Arcata City Councilmember Mark Wheetley spent the early part of his morning at the River Lodge, waiting in the same room he first interviewed in for what the city of Fortuna announced today will be his new job: city manager.
The process came full circle at the Fortuna Chamber of Commerce's State of the City Breakfast, where Wheetley was the surprise (at least for attendees) guest — hidden away until the formal announcement.
First elected in 2005, Wheetley said he will step down from the council and his job as a state Fish and Wildlife Service biologist when he takes over the post, which he's expected to do April 1.
“It will be a new experience, a whole new chapter,” said Wheetley, who also served as Arcata’s mayor in 2008, 2009 and 2014.
Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer said a community discussion on the council’s options for filling Wheetley’s seat is scheduled for Feb. 15.
Diemer said the council needs to fill the seat by appointment or call a special election within 60 days of the vacancy, with the individual selected or elected holding office until Wheetley’s term ends in December of 2018.
Wheetley said he’s going to recommend the council go the appointment route, noting candidate pools have been slim in past elections, the cost involved and the breadth of qualified residents currently serving on city board and commissions.
In an email to the Journal
, Diemer said Wheetley’s “long tenure is marked with both a neighborhood and school based focus as well as a dedication to regional and statewide advocacy for Arcata and the North Coast.”
She noted that he “ensured Arcata continued to stay on the cutting edge of environmental policy and practices” and earned a trip to the White House for his recent work with former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign.
“His history and thorough understanding of the challenges facing rural communities and coastal cities will be sorely missed in Arcata,” Diemer said. “Fortuna is lucky to have him coming on board.”
Tapping talent from Arcata seems to be trending in Fortuna. Wheetley replaces interim City Manager Randy Mendosa — who served as Arcata’s police chief and city manager during Wheetley’s time in office. Wheetley is stepping into Fortuna's government at an opportune time, as voters recently passed a sales tax measure projected to bring in about $1.2 million annually and erase a structural budget deficit that in recent years has all but depleted the city's reserves.
Wheatley serves on the board of community organizations and coaches youth soccer. The father of two has also held a seat on several local and state committees, including the League of California Cities and the Humboldt County Association of Governments.
He had been running what was considered to be a highly viable campaign for the Third District seat on the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors before stepping out of the race in January of 2015, following his arrest on suspicion of DUI. He later pleaded to a reduced charge and received three years probation.
Wheetley started his career in the city of Arcata’s Planning and Public Works departments and said his experience working with local governments during his time with the state also helped prepare him for his new job.
During that time, Wheetley said he saw first-hand the positive and negative effects a city manager can have on a city’s success. In Fortuna, the Humboldt State University graduate said he sees a community with a bright future bolstered by an enthusiastic staff.
While he currently resides in Arcata, Wheetley said he does plans to move to the Friendly City.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I think this is a great time to come into Fortuna.”
Read the full release from the city of Fortuna:
Fortuna, CA- This morning at the Fortuna Chamber of Commerce’s Annual State of the City Breakfast, Mayor Sue Long announced that a contract has been signed with Fortuna’s New City Manager, Mark Wheetley.
According to Mayor Long, Council is “still working on some of the logistics for a firm start date and should have that information available early next week.”
Mayor Sue Long has stated that Mark Wheetley is “…enthusiastic, energetic, and approachable. He will be a great Asset to the City of Fortuna.”
Mayor Pro Tem Tami Trent said, “I am very excited to get a City Manager that already knows and loves Fortuna.”
Council Member Doug Strehl said, “I’ve known and worked with Mark through the Redwood Empire League of Cities and am very excited that he will be our City Manager. Along with his expertise and our great city staff “Fortuna Strong” will get stronger.”
According to Council Member Dean Glaser “Fortuna City Council has chosen to hire local rather than utilize a hiring firm to advertise for candidates outside Humboldt. The Council had utilized outside hiring agencies in 2002 and 2012. This time a local candidate has successfully met the Council's mandates and will be our City Manager for 2017. I'm truly delighted with our choice and I've known him for the past 10 years.”
Council Member Tiara Brown stated “The staff at the City of Fortuna are extremely dedicated and hardworking. I am thrilled to have Mark on board. With his leadership and forward thinking mentality, Fortuna's future is bright.”
The City Council is expected to announce Wheetley’s start date soon.