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‘Well-Respected Administrator’ Named Deputy City Manager for Santa Maria

Jason Stilwell's strong budgeting background pushed him to the top of the nearly four dozen candidates who applied for the job

Jason Stillwell has been hired as deputy city manager for Santa Maria. He previously worked for Santa Barbara County as the assistant chief executive officer.
Jason Stillwell has been hired as deputy city manager for Santa Maria. He previously worked for Santa Barbara County as the assistant chief executive officer. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A familiar name with a background in government budgeting has been picked for the vacant deputy city manager job for the City of Santa Maria.

Jason Stilwell will fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Rhonda Barnhard, City Manager Rick Haydon said Tuesday night.

“Mr. Stilwell is a very well-respected administrator,” Haydon said.

Stilwell, who started Monday, will handle administrative matters, primarily budgeting and city operations, while another deputy city manager, Andrew Tse, deals with labor negotiations and human resources.

Stilwell, 47, 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.

“I was taller with darker hair before that,” he jokes now.

His budgeting background pushed him to the top of the nearly four dozen candidates who applied for the job, Haydon said. 

“He has an excellent reputation as an expert in budgeting and finance,” Haydon said during the council meeting. “Having a strong budgeting and finance background is exactly what we were looking for in the City of Santa Maria.”

Among his duties while employed with the county, Stilwell served as chief of staff for the Mission County Formation Commission, which is where Councilman Jack Boysen became familiar with his skills in 2004-05. The governor-appointed commission examined whether to split Santa Barbara County, a proposal voters rejected.

“I can definitely say if he’s remembered half of what he knew back then he’s going to be a great asset to us,” Boysen said. 

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 last fall under a mutual agreement with the City Council after coming under months of criticism and having residents call for his firing.

For the past six months, he held a temporary job for the City of San Luis Obispo to complete two key projects. 

A number of factors prompted him to apply for the Santa Maria job. 

“It’s a great community. It’s a larger city so there’s a variety of challenges, so it’s professionally rewarding,” Stilwell said. “I wanted to be in a place where I could make a difference in serving the community.”

Santa Maria city government has a good reputation, he said, adding he was familiar with the operations from his time with the county.

The job also keeps him, wife Julie and son Brody close to Stilwell’s parents in the Five Cities.

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. 

“It’s really a rewarding career being able to serve the community,” he added.

He holds a master’s degree in public administration and a doctorate degree in public affairs.

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

Stilwell also is one of two in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties to hold a credential from the International City/County Management Association, Haydon said.

After the turmoil in Carmel, Stilwell hasn't ruled out leading a city again, but for now he is happy to serve as a deputy.

“It’s not so much the title, it’s the type of work I get to do, and there’s a lot of exciting things going on in Santa Maria,” he said. 

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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