WATSONVILLE—At a special meeting on Tuesday night, Watsonville City Council directed staff to search for two companies that will spearhead the city’s efforts to find a new chief executive.
One company will be in charge of finding a permanent replacement for outgoing city manager Matt Huffaker, and the other will be responsible for identifying a person to fill the position in the interim.
Watsonville Mayor Jimmy Dutra said that the item will return to the City Council at its Nov. 9 meeting. At that time, the City Council is expected to make a final decision on the matter.
That same day Huffaker will likely be appointed by the Santa Cruz City Council as that municipality’s city manager. If approved, he would take the position on Jan. 3, 2022.
The meeting was a relatively short one. It started at 5:30pm and wrapped up just before 7pm after a four-person City Council—council members Ari Parker and Lowell Hurst were absent—finished up its closed session meeting.
Before city attorney Alan Smith read off the report from the closed session, Mayor Dutra asked the half-dozen people still in the City Council chambers for a “civil” response to the news.
There were some 15 people in the chambers as the meeting got underway, most of them were high-ranking city employees that, during public comment, lauded Huffaker’s three-year stint as city manager and recommended that Assistant City Manager Tamara Vides take the job in the interim.
Those who vouched for Vides included interim police chief Tom Sims and fire chief Rudy Lopez and the directors of the parks, development and finance departments. Watsonville Airport Director Rayvon Williams also said that Vides, who has been with the city for 23 years, would be a fine selection.
“In teams, in groups, I’ve worked with, there’s always been that person who is the heart of the group, and I can tell you that Tamara is the heart of the executive team,” Williams said. “Not so much for the ra-ra, but because it’s clear to us every time she speaks to the executive team [that] she’s concerned for the city. She clearly has a heart for the city.”
Two people spoke in opposition of Vides’ appointment, including Andrea Padilla-Curtis, an executive assistant for the city. She said that Vides did not have the qualifications or temperament to hold the position.
Though Padilla-Curtis was the lone city employee who publicly voiced their concerns to the City Council about Vides taking over, she said that other employees have done so in private.
“[The city manager] should be a positive role model, a leader, supportive, empathetic, motivating, a team builder, this person will be the face of the city and must demonstrate accountability, responsibility and professionalism,” Padilla-Curtis said. “These are qualities I, along with many others who chose to stay anonymous, do not feel that Mrs. Vides possesses. Therefore, we do not feel she is a qualified candidate for city manager.”
The next Watsonville City Manager should also be a resident of the City which Matt is not (he lives in Soquel) many of the Watsonville City lead staff do not live in the City they serve. As much as I respect Matt’s leadership in his role and the contributions he has made to Watsonville, it is not the same as living in the community you serve. It should be one of the criteria for the job.