By KEVIN MCCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa’s last city manager left for Beverly Hills, but the next one may come from more modest environs.
Clovis City Manager Kathy Millison confirmed Wednesday she is the top candidate to become Santa Rosa’s next chief executive.
Millison, 58, has headed Clovis, a city of 95,000 people just east of Fresno, for the past 19 years.
After a busy weekend of negotiations with Santa Rosa officials, Millison said she received a conditional job offer Tuesday and informed her city council about it that same evening.
“In this business, anything can happen, but I’m pretty happy to have reached this point,” Millison said. “I’m really excited about this new opportunity.”
The job offer is contingent on a visit by Santa Rosa city council members to Clovis, the successful negotiation of a contract and a majority vote by the City Council.
It’s unlikely to be a unanimous vote, however. Three of the seven city council members — Jane Bender, Ernesto Olivares, and John Sawyer — all said they would not vote for Millison because they don’t think the time is right to hire a permanent city manager.
All three believe the applicant pool was not strong enough, in part because the deeply divided council has developed a reputation as difficult to work with.
“I think Kathy Millison is a good candidate. I would have loved tohave another five or six like her, and we didn’t have that,” Olivares said.
Asked why she thinks the city didn’t receive more qualified candidates for the job, Jane Bender was blunt. “Because we have a lousy reputation as a council,“ she said.
Though deal is not completed, Mayor Susan Gorin said there is an agreement in principal.
“We’re close enough in terms that we felt comfortable announcing her as our top candidate,” Gorin said.
Millison would bring a number of skills to the position, including a track record of gaining concessions from employee groups, something that “factored strongly in her selection,” Gorin said.
“From all accounts and references, she is a strong, experienced city manager who has accomplished a number of really important things in the city of Clovis,” Gorin said.
The council has been trying for months to replace Jeff Kolin, who left in January. Interim City Manager Wayne Goldberg, the city’s former advanced planning director, has said he is not interested in staying in the post beyond mid-summer.
Several contract issues still need to be ironed out with Millison, and Gorin declined to discuss salary or other terms until the contract comes to the council for a vote.
The council likely will take that vote at its July 20 meeting, Gorin said.
Plans for a visit by three council members to Clovis next week, however, fell apart Wednesday, highlighting the deep divide on the council. Sawyer and Olivares had agreed to join Gorin July 14 and 15 for a trip to the city that bills itself as the Gateway to the Sierra, but they changed their minds.
“We had been working well together, and now it’s going sideways,” Gorin said.
Gorin said the trio had planned to interview Clovis residents, council members and staff. But Sawyer said he changed his mind because he realized that people might legitimately question whether he was truly an impartial observer.
“It became all to clear tome that we could actually taint the process,” he said.
It is now unclear which council members, if any, will visit Clovis, Gorin said.
From the beginning, Sawyer, Gorin and Olivares have opposed hiring a permanent city manager. They advocated hiring an interim city manager and waiting until after the November election, when three seats are on the ballot, to hire a full-time city manager.
Hiring now creates a risk of seeing him or her ousted if the balance of power shifts in November, they argued, and could cost the city dearly in severance.
But Millison said she understands the rift on the council, but won’t let it scare her away from the job. The three council members have been straightforward with her about why they object to hiring a permanent city manager.
“One thing the seven council members agree on is they have the best interest of the city at heart,” she said. While she would like to see unanimity in the council hiring her, she said that’s not the way democracies always work.
“The city council is theater of ideas,” Millison said. “I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
If approved, Millison, who makes $155,000, would move from managing a city of 95,000 to one of over 160,000. Kolin was making a total compensation package of $240,000.
Clovis’ $158 million budget of is about half the size of Santa Rosa’s $313 million budget, with one important difference — it’s balanced.
“This fiscal year, we’re not doing everything we’d like to do, but were doing everything we can afford to do,” she said.