City Manager to Leave in March

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.

February 9, 2023

Turnover of Morro Bay’s leadership team continues with the City Manager announcing he was leaving in March for a job in the private, non-profit sector.

City Manager Scott Collins became the latest city leader to leave Morro Bay in the past two years. He plans to go sometime in early March. Collins is leaving to become executive director for the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo (HASLO). 

His departure is the latest in a string of departures mainly due to retirements. Over the past couple of years, Morro Bay has gotten a new fire chief, public works director, city engineer, maintenance supervisor, utilities director, assistant city manager/finance director, and most-recently a new harbor director. 

It currently has an interim police chief, (police commander) Amy Watkins, following the Dec. 31 retirement of Chief Jody Cox, a position that Collins had been working to fill.

Now, the City Council will have to decide how to go about finding his replacement and could potentially name an interim G.M. Under such circumstances in the past, the City has brought in retired city managers but has also named the second in command (normally the assistant C.M. or finance director) to fill in while a permanent replacement is found.

That’s how Collins came to the City, being hired by Interim City Manager Martin Lomieli in 2017.  Lomeli was brought in to fill in after former City Manager David Buckingham left.

Since Collins came to Morro Bay from Santa Cruz, the City has, “received permits and funding for the Water Reclamation Facility, which is nearing completion of two of the three major project components; weathered the COVID-19 pandemic; received nearly $20 million in state, federal, county, and local grants for City programs and infrastructure projects; expanded recreation programming; enhanced community engagement efforts; stabilized City finances; improved employee compensation; and strengthened regional partnerships,” according to a news release form the City.

“It has been an absolute honor,” Collins said, “to serve the Mayor, City Council, staff and community as your City Manager. I came into the position in 2017 not knowing what to expect, and to be completely honest, a bit nervous about how I would be received, and if I could do a good job. Those worries were unfounded.”

The City and community have been good to Collins and his family. “This community, the staff, and city councilmembers and mayors [past and present],” he said, “have been nothing but kind, welcoming, supportive, and willing to come together to make positive change. Morro Bay is a special place, and I am proud of what we have done as a City to maintain its uniqueness and help improve the quality of life here.”

At HASLO, he’ll be helping one of the county’s top builders of affordable housing. “I am very excited about this new opportunity to serve the San Luis Obispo region working for the Housing Authority; however, I will miss the City team and the culture of belonging and authenticity we have created together.” HASLO is in the midst of building a 35-unit, low- income apartment complex on Atascadero Road.

Collins believes the new, all-women city council can handle the job. “I am supremely confident,” he said, “that under the leadership of the mayor, city councilmembers, executive team, and staff that the City and community will thrive into the future.”

The new mayor is happy for Collins. “I am happy for Mr. Collins in taking on this important regional opportunity to address affordable housing needs,” Mayor Carla Wixom said. “However, I will miss his leadership and compassion, which for me was evident in how he and the City staff and volunteers responded to the recent storm emergency and supported those in our community most impacted by flooding.”

She wished Collins happy trails. “On behalf of the city council and staff,” Mayor Wixom said, “we wish him the best of good luck and thank him for his service to our community.”

The city council was expected to meet in closed session last week to devise a transition plan, and possibly name an interim manager. In the past, searches for a new city manager have been opened up nationwide, with on at least one occasion, council members serving on an ad hoc committee flying across the U.S. to interview candidates. 

Special committees of citizens have also been named to sort through applicants and conduct some interviews. The 2017 recruitment for city manager that resulted in Collins being hired had 46 applicants for the job, making the selection process somewhat difficult to navigate.

The City has also in the past hired consultants to do the recruitment and narrow the field of candidates, with a subcommittee of councilmembers making a final recommendation to the full council to vote on.

Under the City’s current salary schedule the city manager is paid from $194,179 in the first step on the pay scale, to $214,338 on the fifth and top step of the pay scale. Added on top of that are a generous benefits package including medical insurance, retirement and more.

The city manager hires and fires the department heads and indirectly oversees all City departments except city attorney, which in Morro Bay is a law firm hired by and answerable to the city council. The council also directly oversees the city manager.

The city manager has the authority to settle relatively minor legal disputes like trip-falls on upturned sidewalks, though there is a limit on the amount he can authorize. 

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