Manteca City Manager Karen McLaughlin is retiring Jan. 31.
And her departure is just the beginning.
Manteca’s aging municipal workforce combined with a looming benefit change that will hike health insurance costs for new retirees could mean the possible loss of dozens upon dozens of employees in 2016.
Also retiring at the end of January is Community Development Director Fredric Clark. McLaughlin noted long-time City Clerk Joann Tilton has indicated she plans to retire in early 2016 as well.
If a person eligible for partial or full retirement in 2016 opts to stay on the job it would mean they’d have to retire under new rules that significantly increase the health insurance premiums they pay as retirees.
A staff report in 2014 noted by 2016:
45 percent of the 2014 workforce or 143 employees will be over the age of 50.
22 percent of the 2014 workforce or 68 employees will be over the age of 55.
The fact many employees are reaching the point where they could become eligible for partial or full retirement based on the number of years they have worked creates additional problems as well.
The City Council during the mid-fiscal year review in January noted it would create a brain drain and loss of institutional knowledge if Manteca doesn’t prepare for the potential wave of retirees. It also means Manteca needs an effective succession program for current department heads and mid-level managers that might head out the door virtually at the same time to avoid paying a larger percentage of their retirement health insurance premiums.
Work on a succession plan doesn’t appear to have gotten very far. No one at city hall, for example, has been identified as an interim replacement for McLaughlin.
That means the council must decide soon on whether there is anyone on staff who can step up on an interim basis or if they should hire a retired city manager while they conduct a search for McLaughlin’s permanent replacement.
McLaughlin said the fact that there are a number of key department head and mid-management positions that could become empty in the coming months due to retirement was one of the factors in her decision to retire in January.
“Those appointments should be made by someone who is going to be here for a longer time period,” McLaughlin said.
That means the next city manager will have a relatively rare opportunity in terms of recent Manteca history to appoint most of their department heads.
Mayor Steve DeBrum lauded McLaughlin’s dedication noting that “she has always stepped up to the plate” to tackle challenges.
DeBrum has worked with three different city managers since being elected in 2003 — Robert Adams, Steve Pinkerton, and McLaughlin.
McLaughlin has served more than four years as city manager.
In an email Monday to the City Council and municipal employees McLaughlin praised the “incredible team of department managers and their staff” and told the employees their “dedication to the Manteca community is so incredibly sincere, and the City of Manteca is a better place because of what you do.”
McLaughlin, 56, was first hired as an executive analyst in 1987. Prior to that, she worked as a newspaper reporter with the Manteca Bulletin and Oakdale Leader. The Southern California native earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism at Humboldt State university in 1982.
During 29 years of service she rose through the ranks becoming an assistant to the city manager, deputy city manager, assistant city manager and then city manager on Sept. 1, 2011.
There have been a lot of changes in Manteca since McLaughlin first started working at 1001 W. Center St. in 1987.
The population has gone from 36,000 to 73,000.
The shuttered Spreckels Sugar Plant was converted into Spereckels Park creating more than 2,200 jobs.
Big League Dreams sports complex was built and Woodward Park was turned into a reality.
The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley anchored by Bass Pro Shops was built.
The abandoned Tidewater Southern Railway was converted into a bike path.
Manteca built a new animal shelter, transit center, and vehicle maintenance facility.
The environmental impact report has been certified to allow the advancement of a 210-acre entertainment zone including a water park resort hotel and conference center.
McLaughlin said she is proud that employees pulled together to help the city weather the Great Recession with a minimal impact on services.
“It has truly been an honor and a privilege to work beside the current and past City Councils, as well as the dedicated employees of the City of Manteca,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin has no specific plans in her retirement other than to spend more time with her husband Bob and their adult children, Amy and Ryan.