Workshop kicks off search for new city manager

DEL MAR — Del Mar’s next city manager must be willing and able to work in a community where resident involvement is frequent, passionate and always expected.
Although that quality was cited as essential during an Aug. 1 workshop offering the public a chance to help guide the selection process, attendance at the meeting seemed to indicate otherwise — only two residents showed up.
The recruitment brochure notes that potential candidates must possess a “high degree of confidence when interacting with an outspoken and informed citizenry.”
The amount of resident participation surprised Mark Ochenduszko, who has been serving as interim city manager since Karen Brust departed June 29 to take the same position in San Juan Capistrano.
“The level of community involvement in projects is something (the candidate) needs to know,” Ochenduszko said. “There are a lot of very involved, smart people in this community. They need to be prepared for that.”
While the city manager may be hired by City Council, he or she really works for the people, resident Bill Michalsky said. “They really need to understand that,” he said. “There are a lot of opinions in this community.”
Former City Councilwoman Crystal Crawford agreed. “If they think the community will not be engaged, boy will they be surprised,” she said. “If the community is critical, they are going to let us know.”
Crawford said she attended the workshop to provide input on qualities she felt would best serve the city.
She said she also wanted to share what she learned as a council member when Brust was hired in 2007, especially since Carl Hilliard is the only current council member who took part in that procedure.
“You need to go into the process with an open mind,” Crawford said. “I went into it thinking zoning and planning were key issues and we needed someone with experience in those areas.”
Crawford said at the time she thought she knew what the perfect qualities for a city manager should be.
“But that was not what we hired,” she said.
Brust had a strong financial background and was a deputy city manager but had never been a city’s top administrator.
“It could be someone who wasn’t a city manager before but could be good for what the city needs now,” Crawford said. “We ended up with somebody, I think, who served this city very well.
“Good things come in unusual packages,” she said. “A sunny disposition really helps, too.”
Crawford said potential candidates should also be willing to get to know the people in the community and ask about local issues.
“That may be time-consuming but it will be helpful down the road,” Crawford said.
Expertise in land use and redevelopment will also be essential as the city tackles its top priorities, which in the next two years include downtown revitalization, completion of capital improvement projects such as the new 17th Street beach safety center and North Torrey Pines Bridge retrofit, redevelopment of City Hall and ongoing efforts to purchase the Del Mar Fairgrounds from the state.
Michalsky said the new city manager should also be comfortable with an open-door policy with the staff.
“Many of them have been here a long time and they understand the community,” he said.
Crawford said applicants should not think that because Del Mar is a small city there isn’t a lot to do.
“This is not a place to come to retire,” she said. “This won’t be a piece of cake. … This is a tough little community.”
Carmel Valley residents Jakab Zeller and his father also attended the workshop. Jakab, a 12-year-old Boy Scout, was there to earn his merit badge for citizenship in the community, which requires attendance at a city council meeting.
As part of the city of San Diego, Carmel Valley doesn’t have its own city council and Del Mar was closer, Jakab said.
“It’s really well-organized,” he said of the city.
Council members weren’t discouraged by the low turnout.
“Despite not a lot of people being here, a lot was said,” Councilman Mark Filanc said.
Residents can still provide input via a survey on the city website at delmar.ca.us.
“Only about 50 percent of the time do cities go to the degree Del Mar is going to seek public input on the candidate profile for the new city manager by hosting a community meeting and providing an ongoing opportunity to offer feedback via the online survey,” said Teri Black of Teri Black & Company, the consulting firm hired to recruit the new city manager.
Consultant Carolyn Seeley said the company should receive about 80 to 90 applications.
“We expect this will generate a lot of interest,” she said.
The recruitment firm will select the top dozen or so and then narrow it down to a final three. Council hopes to make a decision by late October or early November.

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