Monday, August 27, 2007

City manager candidates will vie for complex job

August 26, 2007

City manager candidates will vie for complex job

By Ben Antonius

FAIRFIELD - In the turbulent world of city management, they have been uncommonly stable.

Between them, Kevin O'Rourke and Warren Salmons have more than 22 years of experience leading their respective cities of Fairfield and Dixon. That has put them far ahead of colleagues in Solano County - the managers in Vacaville, Suisun City, Vallejo and Rio Vista have been on the job for five years, two years, eight months and five months, respectively.

That will change though - both men recently announced plans to retire. The moves not only raise questions about continuity and stability for the cities, but they send Fairfield and Dixon into a cutthroat market for management for the first time in more than a decade.

"It's a tough labor market," said Mayor Harry Price, who is one of the councilmen tasked with narrowing the field of candidates to replace O'Rourke. "There's a very small pool of candidates out there. There aren't very many Kevins around who are going to spend all their time on the job. Folks . . . see the workplace as a set number of hours per day."

The explanations are varied but the concern is real enough that the International City Managers Association has launched a major effort called the ICMA Next Generation Initiative to prepare the professionals who will be next in line.

The initiative involves teleconferences, networking sessions and one-on-one meetings with people who want to make city management a career goal, said O'Rourke, who is active in the ICMA effort. He said he and 19 other city managers will participate in a "power coaching" breakfast session with aspiring managers who are seeking career guidance.

"It's kind of the equivalent of power dating," he said. "They get to move around from table to table (and) they'll move about 200 past the 20 of us in a couple hours."

One of the simplest and most vexing explanations is that the problem may be merely numeric - there are far more people in the generation that is approaching retirement than there are in the generations that will replace them.

In the July issue of Western City, a widely-read trade magazine published by the League of California Cities, there are ads from about 10 cities advertising manager vacancies.

"There are 70 million baby boomers exiting the workforce and there's 40 million replacement workers," O'Rourke said. "We see this vacuum being created in all careers within local government."

Price said he is confident Fairfield will attract a good field, noting interest from two internal candidates, Assistant City Manager Nancy Huston and Community Development Director Sean Quinn. Both confirmed their interest in the job but declined to go into depth.

Salmons, who was hired in Dixon a few months after O'Rourke was in Fairfield, is confident the positions will be filled, but noted the job is one that requires a great deal of preparation.

"I'm certainly concerned about the field in general," he said. "I think there are folks who are willing to give it a try. I don't know if they will come with the level of training that is required."

He said the job has gotten far more complex in the last 30 years with the establishment of laws that govern open meetings, conflicts of interest, ethics and harassment.

"There are just many, many more ways to make life complex and theoretically to make missteps," he said. "And you're sort of the one who is expected to have all the answers."

Reach Ben Antonius at 427-6977 or

City managers at a glance

Suzanne Bragdon

City manager of Suisun City since 2005

166 budgeted employees

Hector De La Rosa

City manager of Rio Vista since 2007

56 budgeted employees

Kevin O'Rourke

City manager of Fairfield since 1997

640 budgeted employees

Warren Salmons

City manager of Dixon since 1997

90 budgeted employees

Joe Tanner

City manager of Vallejo since 2007

600 budgeted employees

David Van Kirk

City manager of Vacaville since 2002

610 budgeted employees

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