Monday, November 20, 2006

Tanner Named City Manager

Tanner Named City Manager
New City Hall chief starts job Jan. 8

Joseph Tanner is the new city manager of Vallejo. (J.L. Sousa/Times-Herald)

It's official. Vallejo's new City Hall chief is Pacifica City Manager Joseph Tanner.

A little more than a year after ousting its last manager, and after months of searching, the Vallejo City Council on Thursday unanimously named Tanner to fill the city's top job. He starts work Jan. 8, under a three-year contract at a base annual salary of $216,000.

The appointment comes the same week Vallejo officials reached a tentative deal with the firefighters' union to help the cash-strapped city cut costs.

That should leave one less challenge for the 59-year-old Pleasant Hill resident, who has a reputation for helping struggling cities improve their finances.

Still, challenges remain, Tanner told the Times-Herald in an interview at City Hall shortly after his contract was approved.

"It's got huge potential," Tanner said of the city. "Vallejo is going to be one day the centerpiece of Solano County."

The trek to Vallejo shouldn't be new for Tanner, who said he's taken his kids to Marine World. Before he starts work in January, Tanner said he plans to visit Vallejo to take a closer look around, but won't start looking for a house until next year.

After months of keeping tight-lipped about the selection saga, Mayor Tony Intintoli Jr. said he's glad to have Tanner on board because of the new city manager's financial background.

"The city's going to fare well," Intintoli said.

Tanner said he hasn't decided which will be his last day in Pacifica, where he was hired as interim city manager in 2003, before taking that job full time more than a year later for $170,000 annually.

During negotiations with Vallejo, Tanner reportedly told his bosses on the Pacifica council he was holding out for more money, a Pacifica official said.

Tanner got his wish. Not counting perks and benefits, Tanner will make $216,000 a year in Vallejo. That's $18,000 more than former City Manager Roger Kemp's contract.

Kemp resigned in January after he was placed on administrative leave over what some critics saw was an inability to reopen a controversial firefighters' union contract.

Kemp's ouster doesn't seem to bother Tanner.

"I don't think it matters," said Tanner, who's only worked with five-member councils in his management career. When he starts the Vallejo job, he'll be dealing with seven bosses.

Like Kemp, who Tanner said he met 25 years ago when they were both California city managers, Tanner also was ousted from his city manager job. He resigned in 2001 from Pleasant Hill after being placed on administrative leave over a development deal.

Ironically, Tanner was asked by Pleasant Hill officials to ride in the city's July 4 parade next year. On Wednesday, he was given the city's mayor's award and presented a plaque by Pleasant Hill Mayor Terri Williamson, who was on the council when Tanner was ousted.

Williamson said she'd have Tanner back today if she could. The development deal behind his ouster was a misunderstanding, she said in a phone interview.

In 14 years at Pleasant Hill, Tanner built a new city hall, a new downtown and an $18 million surplus, Williamson said.

"I'd have him in a New York minute," Williamson said. But, she added, "I know Vallejo needs him and I know he'll do wonderful work for Vallejo."

Tanner said his No. 1 strength is finance, then development, then building management teams.

His management team will be a bit smaller when he starts in January. Vallejo's public information officer is leaving for a similar job in Vacaville. And Vallejo once had an assistant city manager, but she was offered a buyout last year so the position could remain empty for at least two years to cut costs.

It's too early to decide whether to make staffing changes, Tanner said. It's also too soon to say how he'll try to boost Vallejo's finances.

"I do not have the magic answers sitting here today," Tanner said.

Tanner had little opportunity to show his economic development skills in Pacifica, where a no-growth group has sued over developments, a Pacifica official said.

In Vallejo, Tanner will help oversee development projects including the downtown, waterfront and Mare island renewals.

He said his experience bringing cash-poor cities back into the black should be helpful in Vallejo.

"My entire career, I've gone to cities that are broke," Tanner said. But, he added, "There's no set way of doing things."

Tanner described himself as a student of the stock market, and said whatever happens on Wall Street usually happens in cities six months later.

"As the market goes, so does the city," Tanner said. "The market is in definite upswing."

Meanwhile, interim City Manager John Thompson is on a month-to-month contract and is expected to stay on until Tanner starts the job.

E-mail Chris G. Denina at or call 553-6835.

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