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.

Transitions: Trenton, NJ; Woodland, CA; Rock Island, IL and more

Trenton, New Jersey (population 79,390): The merry-go-’round at City Hall continued Friday when Eric Berry resigned as business administrator, and Mayor Tony Mack named buddy and aide Anthony Roberts as acting BA — the eighth BA since Mack was sworn in last July. Berry is rumored to be following former Trenton Public Works Director Eric Jackson to Plainfield where Jackson this week was approved by city council there to take over as public works and urban development director. Jackson served under former Mayor Doug Palmer before finishing third in the last mayoral election. With Mack, he served as assistant business administrator then as an assistant to the Trenton Water Works superintendent. Mack tried to name Roberts assistant business administrator in late January and hike his salary from $65,000 to $80,000 annually, and critics charged Roberts had only minimal managerial or supervisory experience. Read more at The Trentonian.

Woodland, California (population 55,468): Woodland officials announced Wednesday that Kevin O’Rourke, Fairfield’s retired city manager, will step in on Oct. 3 and serve as interim city manager there through March 2012. Woodland’s current city manager, Mark Deven, is departing Friday for a similar position in Arvada, Colo. O’Rourke served as a city manager for more than 30 years in the cities of Stanton, Buena Park and Fairfield, according to a news release. Following his retirement from Fairfield in 2007 after 10 years of duty, O’Rourke remained active in the International City/County Management Association and the League of California Cities. He most recently served as the interim city manager for Stockton, from October 2009 through July 2010. Read at The Reporter.

Rock Island, Illinois (population 43,884): After nearly a quarter century, city manager John Phillips is retiring Friday. Mr. Phillips’ successor, Thomas Thomas, of Macon, Ga., was hired by the city council and will take over on Oct. 24. Assistant city manager and public works director Bob Hawes will act as interim city manager until then. Mr. Phillips came to Rock Island in 1987 from Rockford, where he was city administrator. Outside of city hall, Mr. Phillips is a husband and the adoring father of two. He is an avid runner and is said to play a mean acoustic guitar. Mr. Phillips and his family will remain in Rock Island after his retirement. His future endeavors will include volunteering with YMCA officials at the helm of the Pioneering Healthy Communities campaign. Still in its early stages, the campaign will use funds from a federal grant to improve the health of people in the most impoverished areas of Rock Island through nutrition and fitness. Read more at Quad Cities Online.

Allen Park, Michigan (population 27,564): From a failed movie studio to the decision to issue – and later rescind – layoff notices to its entire Fire Department, the city has seen its share of controversy over the past year. But for new City Administrator John Zech, who took the position Aug. 25, the city’s struggles were part of what coaxed him out of retirement and onto the city council dias. During his contract, which councilors extended until the November general election, Zech said he intends to lend his fix-it skills to the city’s finances, helping to finalize budgets for water and sewer and solid waste, which were left incomplete with this year’s budget, adopted July 1. He also hopes to retune the current budget to reduce expenses after a recent Plante & Moran audit showed the city was losing $350,000 a month. Zech said his main goal is to make sure the new council after the election will not face tough budgetary decisions as the “first thing on their plate.” Originally from Detroit, Zech said he’s always been interested in helping to develop cities that have “drifted in the wrong direction.” He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Detroit then went on to seek a master’s degree in public administration from Ohio State University while working as a community relations representative for the city of Columbus. As his responsibilities and workload increased, he said school was relegated to the back burner and he dropped out a few credits shy of his degree, a decision he said he still regrets. He then worked for the cities of Plymouth and later Wayne, where he was city manager for 18 years and still resides. He retired in December 2010, but said he was convinced to leave his first-ever sabbatical after city officials presented him with the opportunity after former City Administrator David Tamsen stepped down last month to become city attorney. Though his position is only to last until the election, Zech said he’s confident he can make a difference while he’s there. Read more at the Times-Herald.

Southwest Ranches, Florida (population 7,345): Southwest Ranches is looking for a new administrator to replace the late Charlie Lynn, who died in July after complications from heart surgery. Lynn, hired in May 2009, was credited with steering Southwest Ranches through tough financial times and helping bring more organization to Town Hall. Councilman Doug McKay said he is looking for “someone with a strong backbone who can make the calls he needs to make” while being sensitive to town politics and residents. Mayor Jeff Nelson said he hopes to have someone in place by mid-November. Town officials want to hire someone with at least five years experience as a city administrator, preferably in South Florida. Applications are due Oct. 14 at 10 a.m. Read more at the Orlando Sentinel.

East Hampton, Connecticut (population 2,691): The town’s interim town manager is taking a leave of absence to deal with an unexpected health issue requiring surgery. In a letter to the council last week, Interim Town Manager John Weichsel said he is undergoing surgery this week and that the operation will require “a fairly long recovery.” Weichsel, 78, would not discuss the health issue, nor would he comment on how long he would be away. He said he will undergo surgery Tuesday at Yale New Haven Hospital, and will remain in the hospital for six days. In the meantime, Weichsel named Finance Director Jeffery Jylkka acting assistant interim town manager, saying his handling of problems relating to Tropical Storm Irene demonstrated that he is “up to the job for the period needed.” Weichsel’s appointment, five months ago, was intended to bring stability to the town following months of turmoil over the dismissal of Police Cheif Matthew Reimodo in June 2010. Reimondo was ousted by then-Town Manager Jeffery O’Keefe, in what the town manager said was a cost-saving measure. Reimondo claimed he was targeted for bringing forward sexual harassment complaints by three female town employees against O’Keefe. O’Keefe denied the charges. He later resigned, and Reimondo won his job back in a townwide vote. Weichsel was Southington’s town manager for 44 years, one of the longest serving in the country. He replaced Interim Town Robert Drewry, who was brought last November after O’Keefe resigned. Weichsel’s departure will be discussed in a close-door council session Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at town hall. The regular council meeting will follow at 6:30 p.m. Read more at the Hartfield Courant.

Truro, Massachusetts (population 2,336): Newly appointed Town Administrator Rex Peterson has agreed to a $100,000 annual salary, a slight increase over the salary of his predecessor. Town officials are still finalizing the details of the contract, a task that will be completed before Oct. 3, when Peterson begins work in Town Hall, Selectman Curtis Hartman, chairman of the board, said Thursday. The selectmen wanted to match other town administrator salaries in the region, according to meeting minutes of the board. Former Town Administrator Pam Nolan earned about $96,000 annually, Hartman said. Statewide, the average annual salary for municipal managers or administrators runs slightly above $100,000, according to West Boylston Town Administrator Leon Gaumond, executive committee president of the Massachusetts Municipal Management Association. The salaries generally depend on responsibilities and location, Gaumond said. Peterson has worked for the past 10 years as the assistant town administrator in neighboring Wellfleet. The town of Wellfleet has posted a job opening for its assistant town administrator psot and expects to begin reviewing resumes in early October, Wellfleet Town Administrator Paul Sieloff said Friday. Read at the Cape Cod Times.

Lonaconing, Maryland (population 1,214): John Winner, longtime town administrator of Lonaconing, died Sunday night at the Western Maryland Regional Medical Center where he had been a patient for a week, according to Mayor Jack Coburn. Winner was 73. Warren Foote, an elected town official for 25 years and a close personal friend, said Monday that Winner had a remarkable way with people, especially in heated situations. Both Coburn and Foote said Winner’s legacy is the town’s water system, something he worked constantly to improve. Eichhorn-McKenzie Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. Visitation will take place there Tuesday from 2 to 8 p.m. Read more at the Cumberland Times-News.

Dewey Beach, Delaware (population 341): As Mark Allen was walking down the street to the Town Hall to report for his first day as town manager transitional liaison, he received phone calls from Commissioner Marty Seitz and Mayor Diane Hanson asking him not to report to work and that his start date would be delayed at least a week. Allen was appointed as the transitional liaison Sept. 9 in a 3-2 vote, with Seitz and Hanson dissenting. Allen then called Commissioner Jim Laird, asking him why he was told by members of Town Council not to report to Town Hall, and Laird responded to him saying he did not know why those calls would be made. After that, Allen decided to step down from the position. Allen said he signed a memorandum of agreement Sept. 16 and Hanson’s signature was not on the document when he signed it, he said. After Hanson was re-elected Sept. 17, Allen told her that if she did not want him to do the job, that he wouldn’t mind stepping down, but Hanson did not ask him to do so. Allen said Hanson was going to give him a tour of the Town Hall Monday. What bothered Allen the most, he said, was that he was selected, and then after the election on Sept. 17, “the rules started changing.” Allen said he was looking forward to serving as the transitional liaison and, depending what he thought of his experience, would have considered pursuing the permanent position. Allen said his professional background lended itself nicely to the Transitional Liaison position. He spent his first career as a naval officer pilot on aircraft carriers and spent many of his tours of duty focused in and around career-enhancing leadership positions. Concerns for Allen that he wanted to take care of included restoring the town’s finances. Allen said he also hoped that residents will start to believe they have a voice year-round, not just at election time. Hanson said Police Chief Sam Mackert will continue to assume the responsibilities of Town Manager until the Town Manager Transitional Liaison or a permanent Town Manager is selected, whichever comes first. Additionally, Denise Campbell, chair of the town’s marketing committee since its inception in 2010 and wife of Allen, confirmed that she has also stepped down from her position, as well as marketing committee member Jill Carr. When asked to comment about the three departures, Hanson said she has not spoken with Campbell or Carr and that she does not think they are related to Allen’s departure. Read more at DelMarVaNOW.com.