Modesto is close to having a permanent city manager for the first time in more than a year.
Mayor Ted Brandvold announced at Tuesday's City Council meeting that the council has decided to enter into contract negotiations with interim City Manager Joe Lopez for the job.
"Joe has embodied a positive relationship with the community, gained employee confidence, and has become a public servant stakeholders have come to respect," Brandvold said in a news release.
The mayor added that Lopez was the top candidate among those the council considered.
Brandvold did not say at the meeting what the vote was among council members to enter into negotiations. But California News Publishers Association legal counsel Nikki Moore said the vote should have been disclosed. City Attorney Adam Lindgren disagreed, saying a vote to enter into contract talks is not public, but added the city will disclose the votes when the council appoints a new manager.
Lopez, 42, has served first as acting and then interim city manager since the council ousted City Manager Jim Holgersson in March 2017, though he still had strong support among three of the seven council members.
The council remains divided, and Lopez will become the top administrator of a city facing several other challenges, including rising pension costs.
The city has said those costs are expected to more than double in the next decade, from $23.3 million to $54.6 million, which will leave less money for other services. Modesto also has had a lot of turnover among department directors and other managers over the past couple of years.
But Lopez — who did not comment at Tuesday's council meeting — has said the city will take on its challenges and come out a better, stronger organization.
The council hired Sacramento-based CPS HR Consulting in December to help it recruit a city manager, with the cost not to exceed $35,000.
Modesto has declined to release how many people applied for the job, general information regarding their qualifications, and how many finalists the council interviewed.
City spokesman Thomas Reeves said the city intends to release details of the recruitment once contract negotiations have concluded.
Brandvold said he expects it will take about two weeks to bring a contract to the council for approval. The salary range for the job is $180,174 to $225,212. "As part of contract negotiations, the Council will consider a series of goals to be included as performance measurement tools," according to the news release.
Lopez came to Modesto in January 2012 to become the city’s human resources director. He later served as administrative services director, and was named an acting deputy city manager in February 2015 before getting the job on a permanent basis a year later.
Lopez worked for Sacramento County from May 2001 through January 2012, starting as a personnel analyst, then senior personnel analyst and human resources manager I and II.
He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State Univesity, Chico, and a master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology from CSU Sacramento.