A City, If You Can Keep It: A tale of two city managers

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A Winters Express opinion column
By Richard Casavecchia
Special to the Express

John Donlevy and Kathleen Trepa. Two very good city managers, different in personality, style and tact. Both the right leader at the right time.

The city manager in a Council/Manager form of local government is in essence the CEO of city business. They implement the direction of City Council, oversee enforcement of laws and regulation and manage the day-to-day business of the city.

Similar to the CEO role at a company, different people are right for the job at different times.

John Donlevy was the dreamer. He had a vision for Winters and the willpower to make it happen. This did not always make him friends or endear him to members of the public, but that Winters is so successful today is in no small part because of him.

There were some casualties along the way, local haunts that no longer exist for one reason or another. But every closure was an opportunity. Downtown Winters is what it is because of the city manager with a vision. Every homeowner in Winters along for the ride now enjoys perhaps $100,000 in home equity due in part to Donlevy’s vision. The Putah Creek Nature Park, the Trestle bridge, the Bobbie Greenwood Community Swimming Pool, Rotary Park, City Park, Hotel Winters. Every new restaurant, bar, and wine tasting room downtown exists, in part, because of John Donlevy.

There are those in town who do not like all of the changes John spearheaded, who wish the town was smaller, quieter and cheaper. Much of that could be said of California at large. But most Winterites seem to like the changes, and change was arguably coming whether we wanted it or not. The town was going to grow on orders from the state with or without residents’ consent. Our visionary city manager simply preempted what was coming and stewarded the city to its current state with a plan.

My only criticism would have to be that his tenure was so long that it allowed the Planning Commission and City Council to be less proactive than I think they should have been because of his experience, expertise and strong will that he displayed in his implementation.

As Donlevy was leaving for a new position in Auburn, the pandemic happened. COVID became the transition period that insulated the city from the very normal shock of leadership change. The difference in City Manager modus operandi, that otherwise have been noticed sooner, has taken longer to populate the public consciousness.

Enter the new style of leadership from Kathleen Trepa. She is a dedicated public servant that impresses from the very first meeting. She seems to take her role very seriously, implementing the will of the residents without bias nor favor. Where Donlevy was the shrewd politician pushing a vision, from what I have observed thus far, Trepa is a stalwart administrator.

The rules are the rules. Ordinances and regulations that have long been on the books but sometimes inconsistently applied, are being strictly followed.

A recent example of this that got a lot of negative attention is the postponed Winters High School Fall Downtown Rally. Even though the decision to cancel it was the school district’s, the intrepid Trepa took the heat without protest. I appreciate that the rules are being enforced even if the senior class was not allowed by the district office to try to meet the requirements as enforced.

If we aren’t going to enforce laws or standards, why have them?

We are seeing the government we voted for and allowed to germinate in action. Some people are finding they don’t like some of the rules on the books, and that is fine. It creates a perfect opportunity for change. Maybe we don’t need to mire everything in the bureaucratic process. Maybe we don’t need to require a permit for everything or maybe we want to require permits for more things. Nothing gets people involved in local governance like things they don’t like, and the more involvement we have the more representative the process and the better the outcome.

Donlevy architected the vision; Trepa is running the construction site. While I am sure she has opinions on the issues that come before the city and are directed down from the state — from what I have seen — the current City Manager executes her job based on the tools she is given, not the outcome she would like to see. Like her predecessor, this will not always make her friends or endear her to members of the public, but she is doing the job with the tools she has. And Winters is all the better for both of them.

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