Joe Lopez: Choice for City Manager

Joe Lopez: choice for city manager
By Carmen Sabatino
May 09th, 2018

O.K.  Let me get this straight, 14 months after the unexpected termination of a City Manager, the City is JUST NOW going to hire a City Manager – the same interim Manager that we predicted a year ago would get the job.   All the machinations, hair pulling, excuses and false recruitment packets.  The $30k in recruitment, it was all just part of the show – Joe Lopez was their man all along.  Go along to get along, Joe went along and now he is the next City Manager.

  1. The first disservice to the public was the Council firing of a City Manager without a replacement.
  2. The second was the disingenuous foot-dragging that resulted in over a 1-year delay in getting a qualified person at the helm.
  3. The third disservice is that due to this unforgivable delay, the Council was forced to hire an expert in damage in Modesto Dysfunction of a getting a top-notch, forward-looking executive. “HINT – any desirable candidate will review the dysfunction, backstabbing, scandals and erratic behavior over the last year and stay far away from Modesto”

To get a perspective on the corner the Council has backed themselves into, let’s review some local media headlines over the last year

  • March 30, 2017 – Firing city’s top manager sends bad signals
  • April 03, 2017 – Modesto to name acting city manager
  • September 25, 2017 – Six months after city manager leaves, Modesto council considers what to do next
  • September 27, 2017 – Modesto should get busy finding a city manager
  • October 14, 2017- Lonely at the top in Modesto, Turlock? More like, no one at the top for both cities
  • December 04, 2017 – Modesto looks to fill top job — eight months after manager departed
  • December 06, 2017 – Modesto approves search firm for city manager job. But it could cost more than thought
  • January 31, 2018 – What abilities should a city manager have? Modesto officials will decide
  • March 25, 2018 – Why Modesto is staying tight-lipped on its search for new city manager
  • May 8th – Modesto council announces its choice for city manager

Wow.  What could be going through Mayor Brandvold’s mind?  Really, what was he thinking?  As a business owner he certainly knows the destruction wrought on organizations that experience a sudden and sustained leadership vacuum.

We know what many of the Council were saying, as dozens of quotes from multiple Council members proclaimed exasperation, frustration and anger due to being left out of the process, not being informed and embarrassed.

We know that the Mayor and his handpicked ad-hoc committee kept a lid on any City Manager information from some of the Council.  Even in the midst of an overspending crisis/scandal, the first agenda item to engage a recruiter was understated by nearly $10,000.

We know from public quotes that Mayor Brandvold held up the process “because he didn’t want the search hanging over Joe, while he was trying to prove himself”.  Amazing, so the Mayor decided to Fire the City Manager, then allow one year on-the-job training for Joe Lopez.


The Mayor then did nothing as the City began to crumble amongst the dysfunction, overspending, and public mistrust festered under the poor administrative abilities, leadership vacuum and inexperience obvious in Joe Lopez’s performance.

There MUST be a reason for this behavior by the Mayor.  That is the key to understanding the mess the City is in now.

Perhaps some of the answers can be filtered out by going back over some key events that occurred over the past 20 years.   For instance the hit job on Jack Crist, one of the more successful City Managers in memory.

Clearly, his approach where he made decisions based on the best interest of the City, rubbed many who expected a rubber stamp on Development, wrong.   George Britton an accomplished bureaucrat from Phoenix, was inserted as Deputy City Manager and Jack’s days were numbered.

I remember a cartoon circulating at the time showing Jack Crist looking at his pink slip and saying “Gee, I wonder why it’s printed on the back of PMZ letterhead.”

The great purge of the Ridenour/Nyhoff era focused on eliminating a vast majority of middle management staff with institutional knowledge, who had displeased the 6th floor with their file drawers and emails full of uncomfortable truths.

This purge, lead to a virtual decade-long collapse of Modesto’s ability to sustain even basic operations.  With dozens of key positions eliminated, interim appointments growing like mold and in a foreshadowing of the current City Manager debacle, were allowed to go unfilled and left in limbo.

As Rome burned, the City Council/Mayor’s priorities became the “important stuff”, ensuring they got pay raises and in a startling power grab, adding an extra year added to their term of office.

With all the focus on overspending, and the Purchasing Department safely tagged as the burnt offering to a skeptical public – one must wonder something…

Imagine how the Developers who run Modesto, must of danced with glee as the depleted Building/Traffic departments became reduced to ping-pong players on Opioids – swinging madly after balls that already went past them.

Perhaps Joe Lopez’s Offer-Letter to be the Modesto City Manager should be printed on the back of PMZ letterhead.

Congratulations Joe – we wish you success and we’ll be watching.