SALINAS, Calif. (KION) With a COVID-19 crisis still at a boiling point, a deep economic crisis hanging over the nation and with the budget of Salinas expecting to be $19 million in the red, the new city manager faces big challenges when he or she takes on the job.
The search for a new executive for Monterey County's largest city is narrowing down. Out of almost 80 applicants for the job, current leaders have dwindled the search to four. The City of Salinas has not released the names of these candidates just yet.
Even as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on without an end in sight, construction around the city goes on. A soon-to-be fast food chain in town, a brand new Chick-fil-A, looks like it is making some progress, as is the city's main street streetscape project, considered a thorn by many downtown businesses impacted by construction.
Councilman Steve McShane says he will be looking for a city manager who has a vision to create a safe space for businesses to grow.
"I have to say with the next city manager, that's going to be part of it. But I have to also say housing, affordable housing, the future growth area… there's a lot of heavy stuff that's going to take more than just somebody that walks in and is still learning on the job," said McShane.
The structural budget deficit, stemming from health insurance costs and retirement benefits, looms over the future financial health of Salinas. COVID-19 and related economic struggles are not going away anytime soon either.
"Ultimately, as we're going into a potential economic recession, we need to have someone in that position that understands how to balance the budget, but also diversify revenue and make sure that we have a strong plan for economic recovery at the city level," said Anthony Rocha, who currently leads the race for Salinas' District 6 seat by a considerably wide margin.
While both men have similar views on what qualifications of a new city manger should be, including being able to work in a city with a large farmworker population, there is disagreement on the process of selecting one so far.
"The business of the City of Salinas is no different than the business of your family or of a small business. We just couldn't wait, we had to start the process and we did," said McShane.
"The process should've never begun until we had that new council in there because when you have 78 applicants and you narrow it down to four, and I have to vote on four people, I don't know what the other 74 had that were disqualifying," said Rocha.
City staff say given the recent election and to respect the voters' choices, second interviews of the remaining candidates will happen after the new mayor and councilmembers have been sworn into office. That could happen sometime in December, according to Rocha.
PREVIOUS ARTICLE: Salinas city officials are still in the process of recruiting a new City Manager after the retirement of the last City Manager, Ray Corpuz.
The city said six candidates were interviewed, but the City Council has since narrowed down the list of candidates and has invited them back for a second interview.
The second interviews will not happen until the new Mayor- and City councilmembers-elect are sworn into office.
"Selecting Salinas' next City Manager is one of the more important decisions the City Council will make," said Mayor Pro Tem Christie Cromeenes. "To ensure the community is represented in the decision, the City Council believes the next City Council should participate in that decision. We feel we have identified four of the best-qualified candidates for this position, all of them from diverse backgrounds and with a broad amount of experience. It will now be up to the next Mayor and City Council to select their choice for the next City Manager."
Not all of the votes are in for Monterey County yet. The race for City Council District 1 is a nearly even split with Carla Gonzalez leading by 8 votes against Scott Davis. So far, Orlando Osornio is in the lead for District 4 with 40% of the vote, and Anthony Rocha is in the lead for District 6 with 49%.
So far, Kimbley Craig is in the lead for Mayor with 37% of the vote, and Chris Barrera is currently in second place with 33%. The City was forced to elect a new mayor after the death of Joe Gunter in June.