By Dick Spotswood
Marin Independent Journal
February 4, 2024
The most important task for city councils or county board of supervisors is selecting a new city manager or county administrator when there’s a vacancy in the top spot. The manager is each agency’s top executive and runs the jurisdiction on a daily basis with policy direction and oversight from the elected board.
Both Novato and Marin County are currently going through the executive recruitment process.
At county government, veteran Administrator Matthew Hymel is retiring following a productive career in public service.
In Novato, Adam McGill unexpectedly resigned as city manager in November after four years in the post, preceded by a stint as police chief. Filling in as interim city manager is Amy Cunningham, the city’s finance director.
Of the two recruitment efforts, Novato’s will be the most challenging. McGill took over from City Manager Regan Candelario who was let go in August 2019. According to TransparentCalifornia.com, in 2022, McGill earned a salary of $281,698 plus $62,134 in benefits.
Marin County government faces similar challenges, as do all of California’s 58 counties. That includes homelessness, crime, climate change and state mandates to build thousands of new homes. The difference is that its fiscal foundation is solid.
Novato faces a dilemma that’s resisted McGill’s best efforts. His resignation is more of an opportunity than a problem. The City Council’s assignment now is to select a new manager with the skill set today’s Novato needs. The new manager must have experience in municipalities that have overcome long-term financial problems.
Former Novato Mayor Bernie Meyers recently wrote to the five-member district-elected council complaining that “Novato is spending more than its revenues.”
Meyers reminded councilmembers of 2023’s Marin County Civil Grand Jury report, then stated, “The City Council has known for more than a decade about its financial challenges and looming deficits; they have not taken sufficient measures to resolve them.”
It’s no secret that Novato hasn’t had an audited financial statement since 2020. The city is now running up a $1 million annual deficit.
The council has commenced a professional recruitment effort headed by nationally recognized Bob Murray and Associates. The application deadline is March 3. Councilmembers pledge public outreach to guide the manager selection process.
The first job is selecting a new manager who puts the city’s finances in order. Any new city manager must pledge that the books will be subject to an audited financial review completed before the end of 2024.
A new sales tax has been discussed to put Novato in the black. It’s hard to imagine any tax will achieve the needed supermajority vote without full transparency. That starts with an audited financial statement.
In recent years, I have noticed less media coverage of doings in the state capital. Because of that I find it difficult to follow the state’s finances. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office predicts a $68 billion state government deficit in 2024. Just a few years ago the state was flush with a surplus. Without a focus on Sacramento, we often don’t know what nonessential projects make up that red ink.
Here’s an example of under-the-radar spending on something less than essential. The state Legislature plans to disperse $1.2 billion on demolishing the office building hiding behind the beautiful restored historic Capitol building. It’s known as the Capitol Annex. Built in the 1960s, today the Annex is the more than adequate home for state legislators’ offices.
The demolition and construction of an elaborate new annex is opposed by a politically diverse collection of past legislators including retired Sen. Quentin Kopp and Marin’s own past Assemblymember Bill Bagley.
It’s a boondoggle that should be halted at least until the deficit is eliminated. Even then, this project remains a frill the Golden State can do without.
Columnist Dick Spotswood of Mill Valley writes on local issues Sundays and Wednesdays