Lompoc City Manager Patrick Wiemiller, who has received significant praise and criticism since taking over his post in December 2013, announced late Thursday afternoon that he is stepping down from his position in Lompoc to become assistant city manager in Santa Maria.
The news came near the end of a particularly tumultuous year for Wiemiller, who faced increased scrutiny over the summer during extended budget deliberations and even had two members of the Lompoc City Council push toward possibly terminating him. Wiemiller weathered those storms, however, and said Thursday that they weren’t a primary factor in his decision to move on.
“Really, this is more about the positive side and an opportunity that’s available in Santa Maria,” he said. “Because of the change in leadership there, this is the time that the opportunity became open and after careful review and consideration and prayer, I decided to accept that offer.”
Wiemiller, who gave a 90-day notice to the Lompoc City Council, will take over the No. 2 position in Santa Maria under Jason Stilwell, who is set to move from assistant city manager to city manager. Stilwell’s promotion was sparked by outgoing Santa Maria City Manager Rick Haydon's retirement, which will become effective Dec. 5.
Lompoc Mayor Bob Lingl, who has been one of Wiemiller’s most vocal supporters in recent years, said Thursday that he wasn’t exactly surprised by the news of Wiemiller’s resignation but was “disappointed,” nonetheless.
“I’m very sad that Mr. Wiemiller is leaving here,” Lingl said from City Hall. “He put in a wonderful four years here and he accomplished a lot. It’s a sad day for me, personally, and an even sadder day for the city of Lompoc.
“I would like to say that Patrick is the best city manager we’ve had here, but I can’t say that because I haven’t worked with all of them,” he added. “I can just say that he has been a fantastic city manager and it’s gonna be very, very hard to replace him.”
Wiemiller was not as popular with other elected officials in the city. He was put under intense questioning during the city’s budget deliberations, which dragged on for six months. At separate points during the budget process, City Councilmen Jim Mosby and Victor Vega both called for motions to put Wiemiller under review for possible discipline or termination. Mosby had also previously asked for an internal investigation into whether Wiemiller had broken city bylaws.
The council held a closed session discussion in early October, however, after which Lingl announced that the council had unanimously given Wiemiller a vote of confidence.
“I think it was a very healthy discussion,” Wiemiller said Thursday of that Oct. 3 private meeting. “I certainly understood that we had differences of opinion, but (we decided) we don’t need to be disagreeable in the process and I thought it was a healthy resolution. They voted 5-0 on a vote of confidence. I really think that if we did have any issues, we got past those.”
Although Lingl expressed sorrow at seeing Wiemiller leave, he said that he recommended to Wiemiller that he might want to look around for other jobs, based on the treatment Wiemiller was receiving from members of the council.
“I was not surprised because with the way the council has been treating him — asking for his resignation, even though we got through that — I just saw the writing on the wall that this wasn’t too long-term,” Lingl said. “I actually encouraged him. I said ‘Look for something else.’”
Lompoc will now begin the task of looking for its next municipal leader.
Those discussions will likely begin in closed session prior to the council’s next regular meeting Nov. 21, said Lingl, who did not elaborate on what qualities he would like to see in the next city manager, noting that those are discussions that need to be had among all the council members.
Lingl said that Wiemiller has left open the option to leave prior to the full 90 days given in his notice to the city if the City Council finds a candidate who is willing and able to start before those 90 days are up.
While salary information was not disclosed by either Lompoc or Santa Maria city officials, the salary tracking website Transparent California reported that Wiemiller made $191,000 in 2016 as Lompoc’s city manager. The same website reported that Stilwell made $135,000 as Santa Maria’s assistant city manager last year.
Reflecting on his accomplishments over the past four years, Wiemiller said that he is most proud of progress made in economic development and public safety in the city. Those two areas, he said, were identified as high priorities by the city council when he was hired.
“On the economic development side, we have consistently outperformed the statewide economy in terms of our retail revenue growth, which also drives sales tax, so that’s showing a real strength of economic development in the community,” he said. “And it hasn’t happened by chance, especially given that we’re off the (Highway) 101 corridor, (which) makes it that much more challenging for us to achieve something like that. So I’m pretty proud of that.”
Wiemiller also said that he was proud of advances made in public safety, although he was not able to begin work on a new station for the Lompoc Fire Department, a project he felt so strongly about that he staked his reputation on its viability during his 2016 State of the City presentation.
“On the public safety side, we have definitely improved our levels of service in both police and fire and we’ve strengthened our outreach and relationships in the community and made it a much more trusting environment between our citizens and our public safety force,” he said.
Lingl also praised Wiemiller for his expertise in budgeting, in particular, and said he hired strong personnel, citing Lompoc Police Chief Pat Walsh, new Fire Chief Gerald Kuras, a human resources manager and the creation of a community relations position, among others.
“He has a great financial background, which has helped us, whether people want to believe it or not,” Lingl said. “He has been extremely valuable in our budgeting over the past several years. I just think it’s going to be tough to replace a man like that.”
Among the things Wiemiller said he wishes he could have done was to better improve the city’s parks. He noted, though, that he intends to remain a Lompoc resident and said he’d stay active in the community.
“I really appreciate the opportunity that was extended to me by the city council that hired me and the city council that continued to employ me,” he said, noting that he also wanted to express gratitude to the community at large. “And a great thanks to the incredible staff here in the city of Lompoc; some of the best professionals around.”
Wiemiller and his wife, Cindy, have two children and six grandchildren. Wiemiller came to Lompoc after having previously worked as a public works director for the city of Fresno.
Asked if he'd be leaving Lompoc — at least professionally — in better shape than it was when he arrived, he was succinct in his answer.
“I certainly hope I am," he said, smiling. "I certainly have tried to do that all my life and all my career, to leave a place better than I found it.”