Friday, April 27 , 2018, 1:36 am | Fair 50º


Local News

Santa Maria City Manager Reflects On Business-Like Approach

Council bids farewell to Rick Haydon after two decades, including leading Santa Maria staff since late 2011

Members of the Santa Maria City Council pose Tuesday night with City Manager Rick Haydon, who is retiring this week after 30 years in local government. From left are Michael Moats, Etta Waterfield, Mayor Alice Patino, Jack Boysen and Mike Cordero. Click to view larger
Members of the Santa Maria City Council pose Tuesday night with City Manager Rick Haydon, who is retiring this week after 30 years in local government. From left are Michael Moats, Etta Waterfield, Mayor Alice Patino, Jack Boysen and Mike Cordero. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

With financial challenges facing cities throughout California, Santa Maria leaders have taken a multi-pronged, and often creative, approach to keep the budget healthier than counterparts, according to departing City Manager Rick Haydon. 

A new regional landfill, a computer server farm, a 700-megahertz radio system and fiber-optic system — all of which include options for other agencies to participate — will provide additional revenue for the city in the coming years as Santa Maria, and its counterparts across the state, face skyrocketing pension costs.

“One of the things that sets our city apart from other cities and one of the things I’m most proud of is the entrepreneurial spirit and the business-like approach we take to run this local government,” he said.

Across a 30-year career that is wrapping up this week, Haydon said, he worked to dispel the pre-conceived notions that public agencies operate inefficiently.

“By virtue of our mission statement, it’s to provide the highest quality of service in the most efficient, cost-effective and courteous manner possible, and I like to say that we do,” he added.

Haydon was recognized during Tuesday night’s Santa Maria City Council meeting after attending more 500 such sessions. 

“Rick Haydon has given so much to the city of Santa Maria for many years,” Mayor Alice Patino said, noting he had to replace multiple department heads, oversee the city during Operation Matador and more.

“The people of Santa Maria have benefited from a man who has given his knowledge and expertise as a manager (for) a well run city,” she added. “He is respected not only on the Central Coast but throughout the state. We will miss Rick Haydon.”

Last month, the City Council agreed to give Haydon a 10 percent performance-based pay bonus, of more than $20,000, as mentioned in his contract. City Attorney Gil Trujillo received a similar performance-based bonus, though it was less than the city manager's.

Assistant City Manager Jason Stilwell has been promoted to replace Haydon.

Haydon’s belief that government agencies can run efficiently stems from a childhood spending many Saturdays accompanying his disabled veteran father to get medical care, and seeing his parents’ frustrations, dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

It spurred Haydon, who grew up in Oxnard, to pursue a career in hospital administration to make a difference. Realization set in and Haydon decided one person could not make a different in the huge bureaucracy of the VA. so he set his sights on public administration.

“Because I was enamored with the idea that local government can help change the quality of life for individuals and you can make a difference,” he said. 

After graduating from Fresno State University in 1984 and working for Fresno, Monterey and Dinuba, Haydon landed a job in Santa Maria as assistant to then City Manager Tim Ness in 1996.

At the end of 2011, Haydon became city manager, and weeks later encountered a huge tragedy.

In 2012, Santa Maria police shot and killed a fellow officer who pulled his service weapon during an investigation the man had conducted improper relationship with a female police Explorer. 

“It was probably one of the most challenging times in my life professionally,” Haydon said

The city’s top employee came under criticism, but said he delayed making personnel changes because he sought systematic changes in the department.

“By nature, I’m an analyst. I analyze things and then I plan for things,” he said. 

“It’s not every day that you can find Ralph Martin,” he said of the former chief hired to transform the agency. “I could not make a decision until I knew what my Plan B was going to be.”

Five years later, Haydon proudly reflects on the resurrected agency now housed in a new police station on West Betteravia Road. 

“From where it was six, seven years ago, to where it is today, is night and day,” he said. “Not only physically, the physical department itself, but also operationally and tactically. It’s a new department.”

Voter approval of Measure U, a sales tax hike for public safety, is another highlight of his tenure, he said.

“The reason why is because the voters had confidence in the city that they would provide us a revenue source. The thing I’m proud of is that we delivered the promise,” he said, adding the majority of the revenue has gone to public safety. 

While Santa Maria may have more income than its counterparts, some big challenges await city leaders — negotiations with three employee unions, Measure U sales tax renewal and rising pension costs.

Additionally, district elections will provide new challenges for staff to address demands.

“There’s a lot of competing interests right now and competing projects,” he added.

After a career filled with challenges and rewards, Haydon decided to retire now because the time is right and it will allow him to spend time with family, he said. He and his wife of 27 years, Cherri, have three children. 

“It’s a nice opportunity to re-establish family connections and pursue other interests,” Haydon added. 

Tuesday night, council members praised Haydon's service for the city, especially during some bleak times.

"I was really awed by your ability to navigate the city through those tough times and enable us to come out even stronger than we are," Councilman Jack Boysen said. 

"What you have given to city of Santa Maria with your involvement in the city of Santa Maria, you have always cared about this city just like we do," the mayor said. "Thank you from all of us."

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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