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Friday Update on June 25 2020

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Friday Update on June 25 2020


A couple items:

  • July 2 will be a special meeting of the City Council to consider the Urban Growth Boundary Initiative. The meeting will be on zoom, so look to the City website for the link.
  • July 7 will be the regular City Council Meeting. Topics will include the Walnut 10 Subdivision, I505 Overpass Planning Grant, Elderberry Conservation Area Monitoring and an update on Mail/Vote Ballots.
  • Look for more information on Covid-19. The good news is that reopening activities are not necessarily spreading the virus. The bad news is rates are soaring nationally, primarily from family gatherings which is causing huge increases in cases. Spread the word, stay away from your family, wear a mask and stay away from large crowds.
  • Tomorrow is the last 10-10 sign off for Winters Police Officer Creig Urquhart who has served the City for the last 19 years. The Police Department will have a sign off ceremony at 6:00 pm and will give him an escort out of town. Look for lights and sirens up Grant on Friday evening.

Finally, I announced my resignation this week to become the new City Manager in Auburn, California. For the news release, go here: http://www.cityofwinters.org/donlevy-appointed-city-manager-in-auburn/

I have been doing the Friday Update for public distribution now for the past 15 years. In the final weeks, I thought I would take an opportunity to share a little about my story here in Winters. In 19 years as the City Manager of a small town, the stories really pile up, so I thought I would share my journey to today.

How I got here………

So it is June, 2001 and I am sitting in my office in Grand Terrace, a small (14,000 population) city pressed between the cities of Riverside and San Bernardino. We were an upper scale community with the new residents and doctors from the neighboring Loma Linda Medical University living there perched up on a hill overlooking the greater Inland Empire. I was the Assistant City Manager in charge of literally all city services from parks and sewer to capital projects, fire and the county sheriff contract. I had two very young children and a pretty good career.  I loved working in the small city, doing literally everything with a passion for building parks and just getting things done.

The phone rings and it is an executive recruiter named Bobbi Peckham who said a friend of mine (Fred Diaz) had given her my name as someone who she should convince to be the city manager of a little town called “Winters”. She asked if I was interested. First, I asked her “where in the heck is Winters”. She tells me it is near Davis. I asked her “where is Davis”? Her retort with a very sarcastic “do you know where Sacramento is”? And I said, “yes, I know where Sacramento is”!!! She said 30 miles west.

She gave me the rundown on the City, essentially full service with 35 employees, police, fire, public works, water and sewer and a quaint downtown “with a lot of potential”. I asked her how much it paid and she said $90,000. I told her I was making about $130k and she told me that was not possible and that I would need to take a pay cut for this job. I said “no” I was not interested. She said the interviews were the second week of July and I told her that it was not possible because I had a scheduled two week vacation with my family in Northern California and would not be available. She offered to pay for me to stay in a hotel anywhere in Northern California if I would come for the interview (which I never collected on). I figured a free hotel room and a visit with some people would be worth it. I told her ok and we set the interview- July 8.

Our first look at Winters……..

The kids and I had driven up a few days before because my wife Kathy (a neonatal intensive care nurse) was working.  The interview was on a Monday so Kathy flew into the Oakland Airport on the Sunday. The plan was to stay in a hotel in Vacaville, check out the town, go to the interview then head up to my mothers summer house in Arnold, Calavaras County.

We checked into the hotel then headed to Winters where we planned a late lunch and a tour around the City.

We arrived into Downtown at about 2:30 and the place was empty! The Putah Creek Café had just closed and the Buckhorn did not open until 4:30. The only business open in Downtown was the Tienda Liquor Store. The hardware store was closed, Pizza Factory was out of business and Dean’s Frosty was not open either and for some reason we did not see the Roundtable. Really the only businesses open in town seemed to be the Chevron out by the freeway. Legitimately, you could have fired a cannon down Main Street and not hit a car, the place was empty!! (I told Kathy that Winters must be either heavily Quaker or Mormon religion).

No lunch, a bag of chips and some sodas found us at City Park and the coolest wooden playground I had ever seen. The best thing I did in my career was build parks and this playground was just the best. Not plastic, a little dangerous and places for kids to hide and be kids. The most intriguing item at the park was a plaque which said the playground was built by the community over a seven day period. It had a huge list of names and donations. In one way, I did not believe it but it really stuck with me that a community could build such an awesome amenity for the children.

The interview……..

My interview was on Monday morning and the good news was that the Café was open for breakfast so Kathy and the kids had a place to eat. The only businesses which were open in Downtown that Monday morning was the Café, First Northern Bank, Eagle Drug, Tienda Liquor and Kimes Ace Hardware. The only other businesses in Downtown which were legitimately operating at that time was the Buckhorn, Winters Eyecare (two days a week), Camilles Salon, Chris’ Florist, the Quilt Shop, Ocean Chinese and Relleno’s Mexican Food.

The interview was upstairs in the Opera House that day and it went GREAT. Beyond my professional qualifications, the focus of the interview was community involvement. A supplemental questionnaire I had completed included a bunch of questions about my what I did to participate in Grand Terrace. I would bet that more than half of the interview talked about my coaching soccer and little league along with my entering various chili cookoffs. Kathy was in PTA and coordinated March of Dimes. The Council was super nice and seemed to care more about family than my background in finance, public safety or redevelopment.

I left the interview for the drive to Arnold. Somewhere out of Stockton my cell phone rings and it is the recruiter. She tells me “congratulations” that I was their #1 candidate and they want me to come back later in the week. I asked her how many were left in the process and she divulges that I was the only one to show up for the interview! My heart just sank and my radar turned on!

Yup, I was the only one to show up for the interview!

“Ok, what’s wrong with the place”? “What do I need to know” and “Why was I the only one to show up”? She immediately works to reassure me that there was nothing wrong and that small towns just had a tough time recruiting qualified applicants. She tells me that I need to come back and really get to know the Winters and the City Council. The big time sell was on! I told her she needed to find another candidate before I would come back. She said she would try but I needed to come back which I agreed to do on Thursday.

John and Kathy meet Winters…….

Kathy and I drove down from Arnold on the Thursday and we arrived at around 10:00. I had a brief meeting with the interim city manager who provided me information on the City budget and financial condition. He told me there was a lot to do on formatting for the budget but the financial condition of the City was solid. I asked for a couple items to review and he said he would send them.

I was then met by Councilmember Harold Anderson who said he was taking me to lunch at the Buckhorn. That sounded great and we walked down Main Street and soon ended up at a Rotary Club Meeting. Harold began introducing me to a huge cast of characters which included the likes of Robert Chapman, John Greenwood, Bill Cody, Charley Wallace, Howard Hupe, Larry Justus, John Carbahal, John Barbee, David Hoobyar, Ed Anderson and Jack Graf. There was a lot of give and take that I was being considered for the City Manager job. Charley announces to many of them that I was the only one who showed up for the interview. The group was fun and they asked if I would join the Club if I moved to town. It was a good lunch, program and they all seemed like a fun group.

After lunch, Harold took me down the street to the Winters Express Office on Railroad Ave. In the back room I found my wife Kathy, Councilmember Jiley Romney, City Attorney John Wallace and his assistant/School Board President Mary Jo Rodolfa. The entire discussion focused on our family and children. Jiley and Mary Jo talked about schools and raising children in Winters. John told me that his family ran the newspaper and he was also the town attorney along with Harold. They wanted assurances that we would put our kids in the public schools.

John walked me around the Express Office and I met his parents Newt and Ida. John showed off a picture of Newt in the White House Meeting with John F. Kennedy. I met the Editor, Debra Ramos. I also saw Charley. They all seemed really nice!

I finished my visit with John by talking about the community. Specifically, I asked him about that plaque at City Park and the playground structure. “Was that story about the community building that playground in a week really true”? John got very serious and said the story “was absolutely true”! The playground had been financed and built entirely by volunteers. I later told Kathy about the plaque and she said that in talking with Mary Jo and Jiley, they both talked about doing things in the community.

We drove back to Arnold with our heads spinning. Was this a real place? Did we want to move from our roots in Southern California 500 miles north to a little town. The entire day seemed surreal and all the people so genuine. That night we camped at Calavaras State Park. The next day while lounging at the pool, my stepfather walks up to me with his arm extended to “shake the hand of the new City Manager of Winters”. The recruiter had called and told him they were going to offer me the job. I was floored, excited and sick to my stomach all at the same time!

Over the course of the next month, the Council came to Grand Terrace for a site visit and to meet City Council and Community members who I worked with there. They eventually offered me the $90,000 salary and I took it. Kathy and I were terrified but we determined Winters would be the perfect place to raise our children.

So we are deciding to take a 40% cut in pay, move 500 miles away from family and friends, Kathy would need to find another job and all because we thought the people were nice. Yup, the plan sounds solid!

The Offer and Hire……

In August, I flew to Winters for the City Council Meeting to ratify the employment agreement. The City Council was Chris Calvert, Tom Stone, Jiley Romney, John Frazier and Harold Anderson. The only other people in the room were John Wallace as City Attorney and Charley Wallace representing the Winters Express.  After the vote, Charley took a photo of me and Mayor Tom Stone (which is one of my cherished possessions).

The Council said we would all go out to dinner at the Buckhorn to celebrate which we did! The meal was incredible and everyone in the place seemed to know each other.

Before we left the City Council Chamber to go to the Buckhorn, Charley asks me “how long are you going to stick around before moving on” (I was 36 at the time and this was a good stepping stone job to bigger things)? I told him that we would see how everything works out. Charley smiled and told me that “you will never be considered to be from Winters and your kids can only “be from Winters” if they graduate from Winters High School”.  I took that as a challenge and a sense of community ownership and pride. I liked it and have always felt it was heartfelt from Charley.

I am really proud to say that my kids are Winters High School graduates and we will always consider ourselves to be from Winters.

Next Segment: My first days on the job.

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