Tim Miller took the job as interim Sonora city administrator in August 2010 at a time when the fallout from the economic recession of the prior two years had wreaked havoc on the city’s operating budget.
Sonora Mayor Pro-Tem Matt Hawkins, who was serving his first term on the city council at the time, recalled how Miller never sugar-coated the dire situation the city was facing financially — and what had to be done to get it back on course.
“Basically, Tim is what the city needed when he came in,” Hawkins said. “He didn’t paint a great picture of where we were at, he was factual, and never once did he mislead us, in my opinion.”
However, the city is now looking at a future without Miller at the helm.
The council received a letter from Miller on Aug. 5 announcing his intent to retire from the position, which he’s served in on a permanent basis since January 2011. He told the council he would stay until at least Oct. 7, or longer if needed to help with the transition.
Miller, 64, was not available for an interview Tuesday or Wednesday because he was traveling to Redwood City for a medical procedure, but said via text message that he and his wife, Mary, recently sold their house in Confidence and are moving to Paradise Valley, Montana, where they’ve been building a home for some time.
“He served his time for the city,” Hawkins said. “I knew it was coming, but basically just didn’t know when.”
On Tuesday, the city posted a notice on its website recruiting for Miller’s replacement. The deadline to apply for the position is next Friday, Sept. 13.
The city administrator essentially acts as the chief executive officer for the city, with duties that include overseeing all city functions and activities, providing guidance policies and programs to the city council, fostering relationships with state and local governmental agencies, and pursuing avenues for economic and community development, among other tasks.
Hawkins said the relatively brief window of opportunity to apply for the position was intended to help speed up the process.
“Basically, we’re just trying to get things on the move,” he said. “I guess the idea is that people who want this job are going to apply for this job, but there hasn’t been anyone selected.”
The council is also opening up the qualifications and other requirements for the position in hopes of attracting a wider pool of candidates.
Education and experience must be equivalent to a four-year college or university degree with major coursework in public or business administration, public policy, finance, or another related field, in addition to five years of management experience in a public agency as a department head or assistant administrator.
A master’s degree or equivalent to one in public or business administration is “highly desired,” but not required. The only required licenses or certifications is a valid California driver’s license by the time of being hired.
“I think this opens up the pool so maybe we can select a better candidate,” Hawkins said.
A six-page brochure for the position states that the compensation and benefits are “negotiable,” but lists Miller’s current annual salary at $153,120. Educational incentives include a 2.5 percent boost in pay for each degree up to a doctorate, with a 10 percent maximum.
Benefits include a pension through the California Public Employees Retirement System, as well as medical, dental, vision, life and long-term disability insurance, with premiums paid by the city.
Miller’s total health and retirement contributions paid by the city in 2018 totaled about $36,000, according to the state Controller’s Office.
Hawkins said he hasn’t heard any interest in the position from people recently laid off from the county, which included Community Resources Agency Director David Gonzalves, General Resources Agency Director Daniel Richardson, and Library Director Deborah Samson.
An ideal candidate for Hawkins would be someone who is fiscally responsible, energetic, and would plan to stay with the city for at least 10 years.
“That doesn’t mean we necessarily get someone with a ton of experience, but I would like to see someone with a lot of energy,” he said. “Tim had a lot of energy when he came in and was basically a breath of fresh air.”
Miller worked in the public sector off and on for most of his career, starting with the Atwater Planning Department in 1979. He later worked for an engineering company before starting his own, Miller and Associates, in 1994.
One of the biggest projects that Miller worked on before becoming city administrator of Sonora was working with Merced County and University of California, Merced, to plan out the 10,000-unit community that sprang up around the UC Merced campus in 2005.
The City of Sonora was previously deficit spending to the tune of more than $400,000 prior to Miller coming on board in 2010, which had depleted the city’s reserve funds from a peak of $2.5 million in 2008 to less than $1 million.
Miller helped the council balance the budget over the next two years through cost-saving measures that included a reduction in part-time hours, limiting travel and training for employees and leaving a number of vacant positions unfilled.
Employees also sacrificed by forgoing cost-of-living increases, taking furloughs or salary reductions and making more contributions to their retirement plans.
All of the work resulted in a more stable city budget over the ensuing years while bringing the reserves back up to more than $2 million. It also hasn’t required the same level of cuts to services and staffing as Tuolumne County, which is facing a $4.2 million deficit this year.
“He got us back to where we needed to be and cut where we needed to cut, so we’re not doing basically what the county is doing now,” Hawkins said. “Had it not been for Tim, I think the council’s job would have been a lot more difficult.”