NC loses ex-city manager
The following article was first printed in the May 2011 edition of the Nevada City Advocate when Gene Albaugh was about to retire for the last time – this time as the city manager of Nevada City. The author, Steve Cottrell, was on the city council when Gene was hired and knew him well. Gene Albaugh was 79 when he passed away on Sunday, Sept. 2.
When he was hired as interim city manager in 2007, Gene Albaugh was in semi-retirement with no interest in having the “interim” tag removed.
His tongue-in-cheek explanation for the change in plans: “It was the result of a con job by one of our council members who asked me, ‘Have you ever thought about working here for 4-5 years?’ That got me thinking about staying on if it was the council’s pleasure.”
In early 2008, the city council named Gene full-time city manager and next month he will turn over the keys to Dave Brennan the former Sebastopol city manager who agreed to take the Nevada City position for approximately $50,000, the same salary range Albaugh worked under the past couple years.
Although hesitant to offer his successor any operational advice, Albaugh did say “He will need to appreciate the community’s historical nature and insist on its preservation.”
An effective city manager, Gene explained, is concerned with myriad civic needs that he describes as “the visible and invisible moving parts necessary to sustain a vibrant community. Ironically,” he added, “it’s often only when something goes wrong that our role is noticed.”
Gene stepped in during one of the most uncertain times in recent Nevada City history: merchants were sharply divided on the future of the Business Improvement District (operating as the Downtown Business Association), foreclosures were escalating, the economy was sliding, and city sales tax and bed tax receipts were plummeting.
It was not a propitious time to become city manager.
He says the biggest changes these past few years have been wage freezes, mandatory furlough days, layoffs and increased individual workloads associated with layoffs, however, “morale of staff has seen a huge improvement. And we now do strategic planning semi-annually, with regular updates to the city council, which has been very useful for the council, planning commission and staff.”
Insofar as Nevada City contracting for law enforcement services, Albaugh notes, “Quite a few cities in California are served by a county sheriff or another police department.” He cited Colfax as an example. “It saved Colfax considerable money, improved services, and when the voters were asked if they wanted to continue with the sheriff’s department, over 70 percent voted to keep the sheriff rather than bring back a police department.”
Although regarded as a composed, even-tempered person, he confessed that his one regret since 2007 came at the expense of the attorney representing owners of Sugar Loaf.
“During the negotiations a profanity came out, and the deputy city clerk heard it,” he admitted. “And she hasn’t forgotten it.”
Gene has been working in public sector administration for decades, “but I would like to be remembered as a fine teacher and coach. My first professional job was high school teacher and coach,” he said, “and I’ve found those skills very valuable when dealing with people in all ranks.”
“Coach” Albaugh, incidentally, was recently inducted into the Salesian High School Sports Hall of Fame in Richmond.
Albaugh expects the 2012 city council election to center on the basics.
“Some of our sewer and water lines are ancient and the water plant hasn’t had a major upgrade since 1966,” he said. “So improving infrastructure, while balancing the budget in the face of declining revenue, will likely be the main issue.”
And although a $3.65 million grant application has been submitted to the state for water plant improvements, Albaugh concedes “we’re way down on their funding list.”
When asked what lies ahead for Nevada City in 2020, the ever optimistic Albaugh replied: “A new courthouse, with reasonably adequate parking, will be a beacon on the hill.”