Laguna Beach hires firm to help recruit new city manager

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Signs outside Laguna Beach City Hall direct visitors to check-in at the Council Chambers amid a COVID-19 case surge. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

The Laguna Beach City Council hired an executive recruiting firm Saturday to launch the search for its next city manager.

The announcement of Laguna Beach’s contract with Bob Murray & Associates arrived more than three weeks after City Manager John Pietig said he would step down in June.

“This is one of the most important positions in the City, and hiring the recruiting firm will allow us to thoroughly evaluate both internal and external candidates for the City Manager position,” Mayor Bob Whalen said in a prepared statement. “We had an excellent experience with this recruiting firm on our recent search for the new General Manager at the Water District and the Council is confident that this will be a well-run and comprehensive search.”

Whalen added that councilmembers hope to select a candidate in May.

Keith Van Der Maaten, general manager of Laguna Beach County Water District, was recruited from the same position at Marina Coast Water District in Monterey County in January 2020.

With 20 years of public sector experience, Bob Murray & Associates has successfully placed more than 60 city managers across California in the past five years, according to a press release. The recruiting service contract is estimated to cost less than $30,000.

The executive search firm is already searching for city managers in San Clemente, South Pasadena, and Sonoma, according to its website. It’s also looking for a candidate to fill Laguna Beach Police Chief Robert Thompson’s former job in Dixon, Calif.

In January, assistant city manager Shohreh Dupuis confirmed in a statement to the Independent that she’s interested in the city’s top job. Mayor Bob Whalen and Pietig have both publicly said they believe Dupuis would be a strong candidate.

Her statement kicked off a letter-writing campaign by Laguna Beach residents interested in a nationwide search for city manager candidates.

Councilmember Peter Blake defended Dupuis’ possible accession after hearing public comments from residents at the Jan. 26 council meeting.

“For the two years I’ve been on this city council, the best of the best signifies Shohreh Dupuis,” Blake said. “I look forward to the day she’ll replace our extremely competent city manager John Pietig and we will have the first female city manager in this city’s history.”

This comment riled many residents who believe open recruitment is essential to good governance. Advocacy to launch the nationwide search for a new city manager has been a rare bright spot for unity in Laguna Beach, bringing together liberal, moderate and conservative voices.

Laguna Beach officials will host two Zoom meetings to collect public input during the recruitment process, according to a press release. No dates for those meetings were immediately released.

Laguna Beach resident Michele Monda was pleased to hear councilmembers’ listened to their constituents’ recommendation to open recruitment of city manager candidates.

“Now the question will be – is it window dressing to hide that they’re picking [Dupuis] anyway or will it be a real recruitment?” Monda wrote in an email.

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