Friday, October 19 , 2018, 8:56 am | Fair 49º


Santa Maria Hires Jason Stilwell as Next City Manager

Currently assistant city manager, he has 25 years experience working for city and county governments

Jason Stilwell has been named city manager in Santa Maria, replacing the retiring Rick Haydon.
Jason Stilwell has been named city manager in Santa Maria, replacing the retiring Rick Haydon. (Noozhawk file photo)

Assistant City Manager Jason Stilwell has been named to fill Santa Maria’s top job, the City Council announced Tuesday night following a closed-session meeting.

Stilwell, who has 25 years of city and county management experience, will replace City Manager Rick Haydon, who announced plans to retire Dec. 5 after 12 years. 

“The city is very fortunate to have someone with Jason’s expertise and experience on staff and the City Council was very impressed by Jason’s recent involvement in the city’s budgeting process, the district elections activities, and the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety, to name a few,” said Mayor Alice Patino. “Succession planning and mentoring has been a hallmark of the city’s training efforts over the last few years, and Jason’s hiring is a testament to this effort.” 

The city manager oversees Santa Maria's 10 operating departments, including more than 700 employees, and an overall annual budget of $162.5 million.

“I look forward to continuing to serve the community,” Stilwell said. “Together, we will strive for a smooth transition, and continue to make progress and earn both the City Council and community’s support and confidence."

His contract is expected to be reviewed and finalized at a future City Council meeting.

At the time of Stilwell's hiring in 2015 as deputy city manager, Haydon called him “a well-respected administrator.”

Stilwell came to the city as a familiar face with a background in government budgeting, propelling him into the spot as the top candidate among four dozen applicants.

He previously worked for eight years as Santa Barbara County’s assistant chief executive officer, a job where he earned a reputation as the budget czar during the especially tough financial times brought on by the recession.

Stilwell also served as chief of staff for the Mission County Formation Commission, a grassroots effort to split Santa Barbara County.

In 2011, Stilwell left the Santa Barbara County job to become city administrator for Carmel-by-the-Sea in Monterey County. 

However, he left that job in fall 2014 under a mutual agreement with the City Council after coming under months of criticism and having residents call for his firing.

A Monterey County Grand Jury report released after Stilwell left pinned blame on the Carmel-by-the-Sea City Council, residents, “the old guard” fearing change, new administration and a local newspaper..

The panel labeled Carmel’s operations as “undisciplined” prior to Stilwell’s hiring.

“Mr. Stilwell was a well-qualified city administrator who recognized and diligently addressed widespread city management problems and tried to implement shifting council priorities, maintaining a professional attitude in spite of external pressure and criticism,” the report noted.

Additionally, the panel said its investigation found “no credible evidence to support allegations of contract splitting, cronyism or any other wrongdoing under Mr. Stilwell or Ms. (Susan) Paul.”

Stilwell had hired Paul, who previously worked for Santa Barbara County.

After leaving Caramel, Stilwell also did a interim stint with the city of San Luis Obispo.

While attending Cal Poly and majoring in pre-law, a college advisor — Allen Settle, then a San Luis Obispo City Council member who later became mayor — redirected Stilwell’s career toward government.

He holds a master’s degree in public administration from San Jose State University and a doctorate degree in public affairs from the University of Colorado.

Additionally, he has been a professor of public policy at California State University, Northridge.

Stilwell is active in the community as a member of the Santa Maria Breakfast Rotary Club, volunteers with Serve Santa Maria, the Homeless Coalition, at the Salvation Army of Santa Maria, and is a long-standing member of the International City Management Association (ICMA). 

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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