City Manager Gary Brown to Retire

Published March 7, 2013 by Imperial Beach Patch.

After almost a decade of running Imperial Beach day-to-day operations, City Manager Gary Brown announced Monday in a brief press release that he will retire June 1.

Brown has been the IB City Manager since December 2003.

“I’m just getting old,” he said. “9 and a half years–or whatever it is–that’s a good long stint. So it was time.”

As the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, ordinances passed by City Council are enforced by the City Manager. Brown also worked with Mayor Jim Janney to create City Council meeting agendas.

“The City Manager basically does everything. We just set policies,” Janney said.

Brown earns $166,000 a year, and up to an additional $27,000 in benefits, one of the highest paid positions in local government, according to the 2011-13 budget.

“I would hope it [future City Manager’s salary] would be in the same range,” Janney said. “I would be hard pressed to offer someone more right now.”

The Imperial Beach City Council will begin the process to select a new City Manager by hiring a recruitment firm at the March 20 meeting. A list of top candidates will then be presented to City Council in about 60 to 90 days, Janney said.

A City Manager may be selected from current city staff or residents, but the city should also “look outside cause that’s what the city deserves.”

Given the short period of time before June 1, City Council will likely have to appoint an Interim City Manager while the selection process takes place, Janney said.

He hopes the city can “strong arm” Brown to stick around past June 1 until a new City Manager is appointed since an Interim City Manager “can’t do much but keep the ship afloat.”

Albert Knecht grew up in Imperial Beach.

Knecht has fought development at the 9th and Palm shopping center, was a representative of the Community Commission for Local Government and was a write-in candidate for the Imperial Beach City Council in 2010.

He wants to see the City Manager become an elected position.

“I don’t think the City Manager should be able to control agenda items,” he said. Instead Knecht thinks the City Council should vote on agenda items.

“I know in the past in trying to get agenda items before council we were being blockaded by the City Manager and maybe even the mayor and that is always an issue or point of contention for me,” he said.

City Managers are appointed, not elected, so there will be no public involvement in the selection process, Janney said, except that elected public officials will choose the new Chief Administrative Officer.

Since hiring is a personnel matter, interviews and actions related to hiring a new City Manager will be held during closed session.

“I don’t think we’d have anybody apply if we sat them up there in the diose and had the public go at them,” Janney said.

He wants the new City Manager to communicate with the public in a similar fashion as Brown was able to do.

“I think he was very accessible to the public. Whether you like what he says I can’t tell you that, but he’s definitely accessible. I think in small cities you’ve got to have that,” Janney said.

Like Brown, a new City Manager will have to work with the City Council, city staff and community to accomplish goals. Whether a City Manager lasts depends on their ability to “get the job done” and whether “personality mixes with the council and community.”

A new City Manager will also need to work with a myriad of agencies that operate within the City of Imperial Beach, including the Port of San Diego, California Coastal Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Navy and more.

Jack Van Zandt was the president of the Imperial Beach Business Improvement District in 2008 and 2009.

“I would just have to say that Gary Brown, his job as City Manager, was an impossible job to do,” he said.

His job is so difficult because he has to work between a City Council with no professional planning experience and a public “who have no idea what’s going on.”

A diverse group of people have their own issues in the community, and between staff, citizens and council,” the City Manager ends up being the guy with all the balls in the air.”

“I always found Gary to be a really engaged and interested party and one of the finest humans I know,” he said.

Van Zandt would like a new City Manager be able to balance “the emerging tourism and hospitality market and the people that live there.”

The biggest issue for the city to figure out before Brown retires is a new two-year budget which must be approved by the end of June, Janney said.

Other issues include negotiations to turn the Sports Park over to the YMCA, which Brown has led.

Overall Janney believes the city has done well under Brown’s leadership, particularly when it comes to redevelopment.

“He made redevelopment work. Before he was here, the only thing the redevelopment agency had done was a small project and went out and got money,” he said.

A new Seacoast Drive hotel was an important years long process, as was the Breakwater Project to build a new shopping center on Palm Avenue, but small changes Brown was charged to oversee may have also improved quality of life for local residents.

“It might be considered small to other people, but crosswalks at IB Boulevard might be considered a big deal to people whose kids cross there every week on their way home from school,” Janney said.

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