UPDATE: The city council voted to approve Robert Dunek’s appointment as San Clemente’s interim city manager on Tuesday, Jan. 22.
Councilors voted 3-0 in favor of Dunek’s appointment, officially installing the retired Lake Forest city manager to the temporary position effective Wednesday, Jan. 22. Councilmembers Chris Hamm and Kathy Ward were absent from Tuesday night’s discussion.
“I’m incredibly proud and thrilled that you will allow me to join the city and the team during your professional transition,” Dunek told the council after the vote. Dunek retired from public service in 2017 after serving as Lake Forest’s city manager for 21 years.
“I would certainly like to say that I am really excited to help you move your agenda forward and working with your staff,” Dunek also said, adding, “I look forward to being with you at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning.”
Mayor Pro Tem Laura Ferguson said the council is “very fortunate” to have Dunek run the city in the interim while Mayor Dan Bane works on finding someone to permanently take over the role following former City Manager James Makshanoff’s departure this month.
On Friday, Jan. 17, the council held a special closed-session meeting to go over the candidates who had applied for the job. During that special meeting, Bane and Councilmember Gene James voted to extend the offer to Dunek, while Ferguson dissented.
She had previously explained that she voted no only because she was opposed to the recruitment process that had been utilized. On Tuesday night, she reiterated her previous comments.
“I had expressed my disappointment in the process, I felt it wasn’t inclusive and transparent,” Ferguson said, before ending on a more positive note. “I think it’s time for our council to be unified and I want to give my whole hearted welcome to (Dunek) and I look forward to working you.”
Agreeing with Ferguson that while it “certainly was not a perfect process by any stretch,” Bane found the silver lining as that “imperfect process led us” to Dunek.
“It’s hard to find anyone that’s been a city manager for any period of time when you can’t find anyone who has a negative comment to say. I looked really hard to try to find somebody to say something negative about Dr. Dunek and I couldn’t find any one,” Bane fawned, further noting that the term “the ‘gold standard’ was used most often to describe him.”
Below is the original version of the story.
By Shawn Raymundo
Following another round of closed-door talks over the selection of an interim city manager on Friday, Jan. 17, city councilors voted to extend an offer for the position to retired Lake Forest City Manager Robert Dunek.
In a 2-1 decision, during Friday night’s special meeting, the council voted to move forward with Dunek’s proposed appointment as the temporary chief executive of the city while Mayor Dan Bane’s search for a permanent replacement continues.
The council is expected to officially vote up or down on Dunek’s appointment during its regular meeting tonight.
“I think we all agree that Bob is a qualified candidate,” Bane said near the end of the Friday meeting, adding: “I very much look forward to working with Bob.”
Councilmember Gene James echoed Bane’s sentiments, stating that the council “ended up with a great candidate.”
“I feel very comfortable with him at the helm on an interim basis,” he said. “But we really need to put a person in place, and I can’t think of a better individual than Mr. Bob Dunek as interim city manager.”
Councilmembers Kathy Ward and Chris Hamm were absent from the special meeting while Mayor Pro Tem Laura Ferguson was the dissenting vote against the offer to Dunek. Ferguson stressed that her opposition wasn’t because she thought he was unqualified, but rather because she opposed the way in which he was recruited.
“Mr. Dunek is a very fine, seasoned professional,” she said. “I voted no, because I didn’t support the process for this recruitment, and this is in no way a slight against the interim city manager.”
Ferguson went on to point out that Dunek, who ran the city of Lake Forest for 21 years before retiring in 2017, has “a relationship with our city attorney from a prior city.” While she said she looks forward to working with Dunek, she had “hoped” to “have someone completely objective, with a clean slate.”
Should the council vote to appoint Dunek, he would take over the position effective Wednesday, Jan. 22, for a period not to exceed 960 hours within a fiscal year. Dunek would also receive an hourly wage of $137.27.
According to the city, Dunek was also the city manager for Los Alamitos and was the executive director for the Orange County Division of the League of California Cities. His career in government began in the city of Buena Park, where he was a master police officer.
Dunek’s tenure as a city manager for Lake Forest for more than two decades “has to be a record for city managers in Orange County,” Bane said jokingly last Friday.
The city is in search of a new city manager, as James Makshanoff announced last month that he would be stepping down from the role effective Jan. 17. He left San Clemente to become the new city manager for the city of Pomona.
Mayor Bane previously explained that the city manager search could last as little as two months or as long as six months.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.