Assistant City Manager Leaving

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

October 6, 2023

Morro Bay’s Assistant City Manager/Administrative Services Director, Sarah Johnson-Rios, has left the City to become ACM for Sunnyvale, Calif.

Morro Bay’s new city manager will have her first big personnel decision to make, after the assistant city manager gave notice and is taking a job in Sunnyvale.

Yvonne Kimball, who just took over as Morro Bay City Manager on Aug. 14, will now have to replace Assistant City Manager/Administrative Services Director, Sarah Johnson-Rios, who gave notice that Oct. 4 would be her last day in Morro Bay.

She is slated to start in Sunnyvale as their assistant city manager on Oct. 23, according to a news release from Kimball.

Johnson-Rios came to Morro Bay in June 2021. She had been the Assistant City Manager in Paso Robles before former City Manager Scott Collins hired her to fill a job that had been left open for a couple of years.

Though her job title didn’t reflect it, Johnson-Rios was also the City’s finance director, having replaced Jennifer Callaway, who left in Fall 2020 to become the city manager in Truckee, Calif. 

Former San Luis Obispo City Manager, Katy Lichtig was brought in as interim finance director in November 2020, and worked on the 2021-22 City Budget. 

Johnson-Rios has put together the past couple of budgets. Collins at the time said Johnson-Rios was chosen out of some 30 applicants. 

Kimball highlighted Johnson-Rios’ short tenure in Morro Bay. 

“During her tenure,” Kimball said, “she rebuilt the City’s finance team after pandemic-induced layoffs and turnover; implemented a more user-friendly City budgeting platform; updated the City’s purchasing policies to reflect best practices; and strengthened the City’s information technology services.”

She’s done award-winning work. “Under Ms. Johnson-Rios’ leadership,” Kimball said, “the City received annual Awards from the Government Finance Officers Association [GFOA] for ‘Excellence in Financial Reporting’ for the City’s Annual Comprehensive Financial Report, and for Distinguished Budget Presentation for the City’s annual budgets.”

It’s helped that the City’s finances, even through the COVID pandemic mess remained relatively healthy, despite the business disruptions that were brought on by the State’s pandemic response edicts. She even managed to make progress fixing the City’s shortfalls with regards to employee retirement costs.

“Under Ms. Johnson-Rios’s guidance,” Kimball continued, “the City has made further progress at reducing the City’s pension liabilities by establishing and funding a pension trust for the first time. As City Treasurer, Ms. Johnson-Rios oversaw the City’s highest annual interest earnings on record, due in part to staff’s proactive efforts to more actively diversify and manage the City’s investment portfolio.”

Johnson-Rios was gracious in her parting comments. “It has been my honor to serve the Morro Bay community since 2021,” Johnson-Rios said. “I have enjoyed working with dedicated council members, city managers, executive managers, and staff to tackle day-to-day operations and strategic goals.”

She was impressed with the City’s team. “The Morro Bay staff team is one of the most dedicated and tireless teams I have worked with,” Johnson-Rios said, “and what they deliver for this community given resource constraints is commendable. I wish the Morro Bay City team and the broader community the best and will look forward to future visits.”

Kimball said she is sorry to see her go. “While I am sad to see her leaving Morro Bay, my team and I wish Sarah and her family success in her new community. Sarah will be missed.” 

Whomever her replacement is, they will be the fifth new management hire by the City in the past few years, as the fire and police chiefs, harbor director, public works director, city engineer, utilities director, maintenance supervisor and police commander are all relatively new to their positions (the public Works Director Greg Kwolek was hired in 2021, at about the same time as Johnson-Rios.).

Kimball said she is looking to find a temporary replacement to step in while she searches for her replacement. As of deadline, the City had not yet begun to advertise the position. 

Under the current City Salary Schedule, the assistant city manager/administrative services director job pays from $144,000 (at Step 1) to $175,000 (Step 5), plus benefits and retirement.

Sunnyvale, located in Santa Clara County in the South Bay Area, is at 155,805 (as per the 2020 Census), the second largest city in Santa Clara County behind San Jose and the seventh largest city in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

It is the home of Silicon Valley, the high-tech capital of the nation and the birthplace of the video game industry.

In a Sept. 18 news release, Sunnyvale City Manager, Kent Steffens welcomed her aboard. “Sarah impressed everyone on our interview panels with her range of experience and personable nature. I know she’ll be a great fit for our organization and a terrific leader who will help our City continue providing exceptional service to the community. We share her enthusiasm for public service and are looking forward to her joining our team.”

She takes over for Teri Silva, who retired from Sunnyvale at the end of September after 13 years with the city. Silva started out as the town’s director of human resources before getting the ACM job.

According to the news release, Johnson-Rios’ starting salary in Sunnyvale will be $359,000.

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