The Laguna Beach City Council has tapped Shohreh Dupuis as the next city manager, following a nationwide search that failed to generate more impressive candidates, according to a Tuesday press release.
Dupuis will be Laguna Beach’s first female city manager and will only be the third person to hold the job in the last 41 years. Her ascension to the city’s top job has been scrutinized by many residents since she declared her interest in replacing her boss, John Pietig, who also served as assistant city manager.
“Shohreh Dupuis brings strong, experienced leadership to the City of Laguna Beach during a critical time when we need to address quality of life issues for our residents, advance our economic recovery, make responsible budget decisions and take steps to protect the unique character of our community,” Mayor Bob Whalen said in a prepared statement.
A contract with Dupuis’s terms of employment will be presented to the City Council on May 4. She will begin her duties as city manager on June 12, following Pietig’s retirement. Dupuis plans to start external recruitment for a new assistant city manager on May 5.
“I’m incredibly honored and overwhelmed with gratitude that the City Council has selected me to be the next Laguna Beach City Manager,” Dupuis said in a prepared statement. “I have a deep love and tremendous respect for this City, its residents, businesses, non-profits and cultural arts organizations, and my colleagues and the City staff team, and am ready to tackle the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”
Dupuis has served Orange County municipal and regional agencies for more than 30 years. Prior to joining Laguna Beach in April 2016, she was Irvine’s deputy public works director. Before being hired by Irvine in 2008, Dupuis was Anaheim’s transit manager and the Orange County Transportation Authority’s manager of commuter rail and local programs for Measure M, the county’s half-cent sales tax that funds freeway and road improvements.
Laguna Beach residents have named traffic congestion and overcrowded parking among their top concerns for years. Among many other initiatives, Dupuis has overseen the completion of the Village Entrance project and upgrades to the trolley service—which is slated to restart in June after a year-long closure prompted by COVID-19.
“The public can cite years of poorly planned and implemented city projects that have left us with overwhelming traffic, parking, sewer, crime, neighborhood and beach deterioration under their direct supervision,” Laguna Beach resident MJ Abraham wrote in a letter.
In July 2019, Pietig said at a City Council meeting that Dupuis would be a serious candidate for city manager. At that time, councilmembers approved a 10% salary increase totaling $25,000 per year to retain Dupuis after other cities tried to recruit her for city manager positions. It’s important for an incoming city manager to be familiar with Laguna Beach’s unusual characteristics as a city of 23,000 residents with its own public safety agencies, unique geography, and a passionate constituency, Pietig said
The City Council contracted an executive recruiting firm, Bob Murray & Associates, to aid in the nationwide search for a new city manager. This effort cost the taxpayers up to $30,000 and produced five external candidates who were interviewed by the City Council. The public will likely never know their names or qualifications due to confidentiality rules.
“I think it was worth it,” Whalen said. “We went through a good process. We did listening sessions and an online survey and I think both of those provided good candidates.”
A 26-page synopsis of all the public comments made during three listening sessions hosted by Bob Murray & Associates was posted on April 21 to the city website. City officials made the information public after a blistering writing campaign by residents who demanded more transparency into the decision-making process.
Councilmember Toni Iseman defended the recruiter’s costs, adding “he earned his keep.”
“It made no sense for a job as important as city manager to not see and hear from other people,” she said. “The opportunity from the interviews is to see how things are done in other towns. That’s essential and I asked Shohreh to implement these things.”
News of Dupuis’s appointment has received mixed reviews at and outside of Laguna Beach City Hall.
“Liberate Laguna and the residents of Laguna Beach are very pleased to congratulate Shohreh Dupuis on becoming the city’s next City Manager,” Cindy Shopoff, a co-founder of Liberate Laguna PAC. “From her years of experience in the city, her deep understanding of the issues we face, and her fierce leadership during the COVID-10 crisis, Shohreh Dupuis was the only candidate we thought well-qualified.”
Village Laguna declined to comment on Dupuis’s ascension.
Brian Griep, president of the Laguna Beach Police Employees’ Association (PEA), congratulated Dupuis on her selection as the next city manager.
“We look forward to meeting with her soon to discuss her priorities, goals, and vision for the members of the PEA,” Griep said in a statement. “We are excited to learn what role the PEA can play to assist her and the City Council in improving the employee experience further while attracting and retaining the best employees for Laguna Beach.”
When asked about one of his most consequential acts as a first-term council member George Weiss said, “I want Shohreh to do well.”
Dupuis immigrated to the United States from Iran in 1984 and earned her Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics from UC Irvine, according to a press release. Her daughter Sunnyjoy is a Doctoral student in microbiology at UC Berkeley. Dupuis and her husband Farzad live in South Laguna.
To help her relocate from her former Anaheim Hills home, Laguna Beach agreed to co-own a local house costing up to $850,000 and offering a 20-year direct loan of up to $450,000 to help her finance her half. The total cost to the city in 2016 was estimated at $1.3 million.
“We don’t want people who lead the city to live outside the city,” Iseman said. “The time we need them the most is when you can’t enter or leave the city—fires and floods. They need to be here.”
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