By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
City Hall transition expected to be smooth
With the city of Ceres losing both its mayor and city manager in a rare juxtaposition of factors, things will feel much different at Ceres City Hall in December.

Anthony Cannella is stepping down as mayor at month's end to take the oath of office of a California State Senator on Dec. 3. Cannella, who was elected Nov. 2, presided over his final meeting as mayor on Nov. 8. His vacancy will likely be filled by an appointment among the remaining four councilmembers.

Brad Kilger is leaving as city manager to take a position with the city of Benecia. Kilger will start in Benicia on Dec. 13. The Benecia city manager position appealed to Kilger because of its higher paying salary and opportunities to foster economic development, something Kilger thrives on.

What does the transition mean for the city of Ceres? For one thing, more work for Public Safety Director/Police Chief Art deWerk, who will fill in for Kilger overseeing day-to-day operations of Ceres City Hall.

"A lot of people feel like the change isn't going to be that big," said deWerk, who has been tapped to serve as interim city manager, "and I'm one of those people. But very personally, it's going to increase my workload but we just have to do what we have to do to get through these times."

De Werk said the council may opt to keep him in charge for up to 18 months and delay the hiring of a permanent replacement for Kilger in the interests of saving money.

"There's a lot of money to be saved by leaving me in that position," said deWerk. "It is one of the options that the council will consider in the next several months as they start looking at the budget for the next fiscal year."

DeWerk said the entire savings in delaying the hiring a city manager could be as high as $330,000 annually, including salary, benefits and other expenses.

Councilman Chris Vierra, who is interested in replacing Cannella as mayor, said the council has not talked about delaying a replacement for Kilger.

"We really haven't talked about that," said Vierra. "Obviously, I feel eventually we need someone in that role."

A search for a city manager typically can take as long as eight or nine months, Vierra said. He noted that Benecia spent numerous months advertising for applicants and wading through 87 applicants before selecting Kilger.

This will be the second time that deWerk has been asked to fill in during a city manager absence. He helped run the city along - with Finance Director Sheila Cumberland - when Tim Kerr was fired in June 2005 and was replaced eight months later by Kilger in February 2006.

"The timing is unfortunate that Brad and I am leaving at the same time," said Cannella, "but I think we're very blessed to have Chief Art deWerk and Sheila Cumberland and Glenn Gebhardt. I mean, I tell you, this staff is top notch. These are very, very talented managers and we have very talented rank and file doing the work every day. We have a strong council, a dedicated council, a strong and dedicated staff. I think they're going to do great."

In recent years the council has leaned heavy on upper level police personnel to fill general government positions in the aftermath of layoffs prompted by budget shortfalls. For example, Deputy Chief of Police Mike Borges is the city's acting Human Resources manager following the layoff of Keith Howze. Lt. Rick Collins oversees the Parks & Recreation Department since the layoff of Director Doug Lemcke.

"I think it's going to be a tremendous workload and if it starts to falter then I'll be the first to speak up," said deWerk.

The other component of change will be in the City Council itself. Months before Cannella was elected, members anticipated Cannella's election and stated a consensus that Vierra would be appointed to replace him even though Ken Lane is currently vice mayor. Elevating Vierra - or any other council member - to mayor then creates a vacancy on the council.

A Vierra mayorship is not expected to differ from the Cannella style of leadership, many feel. Vierra and Cannella saw eye-to-eye on many issues and demonstrate the same fiscal disciplines and conservative approaches to city government. The transfer of power is expected to be smooth, said Vierra.

"We've all served for quite a while and I think we all have the same goals and objectives for the city," said Vierra. "I don't see any major changes."

De Werk agreed. "We have a unified council," he said. "We have a solid council."

However, looming as the "biggest challenge," he said, is for the city to maintain service levels as revenues continue to shrink in the bad economy. As such, the 2011-12 fiscal year is projected to be $2.1 million to $2.3 million in the red.

Vierra agreed that the council's biggest focus will be getting the 2011-12 fiscal year budget balanced.

"The contracts are coming open for the labor groups and we'll have to begin those discussions," said Vierra.