By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park is poised to hire a permanent city manager, filling a spot occupied since August by three successive interim managers.
The selection of Gabriel Gonzalez, currently top administrator in the small Central Valley city of Mendota, is on Tuesday night’s council agenda.
The $165,000 salary he is to be offered is about $25,000 less than the last permanent city manager, Steve Donley, was paid.
Councilmembers said Gonzalez would bring an energetic approach and a strong finance background that the city, with its pressing budget problems, sorely needs.
“I think he is going to be a great asset to the city,” said Councilman Joe Callinan. “He’s young, energetic, got some private industry behind him. He hasn’t been in government his whole life.”
A Santa Cruz native, Gonzalez, 40, received his masters degree in public administration from Fresno State University and joined Mendota as its city manager in 2004.
Mayor Pam Stafford said that Gonzalez’s longevity in Mendota — where, as in Rohnert Park, administrators serve at the pleasure of the council — is appealing for Rohnert Park, which has had five top administrators in five years.
“He brings stability to the city and he has been able to work with all different types of councils,” she said.
Mendota, with 9,870 residents, is quite different from Rohnert Park, which with 43,062 residents is the third-largest city in Sonoma County.
The town, about 45 minutes from Fresno, has a median household income of $23,705. Its annual general fund budget is $1.7 million, compared to Rohnert Park, which has a median income of $51,942 and a $26.5 million budget.
Another key difference, though, is that Mendota’s budget is balanced. That’s something Rohnert Park is struggling to achieve. Despite the successful June 8 passage of a half-cent sales tax measure, the city still faces a $1.5 million deficit.
“It’d be my goal in the first three to four months to reduce that,” Gonzalez said.
Joseph Riofrio, a 14-year Mendota councilman, said that when Gonzalez joined the city it didn’t have its own police department, it had a budget deficit, no reserve funds and the city’s central park “was in shambles.”
Now, he said, the city has a balanced budget, a healthy reserve fund, a police department and a much improved park and downtown.
“Gabe’s a very sharp guy, we’re going to miss him,” Riofrio said. “His strongest suit is finances, how to save money, strong administrative skills.”
The city’s current interim city manager, John Dunn, was hired in May. Under the terms of his contract, he is guaranteed six months of work, and will remain in place through October. Gonzalez would be expected to take his spot Aug. 1.
“It’s going to give Gabe three months to get his feet on the ground and get situated and decide what he wants to do,” Callinan said.
Dunn will continue to receive his salary of $15,900 a month plus a $2,000 a month housing and car allowance.
Prior to his hiring in Mendota, Gonzalez was a deputy director at Clinica Sierra Vista, a Bakersfield-based nonprofit health care provider. Before that, he was finance director in Arvin, a city of 16,200 in Kern County. He is paid $120,000 in Mendota.
Councilmembers wouldn’t say whether Gonzalez was a unanimous choice during the selection process, which was closed to the public.
“Put it this way, I think it’s going to be a unanimous vote tonight,” Callinan said.
For the council to reach a decision in closed session and then not announce it would be a violation of the Brown Act, which governs public access to government proceedings.
Rohnert Park city attorney Michelle Kenyon said no vote had been taken in the closed door session. “There’s been no action in closed session to approve the contract; in fact the council hasn’t seen the contract.”