Interim city manager Theresa DellaSanta
Atherton interim manager has her hands full
By Renee Batti
Theresa DellaSanta has been demonstrating her skills as a juggler over the past seven weeks, keeping many balls in the air as she oversees the town of Atherton's general business as interim city manager while keeping an eye on the town's city clerk duties.
The permanent deputy city clerk, Ms. DellaSanta moved quickly to broaden her on-the-job focus when the City Council in late January appointed her to her new position after John Danielson, who served as interim manager for one year, unexpectedly left the post.
Ms. DellaSanta, 30, had no city management experience before her appointment, and has just completed work for her bachelor's degree in public administration — her diploma is expected in July — from Phoenix University, which offers online courses.
But her prior three years of experience in Town Hall as Atherton's only city clerk (although she's "deputy" city clerk, the town has no full-fledged clerk) has familiarized her with day-to-day operations of the town as well as with the other key players in Atherton's governance, including council members.
Key duties she's been focusing on include helping with the search for a permanent city manager, which the town has been without since the October 2010 resignation of Jerry Gruber. The council authorized hiring a recruitment firm, and proposals from a number of firms came in by the March 8 deadline.
Ms. DellaSanta and a subcommittee of the council — Mayor Bill Widmer and Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen — were scheduled to review the proposals and set criteria for evaluating them late last week.
The town has already received a number of resumes from city manager applicants, Ms. DellaSanta said. Although a council-approved timeline for the process includes naming the new manager by mid-May, it's likely the person won't be in place until early June or later, she said.
The town has interim managers in other key positions — a situation Mr. Widmer, when he became mayor in December, said he wants addressed sooner rather than later. At this point, the finance department has an interim manager whose contract expires in May; the police chief is an interim appointment, and his contract is up in July; and the public works director is temporary, with a contract that expires in July.
Ms. DellaSanta said that, as interim city manager, she could move ahead and recruit permanent staff in those positions, "but I would like to respect the person who comes on board" as the permanent manager, allowing that person to make his or her own choices for key positions, she added.
As for Interim Finance Director Debra Auker's May 9 stop date, will Ms. DellaSanta extend the contract until the permanent manager is hired, or hire a permanent finance director? That's up to the council, Ms. DellaSanta said. "If the council wants me to move ahead, I have no problem with that."
While she is focusing on other tasks, Ms. DellaSanta has arranged for staff working for the town's independent planner to do some clerical work, such as transcribing meeting minutes, that she had performed as city clerk. She knows, however, that "there are going to be things that are backed up" by the time she returns to her city clerk post. "I'll just deal with them," she said calmly.
Ms. DellaSanta said she became adept at on-the-job time management as she worked on her college degree while performing her city clerk's duties. In the fall, she will begin an accelerated master's in public administration program at Golden Gate University, which offers a mix of online and on-campus courses for the degree.
Meanwhile, she's trying to tidy up Town Hall for the permanent manager, she said. "When a person comes to a new house, (that person) wants to have a clean house. Well, I'm cleaning house."
That job includes creating a records management policy so the town can reduce the volume of documents it stores. "We're running out of space," Ms. DellaSanta said.
She also is working on clarifying policies governing town committees — which include focuses from transportation and finance to arts and the environment. She said she wants committee meetings staffed by a town employee, which isn't always the case now, but given the small number of staff people, that might be accomplished only by merging committees.
She also is working with the city attorney to rewrite parts of the municipal code. "There are so many things that are out of date," she said, giving as an example costly advertising requirements that were written before the availability of email and the Internet.
The town is also now in the middle stages of developing a budget for the next fiscal year, which ideally will be at least close to council approval before a permanent manager begins work.
"We have a busy two months ahead," Ms. DellaSanta said. "But I'm confident that we can do it."