On Sept. 8, the Hollister City Council unanimously approved interim City Manager Brett Miller’s three-year employment contract for the permanent position as city manager. Miller accepted and started the permanent role effective immediately.
Under the three-year contract, Miller’s annual salary is a base pay of $204,900 for the first year, with consumer price index increases in the second and third years. He said through the negotiation process he agreed to a 5% deferment for six months to assist with COVID-19 financial impacts affecting the city.
“I reduced my salary to lead by example,” he said.
The contract will continue benefits including a $275 per month car allowance.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez told BenitoLink on Sept. 16 that Miller is extremely qualified, and the council agreed they could all work with him. He said Miller had been one of the original 20 candidates during the recruiting process before former city manager Bill Avera retired Nov. 15, 2019.
“Without a doubt he has the financial experience and he’s very good working with people and not taking sides,” Velazquez said. “With this COVID crisis we realized that the decision had to be made now rather than wait until next year.”
He said there was no decision to hire a city manager from the recruiting effort because there was so much “animosity among the council members.” Eventually, when the time came to do so, they decided to go with a known quantity rather than go back to recruiting.
Velazquez failed to mention, though, the badly handled attempt to bring on an interim city manager before Avera retired. The council approved the hiring of Paul Eckert, who resigned almost immediately after a number of complaints came forward about his record of alleged sexual harassment at his previous job in Sioux City, Iowa.
Councilwoman Carol Lenoir described Miller as “a safe bet for the city.”
“The fact that Brett is a certified public accountant is also a plus for the city structure,” she told BenitoLink. “The most important duty for a city manager is to have a very good understanding of the city budget. I believe Brett possesses that expertise and has the ability to grow in this position. I hope the city employees will get behind him and work together for the betterment of our city.”
Miller, 55, has worked for the city of Hollister for almost 12 years, first as the accounting manager before being promoted to director of management services and assistant city manager under Avera. Miller became interim city manager on Nov. 15.
“Then all hell broke loose with the pandemic,” Miller said.
Before coming to Hollister, Miller worked three years as accounting manager and management analyst for the government of Butte County. Prior to that, he worked as an auditor for a CPA firm in Butte County. He is married and has a 13-year-old son.
Miller described the duties of the city manager as guiding the day-to-day operations of the city, which he said can be difficult, but was made easier because two previous city managers, Clint Quilter and Avera, included him in negotiations and other business meetings.
“There’s always a financial piece to whatever we’re working on and I already had that knowledge,” he said.
The biggest challenge has been working with a divided city council. Over the last two years, both Velazquez and Councilman Rolan Resendiz have accused the staff, as well as Councilmembers Honor Spencer, Lenoir, and the late Marty Richman, of colluding with developers in the constant wrangling over growth issues.
“Every day, the staff tries to do what’s best for our citizens,” Miller said, “while working within the parameters and policies the council has set for us.”
He said the relationship between the City Council and staff has improved, somewhat.
“They are very respectful to the staff,” he said. “I got a 4-0 vote, which is unheard of now. I feel good that I’ve earned their trust. That’s a big thing because they’re very divided.”
He treaded carefully in addressing past accusations council members made against city staff, and said, “We have to let it run off our backs.” He said behind the scenes individual council members have apologized to staff.
“They have their individual issues, but overall, they are very supportive,” Miller said. “In their view they want what’s best for Hollister. That’s where the division comes. Their view is different from any other person’s. A lot of things have changed over the last year, especially because of COVID. They’ve worked on relationships and appreciation of staff.”
He said working during the pandemic has been a challenge.
“The biggest issue is not being open to the public,” he said. “We’re having less one-on-one meetings. We’re trying to manage over phones or Zoom, but it’s just not the same as talking to somebody face-to-face, making sure they understand what you’re trying to say. We miss that interaction.”
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