Decision expected soon on whether Modesto’s top manager will leave

04/03/2014 4:17 PM

04/04/2014 9:40 PM

The answer to the question of whether City Manager Greg Nyhoff is leaving Modesto could come soon.

He is one of two finalists for city manager of Oxnard, a community of about 200,000 residents roughly 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles. The other finalist is former Santa Barbara County CEO Chandra Wallar. The two attended a forum Wednesday in Oxnard to introduce themselves to the public. The Oxnard City Council then met in closed session regarding the appointment.

Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn said Thursday that an announcement about his city’s next city manager could come as early as next week and hopefully no later than April 15. “I would hope that this would be wrapped up in two weeks,” he said, “that the new person will be hired.”

Nyhoff, 54, has been Modesto’s city manager for nearly six years and has 30 years’ experience in public administration. He came here from Colorado Springs, Colo., where he was an assistant city manager.

Flynn said Nyhoff did well at the forum and talked about having to make difficult budget decisions in a short period while maintaining essential services. Modesto has cut about $20 million from its general fund budget in several years because of tax revenue falling in the Great Recession.

“He was very much proud of his work in Modesto,” Flynn said. “He comes across as a team builder. He obviously projects himself well, and the other candidate does, too.”

The Oxnard council gave direction in closed session to Bob Murray & Associates, the consulting firm helping the council hire a city manager. Flynn said the council is leaning toward one finalist but declined to say more. The council will meet in closed session Tuesday to discuss a finalist for the position.

Flynn said the city won’t make an announcement about its new city manager until the finalist has accepted the job and the city and finalist have agreed on a contract. He said even though the council is leaning toward one finalist, that does not necessarily mean that person will get the job.

“There are still two finalists out there,” he said. “It’s not over until it’s over.”

Modesto officials say Nyhoff has not worn out his welcome, which can be an occupational hazard for a city manager. Nyhoff recently received a positive performance review from the City Council, and Mayor Garrad Marsh has praised him and former Mayor Jim Ridenour for their leadership during tough budget times.

But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing during Nyhoff’s tenure:

• The city was criticized during the recent housing foreclosure crisis for its administration of $25 million in federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding and in particular for its relationship with the Stanislaus Community Assistance Project, a nonprofit housing agency that received NSP funding from Modesto.

The Modesto Bee reported on questionable spending by SCAP and the placement of the agency’s family members or staff in homes remodeled with NSP money. A federal audit determined the city spent nearly $100,000 on ineligible expenditures, including improper real estate commissions and management fees. None of the audit findings concerned how SCAP spent its $8 million in NSP money.

• Hundreds of Wood Colony and Salida residents have turned out at recent council meetings to protest the city keeping their unincorporated communities in Modesto’s general plan, which serves as a blueprint for how the city will grow. City officials say they need to plan for Modesto’s future, including designating enough land for commercial development and business parks. Officials also say they cannot force landowners to sell or develop their land.
• In spring 2013, Nyhoff said he was having a consultant conduct a community survey to gauge residents’ satisfaction with city services and learn about their priorities. He said the survey would reflect Modesto’s demographics, and while it would have questions about revenue options, it was not a poll to gauge support for a potential sales tax increase.

But the survey of 400 registered voters did not reflect Modesto’s diversity. And two California State University, Stanislaus, professors who reviewed the survey at The Bee’s request said it was a poll designed to gauge support for a sales tax increase.

Modesto placed Measure X – a 1 percent sales tax – on the November ballot. The measure lost by about 500 votes out of the 24,137 cast. The city now is in the process of cutting an additional $8 million to $9 million over this and the next two fiscal years from its roughly $113 million general fund to bring expenses in line with revenues.

Modesto was one of 10 California cities with a sales tax on the November ballot. The nine others, including a 0.75 percent sales tax for bankrupt Stockton, passed.

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