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June 5, 2007 > An interview with Jesus Armas

An interview with Jesus Armas

By Steve Warga

Hayward City Manager Jesus Armas will retire at the end of this month, after 14 years in his position. He sat down with TCV to share memories and a thought or two about the city he loves.

TCV: What will you miss the most?

Armas: The variety, the challenges, the people, and the ability to help solve problems. When you look at what happens at a city, day-in and day-out, it's actually pretty complex. The key to successful management is making sure we have good employees. By and large, I think that's definitely the case here in Hayward. We have a lot of dedicated employees who have been here for an extended period of time with, generally speaking, a strong commitment to serving the public.

TCV: Have you accomplished what you set out to do in 1993?

Armas: Thinking back, I really didn't have much time to look beyond some immediate and pressing problems. The city's financial condition was a difficult one, to put it mildly. And we were occupying temporary quarters due to earthquake damage to the eleven story city building. The process of making a decision whether to move back in after retrofitting; or to build a new home for ourselves, was in a state of considerable flux.

So my immediate attention went to addressing those issues, along with strengthening our entire organization after the city council fired my predecessor. One of my big goals back then was to create some internal stability in the staff; then to create an environment where we could all work with a common sense of direction and focus.

Then in 1994, we elected Roberta Cooper as new mayor after Mike Sweeney decided against running for a second term. She wanted to tackle some questions that had been simmering for years and years. Things like, what to do with the old Hayward Golf Course site which is now the Twin Bridges housing development with a nine-hole executive golf course. Another such challenge was dealing with the controversial development up on the ridge. So, those things absorbed my time and energy from the very beginning of my tenure as manager.

Of all those early challenges, the only one that remains unresolved is the matter of traffic flow, in particular, the Highway 238 corridor.

TCV: Have you approached any current department heads about applying for your job?

Armas: No, because most of our department heads are relatively new to their positions. The ones who have been here for awhile are mostly on retirement track over the next 12 - 18 months. I don't know of anyone here who is planning to apply, but that may happen.

We've been blessed during my years as city manager to have some really dedicated public officials. The public doesn't always recognize the extent of their sacrifice or give them the credit I think they deserve. Our Hayward councilmembers and mayor put in a lot of time and energy. Praises are few, and when they come, they're sometimes almost backhanded.

TCV: Have you firmed up your plans after retiring?

Armas: Not definitively. I'll do some consulting work, but to what extent, I don't know yet. I do plan on acquiring office space here in downtown Hayward. A big part of my reasoning for this is to reinforce my own opinion that there's a lot of potential in this city and I want to see it realized.

You know, cities aren't static; they're always evolving and changing. You have to keep your eyes open for new opportunity. That means looking at things not so much as they are, or have been, but for what they might become. Reacting and adapting to those changes is the fun part of the job, actually.

TCV: Are there things you'll have to leave undone, that you wanted to finish?

Armas: In terms of physical changes, I wish we had come to a resolution on the question of a new main library. I regret that we didn't do a good enough job when we went to the voters a few years ago asking for revenue to build a new facility. The voters said "no"; a lot of people put a lot of effort in that, but to no avail.

I think with our current director, Lisa Rosenblum, we're going to see some real progress. She's very bright and informed on new technologies and services. We're also getting ready to consider Requests for Proposals (RFP). We're making progress again.

I would have liked to make something happen with the 238 corridor and greenbelt, but the price tag was simply too high.

Coming sort of full circle, I'm sorry the council is facing financial challenges again as they were when I come on board. We're struggling, but we are keeping up without any layoffs, so that's some consolation.

TCV: What prompted you to retire now?

Armas: Well, I was going to retire in April, but the council asked me to extend through the end of June. One reason for this was that it would coincide with the end of our fiscal year; plus, staying a few more months would permit me to see the mid-term budget planning completed. Otherwise, I feel the time is right for me to move on to the next phase of my career.

TCV: Do you have any final thoughts to share?

Armas: I want to thank the council for appointing me, way back when. Plus I want to thank the public for having allowed me to serve in this capacity. It's fun ... for the most part! My 14 years here have been overwhelmingly positive.

Finally, I want to say that I continue to believe Hayward is a great place to live and work. As I said, I'll have an office downtown; and my wife, two daughters and I will continue living here. We're proud to call Hayward "home."

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