Luckino Leaving As Twentynine Palms City Manager For Desert Hot Springs

Making the fifth managerial advancement in his 31-year career, Twentynine Palms City Manager Frank Luckino is leaving San Bernardino County’s 17th most populous municipality to take the administrative helm in the Riverside County city of Desert Hot Springs.
Luckino applied to be considered in the running to succeed Luke Rainey as Desert Hot Springs’ city manager after the latter resigned abruptly in February. He was one of 29 competing for the job.
The field of 29 was reduced to around a half dozen by late August and Luckino was one of at least six candidates interviewed in early September. He was brought in for a second and final interview late in September.
The Desert Hot Springs City Council ultimately determined that Luckino’s considerable experience in managing cities and agencies in the desert has rendered him better qualified than those he was competing against, including some very experienced and accomplished municipal professionals, to take the reins in the 33,132-population city. The Desert Hot Springs City Council in a specially-called closed session on October 3 voted to hire Luckino.
His move to Desert Hot Springs from Twentynine Palms, where the population currently stands at 27,491, represents a modest move for Luckino up the municipal evolutionary chain.
Luckino has resigned as Twentynine Palms City manager, effective October 31. He will begin with Desert Hot Springs on November 6.
Luckino earned a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from West Liberty State College in West Virginia in 1992. He worked as a controller for several companies, including PACE Entertainment, Planet Hollywood International, and Gordon Biersch Restaurant Group. He also handled portfolio investment activity as an associate with Resource Connection.
His first significant venture into the public sector came when he was hired as the director of fiscal services at Copper Mountain College in 2003. He bought a home in Yucca Valley and, with his wife Shannon, opened a mortgage loan office, Mojave Mortgage Group. In 2004, he was elected to his first term on the Yucca Valley Town Council.
His experience on the politically powerful but only tokenly-remunerated town council exposed him to a multiplicity of governmental administrative issues. He used his position on the Yucca Valley Town Council to vault into a position as finance officer with the Hi-Desert Water District. In 2011, when he was offered a promotion to the position of assistant general manager/chief financial officer with the water district paying $139,000 in annual salary plus benefits, he resigned from the town council. At that point, he had enrolled at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, where he was remotely pursuing a master’s degree in public administration.
In May 2013, Luckino learned that the position of finance director with the city of Blythe, which paid between $94,000 and $117,000 per year, was open. He was further informed that the city manager’s position in the same Riverside County city on the banks of the Colorado River was also likely to open up later that year and that the finance director would stand a decent chance of assuming the city manager post. Luckino took the pay cut, resigning from the Hi-Desert Water District.
Luckino’s departure from the water district came as that entity was struggling with the financial challenges of having Yucca Valley comply with a state mandate to convert from its traditional septic systems to a sewer system in several phases over the next decade. Town voters in 2012 had voted down a sales tax measure put forth by town officials, which those officials said would be primarily devoted to funding the sewer program.
Though his abandonment of the Hi-Desert Water District left Yucca Valley in a bad way, his gamble in departing for Blyth paid off for him personally. By October 2013, he had his master’s degree in public administration and the Blythe City Council, torn over elevating him or city clerk Mallory Sutterfield to the position of interim city manager, in a split 3-2 vote chose Luckino.
Less than two years later, in March 2015, the Twentynine Palms City Council, which had burned through two city managers – Richard Warne and Joe Guzzetta – in a relatively short period of time, unanimously voted to hire Luckino to replace acting city manager Larry Bowden. That arrangement was to Luckino’s liking, as it eliminated for him a 286-mile daily commuting round trip.
Luckino has lasted eight-and-a-half years as Twentynine Palms city manager. In that time, he has overseen progress toward the completion of Project Phoenix, a redevelopment project for the downtown area. That project was one of the last traditional redevelopment projects initiated under the State of California’s former municipal redevelopment authority. Redevelopment projects statewide were discontinued pursuant to legislation approved in 2011, and Twentynine Palms had to wage a legal battle with the State of California to keep the bond financing for the project in place.
Luckino’s political masters on the city council were satisfied – indeed pleased – with his performance as city manager. They were a bit taken aback by the sudden announcement of his pending departure. By one of his public utterances, Mayor McArthur Wright indicated he had not seen Luckino’s resignation coming.
In Twentynine Palms, Luckino was being remunerated with an annual salary of $194,373.85, pay add-ons and perquisites of $16,758, benefits of $43,166 and a contribution of 18,802.07 toward his pension for a total annual compensation of $273,099.92. In Desert Hot Springs, Luckino is to be provided with a $235,000 annual salary, deferred compensation of $12,000, perquisites and benefits nearing $56,000 per year and a city contribution of $22,731.90 toward his pension, for a total annual compensation of roughly $325,731.90.
-Mark Gutglueck

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