P. Lamont Ewell — San Diego city manager — has been named Santa Monica city manager effective Monday, January 16th.
Ewell will succeed Santa Monica city manager Susan McCarthy, who retires Thursday, December 8th.
The Santa Monica City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday, November 22nd, to appoint Ewell.
“He was promoted by the San Diego City Council from assistant city manager to city manager in 2004 to help the city navigate a very tough financial issue,” said Santa Monica mayor Pam O’Connor.
“The confidence of the San Diego City Council and the experience he has gained throughout his career gave us every reason to believe he is the right person at this time for Santa Monica.”
Ewell will receive a base salary of $245,000, relocation assistance, and a loan from the city to purchase a home in Santa Monica.
His appointment follows a nationwide recruitment process that attracted more than 60 candidates and six finalists.
Santa Monica assistant city manager Gordon Anderson will serve as acting city manager from Friday, December 9th, until Monday, January 16th.
“Santa Monica is highly regarded for being one of the most proactive cities in the nation,” Ewell said. “I am elated with the opportunity to join in helping to find solutions, whether the issue is the extension of transportation modes, traffic congestion, protecting the integrity of unique neighborhoods, affordable housing, or homelessness.”
Ewell began his career in 1975 as a firefighter in Compton. He was promoted through the ranks in Compton and Prince George’s County, Maryland.
He held deputy fire marshal and deputy fire chief positions in those two cities before coming back to California in October 1991 as fire chief of Oakland.
Thirteen days after arriving in Oakland, the Oakland Hills wildfire broke out above the hills of Oakland and Berkeley.
The Oakland Hills fire burned more than 1,600 acres, killed 25 people and injured 150 others, destroyed almost 2,450 homes and 440 apartment and condominium units, and caused an estimated $1.5 billion in damages.
Ewell’s management of the fire disaster and rebuilding process earned praise and he was promoted to assistant city manager of Oakland.
He also served as Oakland acting city manager before being named city manager of Durham, North Carolina.
In Durham, Ewell restructured the city government to improve services and redevelop downtown areas.
In 2001, he was recruited to San Diego and named assistant city manager before being promoted to city manager last year.
San Diego is the nation’s seventh largest city, has a 1.3 million population, a $2.4 billion city budget, and nearly 11,000 city employees.
Santa Monica has 86,000 residents, a $396 million city budget, and nearly 2,000 city employees.
Ewell’s salary in San Diego was approximately $232,560. His Santa Monica salary of $245,000 is a $12,440 increase.
“Ewell has not only gained administrative experience in three large cities, but he has experience in the fire service as well,” O’Connor said. “His resume is impressive, as are his problem-solving and people skills.”
His 20-month tenure as San Diego city manager was marked with federal investigations by the U.S. attorney’s office and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The San Diego public employee pension system has a $1.4 billion deficit, an auditor refused to accept the city 2003 financial statements, and poor credit ratings have disqualified the city from the municipal bond market.
Former San Diego mayor Dick Murphy resigned in July after financial troubles created a nationwide embarrassment for the city.
Ewell was named San Diego city manager when city manager Michael Uberuaga resigned three months after federal investigations began.
Ewell’s departure in San Diego comes after dealing with ongoing criticism from San Diego city attorney Michael Aguirre — clashes that often took place in public during City Council meetings.
Ewell said he was not forced to resign and made his decision to leave in November last year after San Diego voters approved giving more executive powers to the city mayor.
Ewell says he prefers a city council-city manager government and disliked the fact that major city manager responsibilities had been shifted to a strong-mayor format.
He says he will enjoy working as Santa Monica city manager and that Santa Monica City Council members “are one of the few who address issues head on when most community officials throughout the nation are willing to turn their backs.”
“I have no illusions here and know that the tasks are difficult — difficult because I follow one of the best city managers in the nation, Susan McCarthy,” Ewell said.
Ewell, 52, has a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix and an executive master’s degree in general administration from the University of Maryland.
He and his wife of 28 years, Mary Ewell, have two grown children.
SUSAN MCCARTHY — Last week’s Santa Monica City Council meeting was McCarthy’s last as city manager.
She had been city manager since 1999 after serving five years as assistant city manager.
Her 24-year career with the City of Santa Monica also includes positions as director of the Community and Cultural Services Department, director of personnel, assistant director of administrative services, human resources administrator, and administrative analyst for the city Transportation and Administrative Services Department.
From 1986 to 1992, she left the City of Santa Monica to work for the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum.
“Councilmembers deeply appreciate the qualities McCarthy brought to her position, including good humor and a sharp wit; an incisive mind, depth of knowledge, and amazing memory; an ability to balance many competing community and council interests; and a commitment to good customer service and government accountability,” O’Connor said. “Nothing could have truly prepared her to deal with the serious events of the last few years such as the economic downturn after September 11th, gang and youth violence in Santa Monica, Homeland Security issues, the Farmers Market tragedy, and the retooling of the city’s permit process.”
McCarthy managed a staff of 72 city department and division directors and nearly 2,000 city employees.
“Because her job is to sit there at City Council meetings and not advocate during the meetings, most people do not really know the breadth of her talents,” said former Santa Monica mayor Mike Feinstein. “There are so many issues we have to deal with in this city and she gave her full attention when going from one issue to the next.”
McCarthy said she is retiring because she wants to spend more time traveling with her husband, whose work takes him across the United States, and with her parents, who live on the East Coast.
“I loved Santa Monica when I came here in 1974 and love living here as much today as I did then,” McCarthy said. “Santa Monica is a community that benefits from the extraordinary dedication of people who are willing to get involved in government and neighborhoods.”