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[whitespace] Monte Sereno gets 2-for-1 on new deal with Loventhal as manager/planner

Monte Sereno--After moving into the manager's office at Monte Sereno City Hall last summer, interim city manager/city planner Brian Loventhal found out last week that he gets to keep his seat at the desk.

The council voted 4-0 Jan. 19 (Suzanne Jackson was absent) to keep Loventhal, 29, as city manager and combine his dual roles, instead of putting on a search for a new full-time manager. After a favorable closed-session performance evaluation, the council made Loventhal an offer in open session.

The decision comes after City Manager Gay Strand quit her post June 19, apparently over frequent clashes with councilmembers Joel Gambord and Gordon Knight, who originally proposed to fire Strand and let Loventhal wear both the manager and planner hats in June 1997.

Gambord and Knight originally pushed turning four jobs into two: combining city manager with city planner, and merging building inspector with city engineer. Gambord said he wanted the reorganization, which was also proposed by Citizens FOR Monte Sereno, to cut the size of government in the tiny city and save the taxpayers money.

Although their push to cut staff jobs was unpopular with the rest of the council, it looks like times have changed in Monte Sereno, with the rest of the council now lined up to support Loventhal in his new dual role.

"A year and a half ago, when we had this proposal, they looked at us like we just got off a spaceship from Mars," said Gambord. "Our staff, to me, is now in excellent shape. They're delighted, and when you have a happy staff, you have a productive organization."

Loventhal's new title will be city manager, but his duties will include acting as city planner. City clerk Andrea Chelemengos, who took over some planning work after Strand's departure, will also act as assistant city planner.

"It formalizes what we've been doing over the last eight months," Loventhal said. "Now the staff can stop wondering what's going to happen, and it provides some long term stability."

Chelemengos was also upbeat about the decision.

"We're all pleased with it, and it puts an end to the waiting," said Chelemengos. "We all work well as a team. City operations have been going smoothly in the last eight months, and it should continue like that."

By giving Loventhal both jobs, the city may save as much as $80,000 to $90,000 per year--not a small sum in Monte Sereno, where the annual budget totals about $1.3 million.

By the time she left, Strand, who was hired in August 1996, was making $74,000. Benefits brought her total salary package to $92,000. Loventhal's new salary, $75,000, will be slightly higher than Strand's.

In June, the council decided to put any decisions on a new manager on hold until after the November election, so that the new council would have the chance to decide on how to fill the manager's chair.

The newest councilmember, Barbara Nesbet, is also a fan of the arrangement.

"We're lucky to have him," said Nesbet. "Brian has the necessary experience and he's eager to help people."

Loventhal, who grew up in the East Bay and Marin County, was originally hired by the city in 1993 as an associate planner under Rosemary Pierce, who was serving as both city manager and city planner at that time. Pierce was replaced by Carolyn Lehr, who preceded Strand as manager, serving from 1993 to 1996. Under Lehr, Loventhal was promoted to city planner in 1995.

Loventhal is in his last semester of law school at Santa Clara University, where he's concentrating on land use and government law. As an undergraduate, he studied regional planning, with an emphasis in public agency management, at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.

The decision to appoint Loventhal rounds out the total of paid city staff at five. In addition to Loventhal and Chelemengos, there's Finance Assistant Sue L'Heureux, Building Inspector Howard Bell and part-time Administrative Clerk Eileen Finn-Kopp, who was hired after Strand left.

City Attorney Bob Logan works on a contract basis. City Engineer Bob Shook, who retired in December, will not be replaced. Instead, the city plans to farm out engineering work to Pleasant Hill-based Wildan and Associates.

The time it takes for building plan approvals, Loventhal says, should be cut in half with the new arrangement, because the plan check turnaround time has been negotiated as part of the contract.
Jeff Kearns

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Web extra to the January 28-February 3, 1999 issue of Metro.

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