After a nationwide search for Grass Valley’s new top municipal employee, local leaders unanimously agreed Monday on a familiar face from the Sierra foothills neighborhood.
Auburn City Manager Bob Richardson will take over in that same capacity for Grass Valley Feb. 10, according to city documents.
“I think many of the challenges Auburn had 10 years ago, Grass Valley has today,” Richardson told The Union Monday. “I think those are part of those professional challenges I am looking forward to.”
Richardson, who has led Auburn from the brink of financial ruin since he started there 11 years ago, was named Grass Valley’s first official city manager after a 5-0 vote of the town’s council at a special Monday morning meeting.
“It was the consensus of basically everybody that he was the top candidate,” said interim City Manager Jeff Foltz, about a nationwide search that garnered 35 applicants and four top candidates.
“This place needs some strong leadership, and I think he’s going to bring that,” Foltz said. “I think he is going to take charge, get a direction, and he’s going to get it done, so I feel good about that.”
Richardson has worked in local government for nearly 25 years, working as a city manager for the last 15 years.
Had Grass Valley not converted in October from a city administrator form of government to one led by a city manager, Richardson said he would not have applied for the job.
“An administrator works for a council, and all the department directors work for that council. So it is a very in-between kind of job — a facilitator,” Richardson said. “A city manager really leads the organization, lives and dies by the strategy they develop to move the organization forward … and the department directors work for the city manager. It is a much more focused way of running an organization.”
Grass Valley’s conversion followed the exit of former City Administrator Dan Holler, who reportedly resigned following a negative employment evaluation at the end of August — a series of incidents that The Union included in its top stories of 2013.
Richardson is considered a fiscal conservative who was able to develop a strategic budget and economic development plan that turned around a struggling Auburn, avoided a “fiscal calamity” and brought the city back to fiscal health, the city said in a Monday announcement.
With a population of around 13,000, Auburn is about the same size as Grass Valley. Both are historic Gold Rush towns, little more than 20 miles apart from one another. But whereas Auburn is along an Interstate 80 stretch of urban sprawl emanating from Sacramento’s borders, Grass Valley has no big-box stores beyond JC Penney and Kmart.
Auburn is often mentioned when talking about Grass Valley’s loss of sales tax dollars, as shoppers head south to the town’s Target, Home Depot and other stores. Grass Valley and Nevada County lose more than $200 million annually in retail sales to other communities such as Auburn, Roseville and Sacramento, according to Texas-based Buxton Company.
Improving Grass Valley’s economy will be one of Richardson’s primary tasks, both he and Foltz noted.
“Obviously, from an economic standpoint, they need to get that going,” said Foltz, who is eying an exit from his interim position at the end of the month. “There are a number of projects that are out there right now — potential annexations and developments such as at Dorsey Drive and south of town — those are all in play, so he will have to start to work on those.”
Foltz also pointed to ongoing talks with Nevada County Consolidated Fire District and Nevada City about aligning fire services and infiltration from the former Northstar Mine into the city’s wastewater treatment plant as hot topics on Richardson’s plate.
For his part, Richardson said Grass Valley is the place he wants to be.
“It’s always been the place my wife and I have gone when we had free time. We just love the community,” Richardson said. “I looked at it as a very good professional fit for me, and once I got a chance to sit down with the whole council … it really cemented my desire to be there.”
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.