Barstow Hires Alameda County General Services Manager Hopkins As City Administrator

More than eight months after what was then a newly-composed Barstow City Council gave then-City Manager Nikki Salas the heave-ho, San Bernardino County’s northernmost city has settled upon an experienced governmental administrator currently working in Northern California to oversee operations at City Hall.
The full city council on Monday, September 20 approved the hiring of Willie A. Hopkins, Jr., the director of Alameda County’s general services agency, as city administrator.
The action taken this week was anticlimactic, as previously, at a special meeting of the city council on September 9, after a discussion in closed session, City Attorney Matthew Summers informed the public, “The city council is excited to announce the appointment of a new city administrator, Mr. Willie Hopkins, who is currently the agency director for the general services agency of Alameda County up in the Bay Area, and the plan will be tonight the appointment followed by September 20, the next regular council meeting, will be formal approval of the appointment with the resolution of appointment, the contract and a staff report with a little more detail.”
There was a minor flap that attended Hopkins’ hiring, in that the search for Salas’s permanent replacement had been conducted in virtual secret, with the city having hired Andersen & Associates, a recruiting/headhunting firm, to invite applicants and compile a list of candidates for the position designated not as city manager but rather city administrator, which implies a slight if not fully explicated change in duties.
The city had openly changed the title/job designation from city manager to city administrator in split 3-to-2 and then-4-to-1 votes at its March 15 and April 5 meetings.
Of note, there was no clarity with regard to the city having retained Andersen and Associates to carry out the recruitment. Other than closed session items at multiple council meetings over the last seven months during which some level of unspecified discussion with regard to filling the city manager/city administrator position took place, there was little to indicate what progress was being made in replacing Salas. Following those closed-session discussions held outside the earshot and scrutiny of the public, Summers would provide a terse statement that no reportable action had been taken.
The city council and Summers justified drawing the veil over the city administrator application and hiring process by referring to it as “a confidential recruitment.”
Indeed, it is a general practice among cities to restrict information about applicants for city manager/city administrator positions or even department directorships, as applicants for those jobs often or even in a majority of cases hold positions with other cities, and the applicants may not want their current employer to know they are about to bug out for greener pastures or a more prestigious position or a higher salary elsewhere. This sort of employment promiscuity is winked at and tolerated among municipalities as there is a code, apparently, within the municipal culture that holds it is okay for one city to poach another city’s top employees. Still, there may be several or dozens or even scores of applicants for a position such as city manager, and only one of those candidates in the end will be selected. A city manager who applied for a job elsewhere can find himself or herself in a bad position wherein he or she will lose the trust of the council he or she must work with if those council members know he or she is not 100 percent loyal to the city that employs him or her and is contemplating leaving.
Nevertheless, it is not standard operating procedure for a city to hide that it is using a headhunting firm to compile a list of candidates to be considered by its elected decision-makers. The law and principles of open government require that when a city contracts for goods or services, that action, before it is taken, be agendized for a vote of the council at an open public meeting. Neither Mayor Paul Anthony Courtney nor any of the city council members nor Summers has explained how Andersen and Associates was hired to carry out the recruitment without it being disclosed to the public.
Salas held the position of Barstow city manager for 21 months before she was unceremoniously shown the door. Her forced exit came barely two months after Courtney had been elected mayor in a race in which the incumbent, Julie Hackbarth-McIntyre was chased from office. Also newly elected in November 2020 were Barbara Rose and Marilyn Dyer Kruse. Rose filled the position on the council that had been vacated by former Councilman Richard Harpole, who left to move to Texas in January 2020, after which no effort to fill his position throughout the first ten months of 2020 was made. Kruse defeated incumbent Councilwoman Carmen Hernandez in the November 2020 election. The newly-formed council had little more than a month in office after Courtney, Rose and Kruse were sworn in in December 2020 when it collectively voted to cashier Salas.
Salas had held the positions of director of human resources and risk management director with Apple Valley from 2009 until June 2016, at which point she promoted to assistant town manager before leaving Apple Valley in 2018 to become, for seven months, the director of human resources with Napa County. She was lured back to the Mojave Desert in early 2019, when she was recruited to replace Curt Mitchell as city manager in March of that year. Salas had successfully competed for the Barstow city manager position against 72 others who had been evaluated by the firm Peckham & McKenney, which recommended a set of finalists to be interviewed by a selection panel which included the city council and city luminaries including former Mayor Lawrence Dale. Salas was given the nod over the other finalists.
No reason was specified for giving Salas the boot in January. She was temporarily replaced by Barstow Police Chief Albert Ramirez, who served as acting city manager until former Adelanto City Manager Jim Hart was brought in as interim city manager.
The city council apparently felt that Hopkins is right for Barstow. He is being provided with a $220,000 salary and benefits of roughly $70,000 per year for a total annual compensation package of $290,000, along with a one-time $5,000 relocation payment to induce him to move his primary residence to Barstow, 200 hours of vacation leave annually, 96 hours of sick leave per year and and 80 hours of executive leave on top of that. His benefits include medical, dental and vision coverage equal to the standard provided to those in the city’s management echelon. He is also to receive a $500 per month car allowance and a $100,000 life insurance and accidental death coverage plan.
By comparison, Salas was provided with an annual salary of $142,000 and benefits of $67,000 for a total annual compensation of $209,000.
Hopkins is a graduate of Alcorn State University where he obtained a degree in business administration and was a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps. He served in the U.S. Army from September 1985 until April of 1996.
He was a plant manager and then the North American operations process manager with Ashland Inc. from January 1996 until January 2001.
Thereafter, from August of 2003 until October 2008 he was the director of General Services with Fulton County in Florida. In October 2008 he was hired as assistant city manager in Pompano Beach, Florida.
From there, he moved to Georgia in 2013, where he was the director of the support services agency for Cobb County.
In December 2015, he was hired into his current position with Alameda County.
-Mark Gutglueck

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