It shouldn't have surprised me – but it did nonetheless – when we received the press release last week that San Ramon City Manager Joe Gorton would be retiring from the city in four months.
The news (courtesy of a classic "Friday afternoon news dump", as I joked to colleagues and city officials) just seemed out of the blue given Gorton's run of success as the head of city administration for 5-1/2 years after a long career in local law enforcement capped by three-plus years as San Ramon's police chief.
Of course, I'm not privy to what's going on behind the scenes, and Gorton is of the age and career arc that many government officials follow into retirement (from public employment, anyway). Chalk it up to an important realization many of us would be lucky to face: When it's time, it's time.
Gorton's departure will continue a streak of turnover at the top for three of the five Tri-Valley municipalities in the past year -- and it becomes four in five if you go back to just before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pleasanton and Livermore had new city managers start on the job within days of each other this spring.
Gerry Beaudin began his tenure in Pleasanton in mid-May, succeeding Nelson Fialho who stepped down last November after an astounding 17 years at the helm for a brief sabbatical of sorts before entering the private sector.
Marianna Marysheva, a transplant from the city of Irvine who had prior career ties in the Bay Area, took the reins on her own in Livermore in early June after several weeks in a transition period alongside outgoing Marc Roberts, who retired after 10 years as city manager and 35 years overall with the city.
Two in rapid succession like that is unusual in the Tri-Valley. A third with San Ramon as early as next January makes it a striking trend.
And I know sometimes pre-pandemic seems like a lifetime ago, but it was in January 2020 that Linda Smith was promoted in-house as Dublin's city manager to follow Chris Foss upon his retirement after 5-1/2 years.
Smith is only the fourth city manager for Dublin in its 41-year history. Talk about stability.
Well, then again there's Town Manager Joe Calabrigo in Danville who is on pace to mark 30 years in the position in 2023. An astronomical outlier for the Bay Area in this era.
That's the challenge the San Ramon City Council faces in the months ahead -- to try to find a successor for Gorton that provides the stability of strong leadership that the city demands. Actually, it will almost certainly be a new council that makes that permanent hire, as two San Ramon council seats are guaranteed to change hands in the November election plus the mayor's race is contested.
Here's to hoping San Ramon takes its time in the search to identify the next city manager. It will probably be the most important those five elected officials will make together as a unit.
Dublin surely made the best decision after looking internally with Smith.
I believe Pleasanton also hired the right person to lead their city. Really, I was pleasantly surprised this current City Council came to such a consensus in their hiring process, considering how contentious the five electeds were in several other high-profile decisions over the past year. Just think how politicized, how chippy, the council election district mapping process got.
But they were unanimous in selecting Beaudin, who led the Pleasanton Community Development Department during 2015 to 2019 before departing for a promotion to assistant city manager in Alameda.
I got to watch Beaudin work for many council meetings, and even more Planning Commission meetings, for over two years before he departed Pleasanton. He knew the material in front of him inside and out, he was articulate in explaining to city officials and the public, and perhaps most importantly, he listened.
(Oh, and he almost always had a few minutes after the meeting, or on the phone or by email the next day, to answer a question or two from the Pleasanton Weekly.)
Time will tell whether Marysheva will have that kind of a positive impact in Livermore, as she's totally new to the city. But if her profile interview with us -- last week's cover story -- is any indication, she certainly has the perspective, expertise and motivation needed of an effective city manager.
I can't wait to find out who San Ramon selects as its next permanent city manager, and then watch as our editorial team digs into that person's credentials and background.
I wonder too if that selection will quell this spate of instability in city manager's offices across the Tri-Valley. You almost have to think the ball is in Calabrigo's court in that regard. But you never can tell…
Editor's note: Jeremy Walsh has been the editor of the Embarcadero Media East Bay Division since February 2017. His "What a Week" column publishes on the second and fourth (and occasional fifth) Fridays of the month.