(Editor’s note: Greg Wellman was named Los Banos’ interim city manager last July, knowing that in five months he would be leaving that position. He recently agreed to be interviewed by The Westside Express as he leaves the city, just as he agreed to be interviewed by TWE when he came to Los Banos five months ago.)
By JOHN SPEVAK
Los Banos is in good shape, according to outgoing interim city manager Greg Wellman–with its finances, its employee compensation and its managerial leadership, including its newly named interim city manager Stacy Souza Elms.
But as it looks forward, the city needs to focus on creating succession plans and dealing with several significant water challenges–involving fresh water, wastewater and stormwater.
Wellman has been involved in public service for more than a half-century and took all that experience into consideration when he said, “Los Banos has some of the best department heads I’ve ever worked with, including Stacy Souza Elms.”
Souza Elms, who has been the city’s Planning and Economic Development Director, was recently named by the city council to be the city’s new interim city manager, effective Dec. 29.
“Stacy has a breadth and depth of experience in city government, and with the city of Los Banos in particular,” Wellman said. “She started many years ago as a clerk in finance and spent time in parks and recreation, before she moved into planning and economic development.
“She also has the temperament, I believe, to be a good city manager,” Wellman added. “She connects well with other persons on the city’s staff but is able to set aside emotions and make decisions based on logic and evidence.
“She is also fortunate to have talented department heads working with her,” Wellman said, including Police Chief Gary Brizzee, Police Commander Ray Reyna, City Clerk Lucy Mallonee, City Attorney William Vaughn, City Engineer Nirorn Than and new Fire Chief Paul Tualla. They will form with Stacy an excellent leadership team.”
Wellman advises the city to continue to develop leaders within its ranks. “The city should carefully look at succession planning,” he said, “to encourage and prepare staff below the level of department heads to assume future leadership positions.”
Among the biggest challenges the city staff and city council will face in the years ahead, Wellman said, is water. “The city needs to look carefully at its fresh water supply, its wastewater capacity and its ability to deal with stormwater during intense rainfall.”
Regarding fresh water, Wellman said that the city has been on well water “overdraft” for more than a year. “Los Banos needs to develop strong partnerships with other water agencies,” Wellman said, “including the Central California Irrigation District (CCID), the Grassland Water District and the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority.
“All three have strong leaders: Chris White (SJR Exchange Contractors), Jarrett Martin (CCID) and Rick Ortega (Grassland). I brought all three to a city council meeting a while back and explained to the council members what talented and resourceful leaders they are and how they could help the city.”
Wellman thinks this four-way partnership could help ensure the city’s drinking water supply is ample and safe, its wastewater capacity is sufficient for future growth, and the city could withstand the kind of torrential rain that other parts of the country have been dealing with.
“This will all take a great deal of thought and planning,” Wellman said, “but it’s critical the City of Los Banos begin now to deal with water challenges that could become significant problems in the near future.”
Wellman thinks the city can handle the growth of the homes now being built in new subdivisions. He cited one developer, Greg Hostetler, as an example of good cooperation between a builder and the city. “I worked with Greg when I was the city manager in Atwater, and we worked cooperatively there, too.”
As the city looks to the future, Wellman thinks it’s in good shape with its finances and its personnel, especially since it recently gave significant pay raises. “Los Banos was lagging far behind other cities in its employee compensation,” he said. “As a result, we were losing highly competent police officers and firefighters to other towns.
“I’m particularly proud the council raised employee salaries while I was interim city manager,” he said. “Los Banos is not an outlying rural community but an important regional hub, and with those recent pay raises we can attract highly qualified personnel from other cities to come to Los Banos.”
The city is also in good financial shape. “In my 55 years of government service,” Wellman said, “I’ve looked carefully at the finances of several cities, as well as Merced County [where Wellman served as its CEO]. Seldom have I seen a city in such good financial condition as Los Banos is.”
The city rebounded well from the 2006-07 recession, he noted, and with the help of talented financial officers since then, has become financially solid.
Overall, Wellman believes, the future looks bright for Los Banos, and it’s in good hands with its city staff. But it needs to deal with significant issues ahead, with number one being water.
“I’ve enjoyed my time in Los Banos,” Wellman said. “I appreciate all the cooperation and help I’ve been given by the city council, the city staff and the community.”