Modesto’s city manager and the former chief executive of Santa Barbara County are the two finalists to fill Oxnard’s top position, the city announced Thursday.
Greg Nyhoff, a native of Colorado, became Modesto’s city manager in 2008. Before moving to Modesto, which at 203,000 is roughly the same size as Oxnard, Nyhoff was the assistant city manager of operations in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Wallar left Santa Barbara last year after county supervisors voted 5-0 not to renew her contract, which ran from Nov. 1, 2010, to Oct. 31, 2013, according to minutes from that meeting.
Oxnard will hold a special meeting next week where members of the public can ask the two candidates questions.
Wallar, 58, had been offered a job as the Orange County chief executive last year but turned it down when the sides couldn’t agree on salary, pension and other benefits.
Wallar sought $290,000 but was offered $254,000, according to the Voice of OC, an online news site.
After those talks broke down, Wallar told Santa Barbara County supervisors it was “never an issue of wanting to leave SB but more of a desire to end my career in a larger and challenging organization,” the Santa Barbara Independent reported.
Orange County’s 2013-14 budget was $5.4 billion, while Santa Barbara’s budget was $840 million.
Oxnard’s 2013-14 operating budget was just shy of $365 million.
Wallar was a finalist for the city manager position in Dallas in December but did not get the job.
In a letter of interest to Dallas’ recruiting firm, Wallar said that during her years in public service, she had been successful in developing a “high-performing workforce” and reduced the budget while maintaining services that “ensure public safety, protect children and families, and enhance the overall quality of life.”
Wallar worked for San Diego County between 1999 and 2010, lastly as the deputy chief administrative officer of land-use planning. She was public works director for Little Rock, Ark., from 1993 to 1999.
Wallar could not be reached for comment.
Nyhoff, 54, spent 14 years as city manager of Fountain, Colo., and Montague, Mich., before joining Colorado Springs in 2006, he said.
Nyhoff and his wife have visited Oxnard three times since January and “really loved the diversity of the community. ... I see a gem,” he said.
Modesto is similar to Oxnard, he said, and he’s not deterred by recent upheaval in the community.
“I’m actually thinking I can make a great difference and really turn that around,” Nyhoff said, adding that would involve building partnerships and ethics and bringing trust back to the community. “I’m excited about it.”
Nyhoff earned about $191,000 in base salary in 2011, the city’s website shows.
Oxnard has been without a permanent city manager since January 2012, when the City Council put Ed Sotelo on paid leave. Sotelo, hired in February 1998, spent the final 13 months of his contract on paid leave.
When Sotelo was placed on leave after several closed-door meetings, city officials said the council and Sotelo had “differing views on core issues.”
But Sotelo had butted heads with then-Mayor Tom Holden, and under his watch the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office launched an investigation of alleged malfeasance. No criminal charges were filed but the investigation noted “a clear pattern of fiscal waste by a small number of city officials.”
Former Assistant City Manager Karen Burnham has been interim city manager since February 2012. She received a bump in base pay to roughly $229,000 in June 2012.
Sotelo’s base salary in his final year was $283,000. After pension and other benefits, his compensation package surpassed $411,000.
Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn said he wants to have a public meeting to discuss the proposed salary range.
“Oxnard has had some really unacceptably high salaries for city manager,” he said.
Flynn said the city manager should not earn anywhere near what the president of the United States earns.
“It’s unsustainable,” Flynn said.
Flynn said the council will re-interview the candidates and then vote either after next week’s meeting or a meeting shortly after. He hopes to have someone in place by May 1.
The meeting is planned for 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Residence Inn by Marriott at River Ridge, 2101 W. Vineyard Ave.
— Arlene Martinez is a reporter for the Ventura County Star.