Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Making Suisun City a destination city - Suzanne Bragdon, Suisun City's new city manager

Article Last Updated: Sunday, Oct 02, 2005 - 10:49:20 pm PDT

Suzanne Bragdon, the new city manager of Suisun City, is looking forward to the challenges she faces in her new job. (Judith Sagami/Daily Republic)

Making Suisun City a destination city

By Ian Thompson

- Suzanne Bragdon, Suisun City's new city manager, says her long-term goal is to use the city's redevelopment assets to make it the waterfront destination its been on the verge of for years.

Her short-term efforts will be a daunting campaign to put the city's general fund finances back into the black and rebuild city employee confidence.

"If people see the light at the end of the tunnel, they will hang in there," Bragdon said of turning the city away from being "the training ground for other agencies."

A month into her new job, Bragdon already made her opening moves to deal with Suisun City's problems by creating a management team from people she has known from her previous jobs in Southern California.

Bragdon plans to ask the council to adopt a status quo budget with few cuts or increases at its early October meeting.

"It is at the mid-year when we will have a hard assessment," Bragdon said.

Nothing will be overlooked, according to Bragdon. Options - ranging from making changes in the city's organizational structure to tracking down new revenue sources - will be considered.

That will include comparing the city's taxes, user fees and other sources of revenues with other cities and seeing if they can be raised.

The City Council has already considered a proposal to create a community facilities district to assess all new housing in town and raise money for all the city's departments, with favorable reviews.

Such a district charges new homeowners fees for services that could range from parks to police services.

City employees went without salary increases to help keep the city afloat and Bragdon said she and the council "don't want to balance the budget on the backs of the employees."

Bragdon, 46, started work at Suisun City Hall Sept. 1, arriving from her job as an economic development consultant for the city of Grover Beach on the Central California coast.

She received good initial reviews from the council. Mayor Jim Spering said at a council meeting her knowledge of city operations and attention to detail would create the revenue the city badly needs.

Vice Mayor Pete Sanchez, who was on the search committee with Spering, was impressed with her background, experience and desire "to make Suisun City the destination city we have been talking about all these years," he said.

Earlier in her career, Bragdon served as city manager for Pismo Beach and assistant city manager in Napa. She replaced interim city manager David Martinez who held the job since December 2004 when Steve Baker stepped down to become city manager for the Central Valley town of Oakdale.

A Seattle native, Bragdon moved to California with her artist husband Kirk Bragdon "because he could not stand gray" and initially worked for a consulting firm in Sacramento.

In 1996, she joined the city of Napa as an assistant city manager doing special projects that included the resort-style, executive home Stanley Ranch project.

Stanley Ranch met its demise after the community split over whether Napa needed it, but Bragdon still thinks it would have been a good addition.

She stepped into the city manager role at Pismo Beach, where the primary effort was to upgrade the downtown area to attract more tourist dollars.

"It was getting old and dirty," Bragdon said.

A $1.5 million project put in more sidewalks, lighting and a plaza which was opposed by a group of residents who liked the beachfront town the way it was and didn't want more tourists.

What Bragdon called "politics" involving the council promoted her to jump to adjacent Grover Beach, where she took a job as economic development consultant working to bring in outside development.

Grover Beach's redevelopment agency didn't have funds or land to attract potential investors, but Bragdon managed to get the gears turning to put a conference center in the town, a project that is now in the planning stages.

Even before unpacking in Suisun City, Bragdon moved on accomplishing the first goal the city council set for her - filling the city's top positions that were held by interim administrators.

She tagged Ron Anderson, most recently Grover Beach's city manager, as Suisun City's assistant city manager. Bragdon also brought in Jack Raper, also from Grover Beach, as Suisun City's community development director.

Raper, who planned to retire before Bragdon asked him to come to Suisun City, worked in the town of Riverbank, which had issues similar to Suisun City - such as dealing with residential verses commercial development.

This still leaves interim director Al da Silva heading up the Redevelopment Agency and Diane Briltz heading the finance department.

Bragdon readily admits Suisun City Hall has a lot of problems, "but I like the challenges."

The toughest problem has been the city's shrinking budget which led to draconian cutbacks in city jobs and in services that included partially contracting out for police services.

"The one I was most hesitant about was the budget," Bragdon said. "We really needed solutions and I concluded that we do have opportunities here."

She is getting to know the city's employees and administrators better, going over what she calls "the big picture" of getting City Hall back on track.

Bragdon is concerned about low morale saying "we want to turn the tide on that."

She is most excited about the annexation and development of the Gentry-Pierce property west of Old Town and the plans the Main Street West Partners are working on to further economically revive the Main Street area.

"That is just huge," Bragdon said of the projects.

Bragdon plans to aggressively market all the possible development sites not covered by the Main Street project, starting with hitting an International Conference of Shopping Centers convention to try to get the eye of potential retailers and developers.

She hopes this will soon translate to projects that will increase the town's sales and hotel tax revenues, which means reviving the effort to attract a destination hotel to the town.

"Water is what attracts. Everyone wants a waterfront," Bragdon said, adding the turn-of-the-century feel of the Old Town only adds to that attraction.

Is there a light at the end of Suisun City's tunnel?

"Absolutely," Bragdon said. "I would not be here if there wasn't."

Ian Thompson can be reached at ithompson@dailyrepublic.net.

Name: Suzanne Bragdon

Job: Suisun City Manager

Age: 46

Experience: Napa assistant city manager, Pismo Beach city manager, economic development consultant for Grover Beach

Salary: $140,000

Duties: Overseeing all of Suisun City's departments and services

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