A Eureka Vision

Council again on the hunt for a new city manager



Tempered disappointment and optimism. That's the feeling du jour of some of Eureka's elected officials, following Bill Panos' short stint as city manager.

And while it's back to the drawing board for Eureka's top position, at least this time the City Council goes into its manager hunt with a new top cop and a nearly completed "strategic vision plan" that will be part of the recruitment package.

The council has asked its staff to hire the same search firm that found Panos and to conduct a broad search for the next city manager, a position that paid Panos $158,000 a year. (He'll be earning $150,000 a year as the Wyoming schools facility director, according to the Associated Press.)

City councilmembers say they hope to wrap up the search in three to four months, but in the meantime, Assistant City Manager Mike Knight will become interim city manager after Panos leaves on Oct. 4. Knight had been a contender for the job last year when previous City Manager David Tyson retired, but Panos was chosen instead. Knight said he will throw his hat in the ring again. "Keep in mind it will be very competitive," Knight said. "There's a lot of great city managers out there."

Councilmember Lance Madsen said he'll be looking for a city manager who takes a broad scope of the city, who won't overlook departments or let problems fall through the cracks.

"Leadership," said Councilmember Mike Newman. "As well as a good manager of people."

Councilmember Marian Brady said she wants a city manager with port and rail experience — she sees development of train and boat shipping as a potential economic boon. And she wants to hire a city manager who can work not only with staffers, but with residents, on city problems like cleaning up blight. "That's part of the city manager's job — to figure out what's the carrot and what's the stick," Brady said.

Experience and good credentials are big priorities for Councilmember Melinda Ciarabellini. And all five councilmembers agreed that they expect the next manager to carry out their newly crafted vision plan.

"We pretty much agree on things we need to go forward with in the city," said Councilmember Linda Atkins. That clarity will make a good recruitment tool, several council members said, and the plan will be included in the materials sent to applicants.

While the vision plan hasn't been finalized, it's very close to completion, and its goals include:

Working with the county and Humboldt State University to lobby on behalf of the area, both in Sacramento and Washington.

Streamlining permit applications — particularly building permits — for the public by making the process available online.

Updating the city's general plan.

Updating the city's municipal code.

While some councilmembers expressed disappointment at Panos' early departure, they also relayed understanding, and relief at having Andrew Mills, a San Diego police captain, coming on board in November as Eureka's new police chief.

In Panos' parting statement, he listed hiring a chief as one of the key accomplishments in his nine-month tenure. Panos also did some restructuring, folding the engineering department into public works and combining the building and community development departments.

That didn't please everyone in those departments, Atkins said, but it reflected what the council asked for. "He started some big changes in the city that caused some bumpiness with employees because of his reorganization plan."

While no one was fired, several department heads were "reassigned," and city staff is still getting used to the changes. The shuffle was designed to cut costs for the city, Atkins said.

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