Last night the Anaheim City Council approved the appointment of Chris Zapata as the new city manager. Zapata was city manager of San Leandro in the San Francisco Bay Area; he left that post after being exonerated last month of harassment charges filed in January 2018 by a city grant recipient. Interim City Manager Linda Andal will return to her position as City Clerk.
Prior to becoming San Leandro city manager, Zapata served for seven years as city manager of National City, near the Mexican border in San Diego County. He also has experience working with major sports franchise from his days in the working for the Phoenix, Arizona suburb of Glendale, where he reportedly assisted in arranging deals with the Arizona Cardinals and the Phoenix Coyotes NHL franchise.
Zapata’s hiring is the first time in decades Anaheim has hired a city manager from outside the ranks of City Hall. The previous city manager, Paul Emery, was the assistant city manager when he was given the top job. His predecessor, Marcie Edwards, served for many years in the top ranks of Anaheim city administration. Edwards followed Bob Wingenroth, who was the city’s finance director prior to becoming city manager.
Prior to Wingeroth, the city manager was Tom Wood, a 21-year city veteran who had been assistant/deputy city manager for 19 years before becoming the city’s chief executive. Wood succeeded Dave Morgan, who became city manager in 2003 until retiring in 2009, capping a 35-year career with the City of Anaheim. Morgan has served as assistant city manager under Jim Ruth, who was City Hall’s top administrator from 1990 to 2003; Ruth came to Anaheim in 1976 as director of parks and recreation.
Anaheim had an obvious internal candidate to succeed Paul Emery in Assistant City Manager Kristine Ridge, another extremely capable administrator who had risen through the ranks of Anaheim City Hall. Unfortunately, she was driven out by the politics of the Tait-Moreno majority: last year she was hired away to become city manager of Laguna Niguel.
Obviously, reasonable people want Zapata to succeed in his challenging new position. By all accounts, he is a capable and talented public executive. At the same time, that the city council majority had to reach out to Northern California to find a city manager – and waited several months for a harassment investigation to play out – speaks to the hollowing out of Anaheim’s internal pool of potential city managers and the absence of succession development. It’s tough to groom and develop internal candidates when Anaheim is on its fifth city manager in less than seven years.
The chaos extends to filling other vacancies in city leadership. A month ago, the head of UCI campus police, Jorge Cisneros, was hired as Anaheim Police Chief – even though Deputy Police Chief Julian Harvey was clearly qualified, already running the department as acting chief and interested in the permanent job. The appointment was made by Interim City Manager Linda Andal. The chiefs of the fire and police departments are the two biggest hiring decisions the city manager makes. It’s curious why that decision was not left until Zapata’s appointment, since he will be the chief’s boss.
Zapata will have the opportunity to fill another vacancy on the bridge of the USS Unstableheim, since Fire Chief Randy Bruegman tendered his resignation on June 19 – the same day Cisneros was hired to run the Anaheim Police Department.