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Mantecas 1st woman city manager
Council taps Karen McLaughlin to replace Pinkerton
Karen McLaughlin

Karen McLaughlin is in line to become Manteca’s next city manager.

The 24-year City of Manteca employee was selected by the City Council Tuesday to take over on a permanent basis when Steve Pinkerton departs Sept. 1 for his new job as city manager for Davis in Yolo County.

McLaughlin has served as assistant city manager since 2002. She was the interim city manager after Bob Adams departed and before the council hired Pinkerton three years ago.

“The council has total confidence in Karen,” Mayor Willie Weatherford said.

The move - while not unexpected - was a bit of a surprise as it was thought the council would first appoint McLaughlin as interim city manager. The mayor said the council saw no need for that since she was already well versed in running the city.

Weatherford along with Councilman Steve DeBrum will negotiate a contract with McLaughlin. The goal is to have it ready to sign by the first week of September.

McLaughlin’s ascension to the top post will trigger other moves. She has been doing double duty as Parks and Recreation Director to save money since Steve Houx retired two years ago.

It was indicated there is senior staff already in the department capable of stepping up to the job. The council also intends to put in place an assistant city manager to replace McLaughlin also from within the city’s ranks.

“We have an effective and component staff,” Weatherford said of the decision to stay in house with Pinkerton’s replacement as well as the hunt to cover McLaughlin’s current duties. “I suspect when it is all over we will also end up saving money as well.”

McLaughlin echoed Weatherford’s sentiments about the municipal work force.

“We have a good team,” McLaughlin said, noting they have worked together through three tough years of financial cutbacks  and staff reductions to still deliver municipal services as effectively and quickly as possible.

She lauded Pinkerton’s efforts at guiding the city through the pain of $14 million in spending cuts predicated by rapidly dropping revenues caused by the recession as well as employment contracts that were crushing the city financially.

McLaughlin made it clear, though, that she would not be moving to Manteca. She lives in Modesto near Kaiser Hospital some “six freeway exits from Manteca.”

“I live in Manteca and sleep in Modesto,” McLaughlin said.

She is asking that the council, if they agree, to consider changing a municipal ordinance that requires a city manager to live within the city limits. McLaughlin said she is making the request so as not to leave anyone with false expectation that she would move to Manteca.

Back in 2001 McLaughlin and her husband Bob were looking at moving their family to Manteca and selling the Modesto home they had bought in 1988.

But then her mother was stricken with multiple sclerosis. She was the closest sibling to her mother. They opted instead to move to a larger nearby home in the event that her mother needed to move in with them at some point. Staying in Modesto also allowed McLaughlin to take an active role in her mother’s care. Ultimately, her mother did move in with them. She has since passed away.

McLaughlin noted that with her being about five years from retirement also contributed to her stance.

McLaughlin was raised in Newport Beach in Southern California where she graduated from Newport Harbor High and studied at Orange Community College. She ended up majoring in journalism at Humboldt State.

She was hired as a reporter at the Oakdale Leader in 1983 before joining the staff of the Manteca Bulletin several years later. Her beat for the Bulletin was covering city hall.

Then City Manager Dave Jinkens hired her as an executive analyst in the city administration office in 1987. Two years later she was promoted to assistant to the city manager. She served in that role from 1989 to 1998. From 1998 to 2002 she was the deputy city manager before taking on her current job.

“I’m passionate about local government,” McLaughlin said. “If your trash isn’t picked up, that’s local government. If your toilet doesn’t flush, that’s local government.  If your water isn’t clean, that’s local government. If there’s a pothole, that’s local government.”

She noted that local government is what is closest to people and plays a critical role in day-to-day life.