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City managers likely to tread water or think that they can walk on it wasn’t what Manteca needs
city manager Lundgren
Manteca City Manager Toni Lundgren with a photograph of the city’s water tower on Wetmore Street.

Manteca has a new city manager.

Well, not exactly a new city manager.

Toni Lundgren has been on the job for the past 15 months.

Several times in the proverbial “caretaker” role as an acting city manager happened during a rocky stretch when Manteca was playing musical chairs at 1001 West Center Street.

Most of that time it was as interim city manager.

Typically, “interim” is a holding position just to keep things running until the permanent replacement is selected from those on the city manager carousel circuit in California where the average ride lasts two to three years.

That wasn’t the approach Lundgren took, as if she had a choice.

The OK Corral Act that saw the city go through six city managers — acting, interim, and the short shelf-life permanent version — since 2016 shot employee morale to hell.

And when 85 percent of a city’s general fund budget is personnel costs because the bulk of what a municipality provides are services requiring manpower and not robots, that is a problem.

Then there were the rolling disasters that kept getting  bigger and bigger.

*The bookkeeping fiasco that is almost sorted out . Although there was no malfeasance involved short-staffing, ineptness, and lack of oversight to the mess that was unearthed it meant the city did not have a clear picture of its financial situation.

*The confusion over finances made it sketchy at best— and impossible at worse — to proceed with projects whether it was road improvements or replacing aging fire engines and other critical equipment.

 *The failure of those running the city — even predating 2016 — to make sure sewer, water, and garbage rates reflected actual costs and covered the need to replace aging infrastructure.

At the same time, the city needed to take advantage of opportunities engineered in part by Mayor Gary Singh working with State Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman  to snag $15 million to build a homeless navigation center using a state grant and not local funds.

To be clear, what progress the city has made in the last 15 months is not the Toni Lundgren show.

It is a team effort. It requires staff, department heads, the elected council, and city manager firing on all cylinders and doing so in as close synch as possible to move things forward.

But whoever is in the city manager’s office sets the tone and has the ability to create a mojo — so to speak — to tackle city needs and services in the most effective way possible.

Cities don’t need city managers that can only tread water. Nor do they need city managers that think they can walk on water.

They need city managers that can help cities swim.

In the three years Lundgren has been in the city manager’s office with almost half of that time as a deputy city manager plus her additional 13 years of serving the city in parks and recreation, she has proven she can swim.

The question is whether she was a strong enough and an experienced enough swimmer to be the bureaucratic head — call it the head coach, if you will — of Team Manteca..

Lundgren — based on the unanimous consensus of the City Council including members that had reservations about her experience to handle the job — has delivered in the past 15 months.

Yes, she has had missteps. But she quickly owned them, corrected them, and moved forward.

And, it is safe to say, the bottom line of how the city functions today is much smoother than it was a few years ago.

The 44-year-old Lundgren is not simply a choice of going with someone you know.

No one on the council believes she has all the answers. They’d be a fool to believe so.

Answering inquires on a one-on-one basis, they acknowledged Lundgren has proven to be a quick and insatiable learner when it comes to the nuances of running a city.

This is not on the job training, if you will. It is continued training,.

The biggest mistake most people make is once they earn a high school or college diploma is to assume the need to stop actively learning is over. That’s not Lundgren’s take on the world.

If that sounds like a wacked view, consider a pearl of wisdom that former Manteca Unified School District Superintendent Jason Messer once offered when  it came to consultants.

Messer said if a situation called for hiring one, he didn’t want the one with the most experience.

He was looking for someone that had the basics, were fairly new to being a consultant in their field, and was a clear read as someone who was eager to be a success.

His rationale?

Typically, people create “templates” of how they do things.

Successful consultants — or those approaching any job for the first time that want to succeed at — will leave no stone unturned to produce the best possible work. That’s because they want to be able to use it to get another gig.

Along the way, though, most people tend not to work as hard on the next consulting job given they believe they have “mastered” most of what they need based on  their first success.

Often times, the more experience they get with different organizations  and such that contract with them, the less  hard they work.

They’ve got a template.

They believe they know the answers.

That leaves them blind to individual nuances a client — or city — is dealing with or other opportunities for an endeavor to do better,

As such, Lundgren has something that others don’t have.

This is essentially her first job a permanent  city manager.

And equally important, she doesn’t seem to have  desire to climb higher.

Toss in the fact her like and enthusiasm for Manteca is genuine and well-established.

The possibility is strong that Lundgren will grow into what Manteca needs at this juncture in its history just like the city is growing.

It’s not a guarantee, of course. Nothing ever is.  

But the odds given her strength, drive, outlook, personal goals,  and track record of the last 15 months she will not treat Manteca as just another cog with interchangeable parts or as the next step on the ladder.

As such, Manteca can avoid losing critical  time addressing issues when, quite frankly, city leaders should have picked up their game 10 years ago when the city had 20,000 less people.

Given the situation, the council decided on Lundgren.

Not because she was the known choice or the only choice.

And not because she was the best city manager candidate per se on paper.

But because she is the best choice for Manteca.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at