his predecessor, Charles Evans, last fall. Norfleet came under fire over revelations last spring that the city was running a $25-million deficit in its general fund and over his handling of budget cuts and mass layoffs intended to get the city’s finances back in line.

The council voted to bring in Lamont Ewell, a former Compton firefighter who went on to serve as city manager in San Diego and Santa Monica among other cities before retiring in 2009, as Norfleet’s replacement. Ewell’s contract is slated to be approved next week. Ewell, who grew up in Compton, said he sees taking the helm during troubled times as a way to pay back a debt to the city. Compton Councilwoman Yvonne Arceneaux, who voted to fire Norfleet, said the council is bringing in Ewell on a temporary basis in hopes he’ll spark a turnaround in the troubled city. Under law, Ewell may only work full time up to a year without sacrificing his pension benefits. Arceneaux said the council majority was unhappy with the way Norfleet handled the budget, and particularly with his lack of communication with some council members during that process.

The coalition of unions representing Compton employees filed an unfair labor practices claim over the layoffs and is threatening a lawsuit over alleged Brown Act violations in the way the budget was adopted. The Brown Act is the state statute that defines when government meetings must be public. The council voted in July to approve a last-minute amendment proposed by the city manager, with $1.2 million in concessions the unions had not agreed to and that the public — including some council members — did not see until midway through the meeting. Reached by phone, Norfleet said he had done his best in a tough situation and thought he was targeted partly because he pushed the council to make tough fiscal choices. He acknowledged that he could have been more vocal in warning the council that the deficit was ballooning before the city hit a crisis situation, but said some of his warnings went unheeded. The former city manager said he was not bitter over his ouster. Mayor Eric Perrodin voted against firing Norfleet, saying it was unfair to punish the city manager for a problem that had been building long before he took over. Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

Vista, California (population 93,834): Vista City Manager Rita Geldert said she plans to retire at the end of the year. Geldert has been Vista’s top administrator since 1997 and has been a public employee for more than 36 years. Geldert, 59, helped steer the city through tough economic times as cities have had to slash budgets to cope with decreased revenue and increased costs. The recession has prompted layoffs and reductions to services in the city in recent years, including leaving positions unfilled as employees retire or leave, reducing the city’s staff by about one-quarter. Geldert has orchestrated a plan to eliminate a recurring budget shortfall, known as a structural deficit. That plan, which will likely stay with the city as officials work out a budget for the next cycle, has so far aimed to keep the city financially viable by cutting spending by $5 million for the current fiscal year, which began in July. To do that the City Council approved taking an ambulance out of service, laying off seven employees, closing City Hall on all Fridays and cutting pay and requiring furloughs for all city employees except firefighters.

During her tenure, Geldert oversaw construction of three fire stations, the Vista Sports Park, the Moonlight Amphitheatre Stage House and a new Civic Center. Other milestones from her watch include the development of the Vista Village and beginning of the community volunteer program, Vistans ROC. She earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from Cal State Chico and a masters of business administration from UC Davis. She has worked as a contracts administrator for Xerox Corp., personnel specialist for the California State University System, director of finance and administration for Dana Point, management services officer for Merced, personnel officer for Vacaville and assistant city manager in Vista. Geldert said in a news release she hopes to spend more time with her husband, three children and three grandchildren. Read more at The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Trenton, New Jersey (population 84,913): After stepping down from his position as the city’s business administrator last week, Eric Berry reported yesterday for his first day of work with a new employer. While the duties of his new job may be slightly different from those he undertook from his office at Trenton City Hall, he’ll at least be surrounded by a few familiar faces. Berry accepted a post this week working for the state Department of Community Affairs’ Division of Local Government Services, an agency that provides broad oversight of personnel and purchasing decisions made by the city as a condition of Trenton’s acceptance of nearly $30 million in aid last year.

Berry was the seventh person to serve as business administrator since Mayor Tony Mack took office last July. Mayoral aide Anthony Roberts has been appointed acting business administrator to succeed him. The city has had a rocky relationship with DCA, which has the authority to approve or reject cabinet-level appointments. It has tossed out several of Mack’s picks, including Nicole Sharpe for finance director and Caroline Clark for municipal court judge. After Mack told reporters he was going to name Ismael Rivera as acting police director in the wake of a city council vote not to consider his appointment, the department ordered the mayor to withdraw Rivera’s name. More recently, it has cast doubt on the qualifications of several acting directors recently appointed to head the public works and housing and economic development departments.

South Ward Councilman George Muschal has said Berry resigned under pressure from Mack after rumors surfaced that he was in talks with the Union County city of Plainfield for an administrator’s post there. Neff, meanwhile, said Berry is welcome to stay with the state. Read more at NJ.com.

Hercules, California (population 24,060): The Hercules City Council unanimously approved a three-year employment contract Tuesday with new City Manager Steve Duran. Duran’s first day in his new job will be Oct. 10. He currently is executive director of Richmond’s Community Redevelopment Agency as well as that city’s economic development director. Duran will be paid $192,500 annually, reflecting a base salary of $220,000 minus a 12.5 percent cut, the same percentage agreed to by all of the city’s employee bargaining units earlier this year. Duran’s pay will rise once the city increases the pay of other employees, and by the same percentage.

Duran’s predecessor, Nelson Oliva, who served in the top post from April 2007 to January 2011, received a base salary of $225,000 a year. Duran’s contract is broadly similar to Oliva’s, with several important differences: It provides for six months’ severance pay if terminated by the city without good cause, compared with 12 months for Oliva. There is no housing allowance provision in Duran’s contract; Oliva got a $250,000, zero-interest personal loan to help him buy a home in Hercules. Oliva is widely blamed for Hercules’ current financial crisis, although he has said he kept the City Council apprised of everything he did. The city has withheld payment of the second of two installments of his one-year severance pay. The city has sued Oliva for $3 million, alleging a conflict of interest in connection with the family company’s consulting contracts with the city; the value of the contracts rose to more than $1 million annually before they were terminated last fiscal year. Read at the San Jose Mercury News.

Longboat Key, Florida (population 6,888): If the Longboat Key Town Commission ratifies a contract signed today by Sarasota Deputy Administrator Dave Bullock, he is Longboat Key’s hire for a one-year interim town manager. The contract pays Bullock $180,000 for the year plus benefits (see Bullock’s contract), but according to Town Attorney David Persson, offers the commission flexibility if at any time it is not satisfied with Bullock’s performance. The terms say that Bullock is entitled to one-month of severance (under $20,000) if terminated at any time without cause during the year. If at the end of the year the commissioners want to keep Bullock, his salary will remain at $180,000. At the end of the year if the town wishes to terminate Bullock, the town will pay no severance whatsoever.

The decision to pursue Bullock follows the termination Sept. 19 of former Town Manager Bruce St. Denis. The commission laid out a strategy to locate an interim manager to keep the town moving as it searched for a permanent candidate. The process also was designed to allow the town to evaluate the interim manager as a prime contender. The decision to pursue Bullock came amid protest by Commissioner Lynn Larson at Monday’s Special Meeting when the commission authorized Persson to negotiate the contract. Larson told fellow commissioners to look at other options and at town employees as well. Town Attorney David Persson opened the discussion Monday about the interim town manager by saying he understood that each commissioner had the opportunity over the weekend to speak with Sarasota County Deputy Administrator Bullock. Persson sought direction as to whether the commission wanted to pursue Bullock and negotiate a contract or to continue its search.

The majority of the commissioners said the terms that Persson plans to negotiate with Bullock will protect the town in that it provides commissioners two distinct exit strategies. First, at any point in the year, the town can terminate Bullock and owe him one month’s severance. The other option is if at the end of one year, the town is not satisfied with Bullock or has found someone they prefer, Bullock can be terminated with no severance.

Vice Mayor Brenner spoke of instances where the number one candidate went elsewhere while a community got bogged down in process. Persson reminded the commission that he was instructed to look outside the organization and said that unless the commission changed the ground rules, that’s what he would continue to do.

Bullock has been continuously employed by Sarasota County since 1994 when he was hired at $59,999 as the solid waste director. Former County Administrator Jim Ley was hired in 1997 and Bullock was promoted in 1998 by Ley to the number-two position in the county as deputy administrator at a salary of $79,999. Bullock has remained in that position since and currently earns $180,065 per year. Bullock earned a Bachelors of Science in Education from West Chester State College in Pennsylvania in May 1972 and worked in the construction and waste management industries before relocating to Sarasota. Bullock has been married to Donna, the “smartest person I have ever met,” as he puts it, for 28 years. They have three grown children between them, daughter Noli, and sons, Sean and Michael. Bullock spoke of his passion for water sports — boating, scuba diving and fishing — that has kept him literally swimming and diving for years around the key. Bullock said if the contract is agreed upon, he will be available by the end of October. The commission will consider the contract and if a supermajority (at least five of seven) say “yes,” Bullock is Longboat Key’s new interim town manager. Read more at Longboat Key News.

Wildwood, New Jersey (population 5,325): City Commissioners gave the nod to two resolutions that should produce a cost savings for the city.The passage of the resolutions too place during the Wildwood Board of Commissioners meeting on Wed., Sept. 28. According to a press release issued by the city, “The Board unanimously passed a resolution appointing City Clerk Christopher H. Wood as Municipal Administrator of the City of Wildwood, effective immediately.” Wood’s current City Clerk salary of $65,000 per year will not increase. The City Administrator position has sat empty since May, 2011. The position was created by the previous administration as part of its reorganization. The previous administration paid more than $120,000 per year in salary, benefits and perks to a full-time Administrator. The city has modified its administrator position to be more inline with the position in Wildwood Crest.

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One thought on “Transitions: Compton, CA; Vista, CA; Trenton, NJ and more

  1. I find all these stories very interesting. Iowa is different in many ways. Our compensation scale is certainly smaller and we have little state aid like New Jersey. State unfunded mandates yes, aid no.

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