Residents weigh in on city manager traits

ENCINITAS — Encinitas’ next city manager should be from a similar sized city, have an understanding of the inner workings of the state’s Coastal Commission, be able to work with a highly engaged and articulate electorate, dealt with “hard core” developers, understand Proposition A and density bonus issues and their impact on the community, be open and transparent in their dealings and restore employee morale at City Hall.

Well, that is at least what the dozen or so people who attended Tuesday’s community forum at City Hall listed as important traits in the person who will replace Gus Vina in running the day-to-day operations of the city.

Vina resigned last month to become city manager in Brentwood, a northern California city.

The session, hosted by Bill Avery, the head of the recruiting firm spearheading the city’s search for its next permanent manager, gave residents an opportunity to voice what they wanted to see in the next manager.

Residents gave several other suggestions during the hour-long session.

Kathleen Lees, a Leucadia resident who frequents city council meetings, said she wants a manager who has a grasp on how to strike a balance in the city’s downtown and not let it become overrun by bars.

“I understand that you don’t want to come down on … business, but we want someone who will be on the side of the community,” Lees said.

CJ Minster said she wanted a city manger with a strong grasp on environmental issues, and not just the ones involving the coastline.

“We need someone who is aware of the importance of these issues,” Minster said.

Rhonda Graves, a longtime city employee and a frequent critic of Vina, said she wants someone who will respect the relative autonomy of the city’s five communities – Olivenhain, New Encinitas, Leucadia, Cardiff-by-the-Sea and Old Encinitas, which she said Vina did not do.

“That was one of Gus’ biggest downfalls,” said Graves, who also remarked that employee morale sank under the previous manager. “I want to see someone who cares about the community enough to respect our five communities and not look to destroy them, but instead celebrates the differences in our community.”

“They really don’t understand how attached we are to our community,” Lees said, echoing Graves’ sentiments.

Additionally, almost each of the speakers pointed to the importance of the next city manager being able to withstand the pressure cooker that is Encinitas active citizenry. The city has a fairly high turnover rate for managers: the next will be third in five years.

“You want someone who will be able to work effectively in this atmosphere,” Avery said.

Avery said the information gathered at this session and through email suggestions will be incorporated into the recruitment materials that will be posted on several websites and in a brochure that will be sent to every city in the state.

Avery said the applicants will go through a multi-layer screening process before a group of finalists are presented to the City Council, including a telephone screening, background checks, reference checks, internet searches and, finally, a face-to-face screening with Avery.

Avery said generally the firm select no less than four but no more than seven or eight finalists to present to the council.

The entire process should last about 3 1/2 months, Avery said. If the recruitment doesn’t yield a candidate that the council and community agrees on, the firm will continue its search, he added.

“We are going to keep working,” Avery said.

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