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Georgeanne White as the next City Manager? It could happen.

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The following is strictly my speculation: Georgeanne White, city manager, City of Fresno.

I’ll bet a Kit Kat that could happen.

As we all know, Mayor Lee Brand is in the hunt for a city manager. Current City Manager Bruce Rudd said during last fall’s mayoral campaign that he would retire sometime in 2017 no matter who won the race.

Rudd has been a city employee for more than 40 years. He’s earned a rest.

The scuttlebutt in some City Hall circles is that Rudd has already picked his final day in the hot seat – July 7. To put that date another way, 7-7-17. Remove the “1” and you’ve got triple Mickey Mantles (that’s for all you baseball traditionalists).

At the same time, Brand has said he wants the new city manager in place before budget hearings begin in early June. His thinking: The new chief operating officer should get on-the-job training while Rudd is still around to serve as mentor.

Well, time’s a-wastin’!

July 7, come this Friday, is only 12 weeks away. June 5 (the first Monday in June – a possible start to the budget hearings) is only eight weeks away.

City Hall Communications Director Mark Standriff told me the Mayor is looking both externally and internally for candidates. Standriff said applications are in.

I asked for the names of the in-house candidates.

“I don’t know,” Standriff said. “I’ll ask around.”

If an external candidate is ultimately selected, then we’re getting real close to an announcement. That person, no doubt currently working, would have to give notice of appropriate length. That professional requirement, in turn, would force Brand’s hand.

Of course, anything could happen in the next few weeks.

But certainly White makes a lot of sense as city manager. No one currently at City Hall, not even Rudd, has as much experience at the highest levels of decision-making. She was Mayor Alan Autry’s chief of staff for eight years. She was Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s chief of staff for nearly eight years (moving to an assistant director position in Public Utilities late last summer).

White was there when Jerry Dyer was promoted to police chief. She was there when the Regional Jobs Initiative was born. She was there when the Recharge Fresno project to make Fresno forever water resilient got going full speed. She was there when the city nearly went bankrupt during the Great Recession. She was there when the city’s finances emerged from the Great Recession stronger than ever.

Remember when Donald Trump suddenly showed up in Southwest Fresno in 2007 to tour the Running Horse project with top city officials? White was there, discussing the city’s interests with the man who is now President of the United States.

And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen White sit in the front row of the Council Chamber, ready at a second’s notice to grab the public microphone and explain to council members the administration’s position on complex issues of municipal governance.

White in public speaks clearly and none too fast. She knows how to craft a complete sentence. Oh, what a blessing to Fresnans in general and reporters in particular.

What is the mayor’s chief of staff in Fresno’s strong-mayor form of government? The duties aren’t spelled out in the City Charter. From my observation, the chief of staff can be the second most powerful person in the administration. The chief of staff can acquire administrative responsibilities that inevitably have political ramifications. The chief of staff can have the Mayor’s ear.

Tim Orman is Brand’s chief of staff. I raise this point only to suggest that White, more than any other city manager candidate that Brand could hope to find, understands the delicate and ever-shifting nature of alliances in Chief Executive’s suite. A newcomer from, say, Topeka would have to learn when to advance and when to retreat the hard way.

I spoke with Brand on Tuesday afternoon who said he will interview city manager candidates on Friday. He declined to name names.

I close with three quick points.

First, Fresno during the strong-mayor era (which began with Jim Patterson in 1997) has preferred city managers with local ties. Jeff Reid, a local attorney, did a superb job for Patterson. Andy Souza served Patterson, Autry and Swearengin with distinction. Mark Scott came here from afar early in Swearengin’s first term, but he’s got nothing but Fresno blood in his veins (Fresno High School, Class of ’67). Scott, too, served Fresno with honor and skill. And we’ve already noted Rudd’s long and effective performance at City Hall.

Only Dan Hobbs, city manager during most of Autry’s first term, came here cold turkey. Hobbs was valiant in his service to Fresno. Yet, it seemed to me that he was always struggling with the steep learning curve that comes with Fresno politics.

Second, Brand had only one thing to say about White during our chat on Tuesday: “Georgeanne and Tommy (Esqueda) are a great team in the Water Division.”

Third, it’s not just me. The rumor mill at City Hall has Georgeanne White as a top candidate to succeed Bruce Rudd.

 

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

1 Comment

  1. She would be a good possibility. Tried and true. Experienced. Firm when she needs to be. Don’t know the other possibilities so hard to compare, but has to rank at a high level for consideration.

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