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With the race for three open seats on the San Clemente City Council approaching, the San Clemente Times has posed a series of four questions to all 12 candidates. Over next few weeks, we will publish their responses—one per week—to give readers more insight before casting their votes by Nov. 8. The list of candidates is published according to the random alphabet drawn by the California Secretary of State.


Question 2: The new City Council will be tasked this coming year with finding a chief executive to lead the city. What qualities should a candidate possess for this role? How would you define the relationship between a city manager and councilmember?

Donna Vidrine

Donna Vidrine

With three city managers in the past three years, my goal would be to hire a new city manager with a long-term relationship in mind.

There are reasons we’ve seen so much turnover. While city councilmembers can, and often do, place political agendas above other considerations, the job of the city manager is to manage our budget, our human resources and our priorities.

How we conduct ourselves as public officials matters just as much as our expectations of our top city administrator.

When evaluating candidates for city manager, I will be looking for a seasoned professional with a proven track record who has a reputation for being trustworthy, respectful, ethical, and acts with the utmost integrity.

The ability to work with and communicate with everyone on the City Council is important for their success and for ours. Egos and agendas rarely improve the way our city operates.

The city manager should not pick favorites and should be accountable not only to the City Council, but also to the public in general. This is a great community, and we deserve a great city manager.

Victor Cabral

Victor Cabral

My foremost priority, if elected to the City Council, will be to find the most qualified and skilled city manager to guide and manage our city over the next decade.

City councilmembers, like directors on the board of a company or nonprofit organization, set the vision and direction for the city. The city manager, by far the most important position serving in our local government, is responsible for implementing that direction and vision through the day-to-day operation of our city’s programs and essential services.

As councilmembers, we must be certain that person reflects the values and has the experience and skills to meet the expectations of our citizens.

We must take the time to carefully evaluate the skill set needed, consider possible improvements to the current organizational structure and functions of our city government offices and departments, and seek citizen and city employee input before making that choice.

Preliminarily, my list of important traits, characteristics and skills needed in a city manager include: prior successful experience as a city manager or equivalent positions and relevant education and degrees; ability to hire, supervise and delegate effectively; ability to think analytically and apply laws and regulations to facts and situations consistently; ability to prepare a city budget that focuses on efficiencies; proven ability as a good time and project manager; an ability to develop and maintain productive working relationships with a wide variety of people and organizations; and should possess a common-sense approach to issues, and strong communication and interpersonal skills.

I would consider it beneficial if the individual is able to live in and become a member of the community.

Mark Enmeier

Mark Enmeier

What the last few years have shown San Clemente residents is that character and integrity matter.

If elected, I will work to find someone who is able to respectfully listen to viewpoints from multiple parties and then humbly discern and propose the best course of action for our city within the scope of the will of the City Council.

This person should have a track record of making sound decisions, is not afraid to admit when they are wrong, and also has the wherewithal to make it right. This person must be able to demonstrate that he or she can lead a staff with compassion and respect.

Furthermore, the city manager should also be able to take direction from the council with diligence, while also being able to speak truthfully about the state of our city. Beyond character, I want to make sure that the candidate has ample amount of experience, is innovative in tackling city issues, can work collaboratively within a budget, and is able to respect and reflect the culture of our town spirit.

Martina McBurney-Wheeler

Martina McBurney-Wheeler

The incoming city manager should have a solid and reputable work history that instills the public trust.

The council that decides who the next city manager will be should examine the following criteria: record of responsiveness to City Council direction and public inquiries; the retention and development of city staff and employees; the ability to bring forth a balanced budget for the council’s approval, along with the ability to oversee improvement projects to infrastructure and new development.

The role of City Council is to create public policy, and the city manager implements it by providing direction and resources to the staff required for the policy’s execution.

I would be remiss if I did not include that the city’s legal services should also be examined and discussed in part of the new leadership that will be taking place.

Shane Hirschman

Shane Hirschman

A prospective city manager should have at least a thorough understanding of the history of San Clemente (e.g., the Ole Hanson Spanish architecture) and Orange County in general.

From a contemporary perspective, a city manager should also acclimate to key local issues, such as homelessness, climate change, e-bikes, traffic, post-pandemic recovery, the controversy behind extending the 241 Toll Road, and other bits of city planning minutiae.

San Clemente is vastly unique from all the Orange County municipalities that I believe a successful city manager will be a jack-of-all-trades and approachable, but also have thick skin in handling criticism on what are often contentious local wedge issues.

As councilmembers, it will certainly be a joint effort in working with the city manager to best serve our residents, and this includes upholding symbiotic relationships with law enforcement, the fire department, nonprofits, environmentalists, developers, city planners, transportation engineers, and virtually every other city agency one can think of.

It’s a daunting role, but manageable by transparent, collaborative teamwork.

Both the City Council and city manager should share the vision to keep our beaches and parks as pristine as possible. In harmony with preserving our natural amenities, we also need to make all the corporate and governmental processes simplified for businesses to thrive.

A creative mindset is key to keeping our city operations efficient, our constituents pleased, all while simultaneously promoting San Clemente’s successes beyond our county, and even California.

Chanel Fetty

Editor’s Note: This candidate did not respond to San Clemente Times’ requests to participate in the Q&A.

Ashley Williams

Editor’s Note: This candidate did not respond to San Clemente Times’ requests to participate in the Q&A.

Aaron Washington

Aaron Washington

Any candidate for chief executive must possess considerable knowledge in finance and budget issues. The candidate should be forward-thinking and able to make tough decisions.

 It would be helpful if he or she has prior experience as an assistant city manager or city manager in another city. He or she should also promote and welcome feedback and input from staff, residents, and City Council, while maintaining a calm demeanor with the highest integrity and trustworthiness.

Finally, our chief executive needs to be a team builder who fosters innovative solutions.

Professionalism and mutual respect are key in any relationship between the city manager and councilmembers. Communications should always be professional without bias toward one member over another.

The City Council establishes policy, while the city manager executes them, but at the same time provides professional and constructive feedback when required. Our city manager needs to communicate with City Council with honesty and straightforwardness, even if that is not what the City Council may want to hear.

This relationship is crucial to the success of our city.

Zhen Wu

Zhen Wu

The quality I look for from a new city manager is the combination of a high level of professional skills and ethics. In addition, the city manager has to be an effective leader who can motivate employees, be approachable by members of the general public, and be able to translate council direction into actions for implementation.

Good knowledge and experience on essential city services, economic and business development, financial management, and inter-agency coordination are essential. Experience and knowledge on coastal communities are highly desired.

The improvements on our financial situation, public satisfaction, efficiency of the operation, and the retention rate of employees are among the metrics I will pay close attention to in the new city manager’s performance, and I will set the expectation clear at the very beginning.

For the relationship between a city manager and councilmember, the council hires the city manager, makes city policies and important decisions on issues, and authorizes the spending. The city manager reports to the council as a body, but not to any individual councilmember.

The city manager should be unbiased toward individual councilmembers and should be a good communicator with the council, individual councilmembers, and the rest of the management team, so the council’s policy and direction can be effectively implemented.

The voters have a rare opportunity to allow our city to have a fresh start with a new City Council and manager team after many tumultuous years. I’m committed to work as a team player and to lead by example in order to restore public trust in our city government.

Thor Johnson

Thor Johnson

The responsibility of the city manager is to carry out the policies set forth by City Council. I’m looking for an individual who has experience managing a coastal city of similar size with a historical culture, and who is part of our community and does not commute from out of town. 

Other necessary and essential qualities for our new city manager include being responsive, humble, respectful, financially conservative, creative, effective, and efficient.

I will foster an environment that promotes open communication between residents, businesses, City Council, and our city manager. It’s important we have a City Council who can bring the city manager, police chief, and all city departments to effectively work together toward our vision of a safer, cleaner, freer San Clemente.

I will work closely with and always be available for residents, businesses, and our city manager.

One responsibility of City Council is to support the city manager to ensure the city is always fully functioning and providing effective services to residents and businesses. I will use my entrepreneurial skills to support our city manager promoting our parks, beaches, and trails remain open, safe and clean; homeless reduction and outreach; a strong and thriving local economy; and financial stability.

To achieve these goals, we must elect a trusted, proven leader who is invested in the success of our city. I am the best-prepared candidate and well-qualified to serve. I would be honored to earn your vote.

Dennis Kamp

Dennis Kamp

The qualities a candidate must possess include self-confidence and emotional intelligence. The candidate must also have team-building, leadership and management skill sets.

Attracting and retaining a city manager is going to be tough, as our declining city culture has run off our last two managers. And, unfortunately, city employees have lost trust with the system, and are frustrated with the number of vacancies, and the workload they needed to absorb due to the city’s inability to fill those positions.

The successful candidate has to rebuild trust.

The city manager should have the following skill sets:

  • Self-confidence, as every single day somebody will be making personal attacks.
  • Emotional intelligence. The job is dealing with people with diverse thinking.
  • Team-building, as City Hall and city residents have lost confidence that the city can work as a team.
  • Leadership to drive our vision and lead the team
  • Manager, to fight the daily fires.

All members of City Council must also possess these same attributes. They are servants to the people and share the responsibility with the city manager to help align the city to fulfill its mission statement.

The relationship between the city manager and City Council must be seamless. Unfortunately, over the last few years, that relationship has deteriorated to a point where it is now a detrimental to the city.

We have to do better. We can do better. Let us vote professionalism back into city government.

Steven Knoblock

Steven Knoblock*

Our new city manager should be an honest and trustworthy, experienced executive with exceptional skills in delegating and follow-up. They should be able to properly predict and maintain San Clemente’s public safety, infrastructure and recreational facilities. 

They should effectively carry out the direction and policies of the City Council. They should be very knowledgeable about the inner workings of a tourist beach town and be able to interact well with other local, state and federal authorities on regional issues, such as water quality, transportation and homelessness. 

They should especially be knowledgeable of the operations of the California Coastal Commission, which has final jurisdiction over San Clemente permits within 1,000 yards of the ocean.

Most of all, they must have a servant’s attitude toward our residents and be capable, along with staff, of making informed decisions, and not be in the habit of hiring consultants to make and implement local policies.

Next week, we ask the candidates what steps they believe the city should take toward addressing homelessness.

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