Moving Forward: Scott Collins: His Message & Our Tribute

Written by Judy Salamacha

March 8, 2023

Scott Collins was first to say “Love it!” about Morro Bay Maritime Museum’s Family Fun Day Blueberry Muffin Contest. Pictured: Paula Radke donated perpetual trophy; Tourism Board Director Amish Patel, Scott Collins, former City Councilman Jeff Heller and Chamber CEO Erica Crawford offered free tastings of muffins donated by Daisy’s Organic Coffee & Tea (winner), Top Dog Coffee Bar, Buttercup Bakery & French Bakery. Also pictured MC Dead-Air Dave and MBMM committee member Kendall Welch. Photo submitted

The Scott Collins family is not leaving us as active residents of Morro Bay. He sincerely loves the friends he has made and looks forward to building additional community collaborations benefitting Morro Bay and SLO County. Accepting the Morro Bay City Manager position five years ago was more than a personal career-track-climb to another city. Morro Bay is where he decided he wanted to live and raise his family. Strategically, he bit the financial bullet and purchased their family home in Morro Bay.

“We need to protect our bird sanctuary,” Collins said, “our estuary, our defunct volcano, complete the walkway to Cayucos, and maintain our small business culture. When we really look at what we have all in one place, this is why our people show up passionately at city council and volunteer for community events. And why I will continue to be a resident.”

Don’t be surprised to see him someday at the city council podium lobbying with Living Treasure Jack Smith for a first-class skateboard park – who knew Scott is a skateboarder!

However, sometimes the universe offers us a new path to live out our passions. “I was offered an opportunity that draws on my personal heart strings,” Collins said. 

His first day as executive director for the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo (HASLO) was March 6. 

“There is a waiting list of 1,000 people that need housing in our county – many more not even on the list,” he said noting the nonprofit is already producing a HASLO project on Atascadero Road in Morro Bay, a 35-unit, low-income apartment complex. He intends to create more work-force housing.

Collins believes his strongest accomplishment has been to build a capable executive team. “We’ve been able to attract some skilled, talented people to our city. They came from other places to a community willing to be creative and try things. They all care and chose to be here. I hope the community will remember they are doing a very hard job.”

Besides a highly contested reclamation plant, a pandemic that shuttered the business community and major flooding from rising creeks and torrential rains that literally made Morro Bay a county island, he credits his team’s diligent work to provide for the immediate needs of the community. Besides staff, he included MB Chamber of Commerce CEO Erica Crawford, who he said has worked side-by-side on his team to provide pandemic and weather-related information and support to any and all affected businesses plus economic development leadership.

“We have infrastructure that was built in WWII, 50-60-year-old storm drains, harbor, sewer plant, buildings,” Collins said. “Our challenge is to balance and manage what is necessary to do without over burdening the rate payer. That demands a thriving business community and willing residents working together and creatively reinvesting back into our community. How do we balance today’s rapid technological and societal changes while creating a needed vibrant business community without compromising a bit of the small-town culture we treasure? We must stay in the conversation, be respectful and build on many ways to connect with each other to maintain and create the community we all want to live in.”

So, who is Scott Collins? A past Citizen of the Year and active community member, Nancy Castle, might have captured the essence of a Scott Collins many might not know yet. During the recent flooding on North Main where her home and business (AGP Video) is, Castle was clearing mounds of mud and trying to move furniture upstairs so she could continue to live there. She heard a knock and opened her door to a young man. “Who are you?” she asked befuddled. “I’m Scott Collins, your City Manager. How can I help?” And he helped move her furniture upstairs as good neighbors will do.

Erica Crawford said, “I know I am a better person and a better professional because I spent five years and one global pandemic with Scott at our regular meetings one hour a week, one week at a time.” She echoes how many of us feel. “I wish him all success and joy in his new position and will miss him!”

This writer met Scott soon after he was on the job. As he did with many others, he invited me into his office to share my thoughts about Morro Bay and asked what priorities I hoped he might include in his scope of work. I mentioned several options, but key for me was to repair the once close bond and communication our city leadership and Morro Bay Rotary had in years past. Scott fulfilled my hope and became an active member. 

“Scott was hired at a time when our city was in turmoil,” said John Solu, the -2022-23 rotary president. “He came in with a warm smile, a calm demeanor, great tattoos, and an incredible ear for listening to the community. At the time we were involved in the tourism industry. We were extremely surprised when Scott said, ‘I don’t know anything about running a tourism business, and I’m not going to tell successful people what I think should be done.  I’m going to rely on their advice to make us all successful.’ True to his word he put focus groups together of leaders in different industries including tourism and he let them help guide the process toward success.  He saw the true value of the partnership between the hotel industry and the City. The biggest compliment we could give Scott is to relay that his actions and his deeds brought back mutual respect and a new and solid level of trust between the City administration and the tourism industry.” 

I’ve gathered several comments from other community members and his management team. My apologies if room did now allow their complete comments. Each offered best wishes for success at HASLO.

Mayor Carla Wixom: “The community, as well as myself, certainly appreciate Scott’s service, leadership and dedication to Morro Bay. It is always difficult to lose such a valued staff member and team leader.” Scott’s comments about our newly elected Mayor Wixom echoed back their mutual admiration and trust to make things happen.

Michael Wambot, executive director of Visit Morro Bay: “When I started my role, he was instrumental in my introduction to the city and the community. Scott’s vision for tourism has helped Visit Morro Bay gain an impactful multiyear strategic plan, new branding, and an overall sense of pride in tourism.”

Sarah Johnson-Rios, assistant city manager: “Scott embodies the spirit of public service in his work. He truly cares not only about the Morro Bay community, but also about the City organization and the women and men who deliver critical City services. His humility, commitment, and element of fun that he brings to the team will be sorely missed.”

Greg Kwolek, public works director: “Scott knows instinctually that you get the best outcomes when you take care of your people. He’s done that with City staff, and as a result he’s created an organization that works hard and loves what they do. This accomplishment is especially impressive given the timing with high profile projects, such as the WRF program, where he showed unrelenting support for his staff. The spirit of professionalism and the internal bonds that were created here under his guidance will remain as his legacy.”

Dana Swanson, city clerk: “I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Scott the past 5-plus years.  He is a dedicated leader – intelligent, articulate, open-minded, committed to personal and professional growth. He’s also a great listener able to bring diverse perspectives toward a common goal.”

Chris Neumeyer, city attorney: “Scott is an amazing, brilliant and kind leader. His leadership has been critical to seeing the City though major projects, the City’s response to a pandemic, and managing the City’s day-to-day affairs. Scott has an ability to both inspire as well as get things done.”

Scot Graham, community development director: “Scott is a leader that is not interested in personal accolades, but instead seeks to inspire, support, and motivate others in the organization to push their boundaries, raise their standards, and aspire to more.  To this end, Scott takes little to no credit for City successes, instead choosing to acknowledge and recognize the staff responsible for the achievement.” 

Cindy Jacinth, senior planner, Planning Department: “A great city manager, Scott has always supported staff and respected others’ opinions and input. Smart, thorough, with a pragmatic style that I thought was a good fit for the community.”

Becka Kelly, harbor patrol supervisor: “Scott listened and remained positive to find solutions. We are sad to lose Scott’s attention and leadership now that we are making progress for our harbor’s future.  He was understanding, had innovative ideas and made careful decisions.”

Rachael Hendricks, human resource manager: “I found his leadership qualities inspiring. He leads by example, fosters a positive work environment, and encourages open communication.”   

Chad Ouimet, chief building inspector: “Scott has provided the needed leadership to increase staff morale and most importantly, update crucial customer service positions that have been neglected for years. I believe his focus and vision on employee relations and proper staffing levels should be the gold standard for Morro Bay’s success in the future.”

Kirk Carmichael, recreation service manager: “Scott Collins is one of the best people this City has seen in decades. He is smart, kind, fair, and wise as well as educated in public administration and experienced in city management. He guided this City through some very difficult times, made much needed change, tackled large projects without hesitation, while fostering a positive, collaborative work environment for his staff.  He, hands down, is the best boss I have ever had.”

Morro Bay Fire Chief Daniel McCrain: “Scott is a dedicated, strong, but humble city manager. He has fostered an environment of collaboration and teamwork to provide the highest level of service to the community.”

Morro Bay Police Chief Amy Watkins: “Scott cares about his staff. He was always willing to listen to anyone with an idea or issue that was brought to him. He always kept an open door and open mind. I appreciated the respect and trust that he gave his staff to do their jobs.”

Susan Stewart, planning commissioner and Beads by the Bay downtown business owner, probably said it best for so many of us: “I’m sure plenty of people will talk about Scott’s deep caring for Morro Bay, his compassion for its people, his sense of humor and the balance he created between the needs of the larger group and the desires of individuals. But for me one of the things that stood out was how special and essential he made me feel as a member of the community and the various boards I have served on. He probably made everyone feel this way. It’s a gift of his kind of leadership, and I think it made us all rise-up that much higher. Many thanks to Mr. Collins, and all the best for the future!”

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