ESCONDIDO — The longest tenured city manager in Escondido history is calling it a career.
Mayor Sam Abed announced Clay Phillips’ resignation during Wednesday’s city council meeting. Phillips, whose contract expires in the spring, will step down Dec. 18.
“Clay Phillips sent us his letter of resignation,” Abed told the audience. “He is ready for retirement.”
Phillips, who graduated from Loma Linda University and earned a MBA from Pepperdine, began his public service career in Santa Ana more than 30 years ago.
He took a position with the city of Irvine and in January 1986 found the place he would call home for the next 30 years in Escondido.
“You are trying to help the community,” Phillips said. “People forget that sometimes. Business are here to make a profit, we’re not. It’s a very subtle difference.”
He also spent a stint in the private sector in the aerospace industry before joining Escondido.
He began in Escondido as the city’s finance manager, combing through budgets and other financial aspects for the city. Several years later he was promoted and oversaw human resources, administrative functions, information systems and finance.
Once again, Phillips was promoted, this time in the late 1990s to deputy city manager. He took the top job of city manager in 2003.
“I got into cities early in my career and haven’t looked back,” he laughed. “I see Escondido as a great place to raise a family. I hope it continues to grow … and hopefully I’ve been a small part of that. I hope it’s a better place than when I started here, and I think it is.”
The two toughest obstacles he faced while in public service came in the fallout of two major recessions, the first in 1989 and the second in 2008.
Phillips said the first recession was an unexpected blow to the city and himself, although he was prepared in 2008 to handle a drastic shift in the local economy and city operations.
“Fortunately, I was a little more aware when the second came along and acted fairly quickly and Escondido did a pretty good job of getting through that one,” he added.
With the bad, though, comes the good. Of his greatest success, the longtime staple in the city said it is the people in City Hall he is most proud to claim as his legacy.
He said a great staff is in place and continues to do right by the residents of Escondido.
“I think my biggest contribution is trying to make sure we have good, qualified people to continue to run the place and run it well,” Phillips explained. “My job is to make sure we run as an efficient job as we can, I think we’ve done that. My biggest success is the people I leave behind. We have a really good team of people here in Escondido.”
As for Phillips, though, he said the grind of public service has become more difficult to handle, which is why he opted to step away.
Although the daily duties of keeping the city in order will be gone, Phillips will continue to live and take on a new adventure.
His latest gig involves a boutique winery, Keys Creek, he started with his wife and son three years ago. Phillips’ outfit was licensed last year and will now be the focus of his post-public life.
“I need a rest from that and have other interests I want to focus on,” he said. “I want to make sure I focus on more things I can do with my family.”
Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.