The very model of a modern city manager
Like professional athletes, the general managers of sports teams and perhaps radio station personalities, city managers tend to live lives of frequent rotation.
That may be partly a result of personal ambition and partly the consequence of political happenstance, since municipal managers serve at the pleasure of elected bodies and their tenure can end by a simple majority vote.
Few city managers stay in one place as long as Santa Rosa’s legendary Ken Blackman, who retired more than a decade ago after a 30-year career at the helm of that city.
Blackman’s calm, quiet presence and imperturbable personality, combined with a well-honed intellect, an acute sense of political reality and true mastery of civic governance, shielded him from political whimsy and kept him largely above public controversy.
Blackman comes to mind when we contemplate the departure of Linda Kelly, who leaves next week to take the position of town manager in Windsor, a city of almost 27,000 people that did not officially exist 20 years ago.
That fact would suggest Kelly won’t have so many historical preservation issues on her agenda once freed from the grip of Sonoma’s dense historic past. But that’s not a safe assumption, since Windsor’s oldest building – dated to about 1767 – easily eclipses the age of Sonoma’s oldest structure, the mission, a version of which was erected in 1823.
Be that as it may, we will watch Kelly’s departure with real regret and best wishes. She has been, to butcher the lyrics of Gilbert and Sullivan, the very model of a modern city manager, “with information vegetable, animal and mineral.” Her command of the complexity of civic issues, especially in the turbulent uncertainty of redevelopment’s demise, has been comforting and appropriately cautious, and Kelly has the admirable ability to admit what she does not know.
Equally impressive – and important to a journalist – has been her accessibility and her willingness to be reached at odd hours on odd days, and sometimes from long distances.
In addition to her impressive professional competencies, Kelly has a very human side she has been refreshingly willing to reveal. We were touched by her generosity in sharing the story of finding her lost brother after suffering through some profoundly difficult personal times of which few people were aware. When her two sisters died in the space of 11 months, and with her parents already passed, she faced the prospect of being the only surviving member of her family. Then she learned a long-held family secret – that she had a full-brother, given up for adoption in 1960. Doing much of her own detective work, Kelly found her brother in Milwaukee, Wisc., and managed a deeply fulfilling meeting.
It would be doubly difficult to watch Kelly go and then begin the process of establishing a new relationship with her successor. Fortunately, that won’t happen.
Sonoma has been twice blessed with Linda Kelly and her equally competent second-in-command, Carol Giovanatto, who has served masterfully as assistant city manager and treasurer and will now replace her boss.
We wish Linda ever greater success and recognition in Windsor, and we congratulate the City Council for a wise and rapid choice in Carol Giovanatto.