Life of the Winters City Manager – her first 180 days

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Last year the Winters City Council selected Kathleen Salguero Trepa from a pool of over 100 applicants to become City Manager after long-time manager John W. Donlevy, Jr. left to become the Auburn City Manager. 

Kathleen Salguero Trepa was hired as the new Winters City Manager in October 2020.
Courtesy photo

Last week, Trepa sat down with the Express to discuss her first 180 days and how she now spends 50-60 hours of her work week overseeing the business of Winters and managing its 48 full-time employees.

During a pandemic and with the LNU wildfire raging, she drove to Winters last August and “fell in love” as soon as she crossed the bridge into downtown Winters.

“It was clear that there is a lot of vision here,” said Trepa. 

“It’s a difficult job,” she said, but after 26 years of public and five years private experience, she felt she had a wide range of professional experience to bring to Winters. Trepa characterized herself as a “generalist” with solid training in several different program areas after having served as an assistant city manager, deputy city manager, public works manager and senior analyst. 

Trepa related that she was well-aware of the challenges facing the town’s new City Manager, having learned of them while going through the recruitment process. The City Council provided the recruiter with what they saw as challenges and only those applicants determined to have the skillset to accomplish the goals were interviewed. 

Trepa assumed the duties of City Manager shortly after the 2020 election that saw Measure A (Keep Winters Winters), on the ballot. The Council wanted someone with a strong background in government operations who could work collaboratively and engage with the community. There was a desire to re-establish confidence and trust in City Hall and develop cooperative relationships within the community, she said.

Trepa believes Measure A was a natural evolution of the community. She said, you can’t stop change; it is how you manage and balance change. The challenge, she added, is how you preserve the charm and manage development.

Six months into the job, Trepa said the first and foremost charming aspect of Winters is the people and a community sense of self-governance. She believes in the “process” and ensuring that all sides to an issue have an opportunity for input. Although not everyone will come away happy with the outcome, the community should feel as though they have a legitimate voice in the process.

Trepa believes consultants can provide enough expertise so that the City does not always need to have a full-time staff position. Winters, she said, is a small agency without a lot of full-time functions for full-time positions. She believes there is a healthy balance between employees, consultants and contractors, but cautions that “things change.”

For example, in the City’s budget proposal that is going before the City Council on May 18 Trepa noted one item in it is for a full-time senior planner. She said there is enough development to justify the position and conceded that, unlike Donlevy, land use is one area she has not worked in.

She adds that there’s good reason to have a full-time planner for planning, overseeing housing contracts, economic development and to support downtown businesses. “There’s so much business here that one person can’t handle it alone, and that’s where the consultants come in,” she said.

Before Donlevy left he prepared a staff report related to the budget and highlighted areas he saw as challenges. Staffing shortages have had a major impact on managing projects, especially since the positions that were left unfunded were management level positions. Although not a surprise, it has impacted Trepa’s ability to move things forward.

With the recent retirement of several key professional staff positions, operational knowledge has also left. This void has presented challenges and a realization that institutional knowledge needs to be retained so as professional operational staff come and go their department’s record systems, processes and knowledge base stay. 

Presently, Trepa is talking with Director of Finance Management, Shelly Gumby, to underpin and expand her department to have more administrative staff support for these professional fields so that the knowledge base and stability remain with the department when the manager leaves.

Surprisingly, Trepa said COVID-19 did not slow down business at City Hall because staff was either working there or remotely. It proved not only at City Hall, but generally, that the ability to telecommute and work remotely can be more efficient. Trepa did not believe Winters was as heavily impacted operationally as some other cities, since most staff were not working remotely.

Because cities are also reporting more citizen participation and access with Zoom meetings, Winters is working on a hybrid approach to enable both in-person and remote access, she said. Currently, however, Winters does not have that capability.

A new agenda management system, Granicus, was just implemented, making it much easier and

effective for the City Clerk to produce the City Council’s meeting agenda packet. It will also allow live streaming of meetings to the City’s website and indexing of agenda items, making it easier to locate a specific agenda item within the meeting.

As for the City’s website, Trepa said it is running on an old platform and the City is looking to migrate to a more effective platform, but this will require a lot of staff time and effort to move from the old to the new platform. Unfortunately, content cannot just be migrated.

The new platform will allow e-alert notifications where topics can be selected and then each time a new entry is uploaded on that topic it will automatically alert the party. Trepa said this will allow for better dissemination and organization of information.

All of this is an effort to make Winters government as transparent as possible, said Trepa, who is a strong believer in government transparency and making public information available.

“People need to be able to trust their government,” Trepa declared.

One way Trepa has been working to provide more transparency is by ensuring that staff reports to the City Council contain more detail than they have historically. Staff reports to the Council must provide enough information and detail to inform the public what business is before the council, and for the Council to be able to make informed decisions.

It is Trepa’s responsibility to review staff reports, make sure they are accurate and have been appropriately vetted and documented. Staff reports are made part of the Council’s meeting agenda packet.

One goal this year is to retain a consultant to help project manage the revitalization policies related to outdoor dining, parking and garbage.

“Those are the three big issues,” Trepa confirmed.

The present outdoor pergolas on Main Street were installed under temporary permits. Some restrictions, such as serving alcohol outdoors, were relaxed due to COVID. Trepa said the City will need to have a collaborative conversation with business owners and the community about what to do with, and how, to manage the outdoor dining space. 

Trepa gives high marks to the Downtown Business Association, Chamber of Commerce, and other entities, like Visit Yolo, who work to attract commerce and tourism to Winters. 

Trepa has been working on a budget report to present to the council workshop and noted that in the past five-year history of the general fund, “this is the first year in five that we’ll close the city books with more revenue than expenditures.”

Every one of the prior five years required relying on general fund reserves, indicating to Trepa a structural imbalance. She said she couldn’t speak to the past, but “historically, the City has expended more than it has brought in.

Trepa credited Donlevy and the City Council for doing a lot of good work in economic development with the hotel, downtown revitalization, freeway services and said, “a small town without business space will struggle financially as property taxes never cover the cost of services.”

Although Prop 13 has been a major benefit to homeowners, it does not help the local coffers. Trepa said recreation is always subsidized by the general fund which requires staff to manage and facilities to maintain. Quality-of- life services require other sources of revenue to cover costs.

Parks are a quality-of-life service. Trepa said she was extremely impressed with the community’s work and collaboration in building out the play structure in City Park. 

Opening soon in the northwestern development is the new Three Oaks Park, a six-acre multi-purpose park that will showcase amenities such as two dog parks, a combination futsal-basketball court, walking paths, a picnic and barbecue area with shade structures and innovative play structures for children.

Public Works Superintendent, Eric Lucero, who is managing construction of Three Oaks Park, related his thoughts about working with Trepa,

“I think she is doing a great job. She is very up front and direct with her vision and doesn’t promise anything she can’t deliver,” Lucero said.

Trepa’s goal for herself on behalf of the community is to make sure she is “creating a sustainable organization and sustainable finances in service to the community that meet the community’s needs with priorities established by the City Council.”

Mayor Wade Cowan said several very qualified candidates were recruited to choose from, but that every member of the interview panels put Trepa at the top of their list. On Trepa’s first day on the job, Cowan met with Trepa and said he had no doubt that the Council made the right choice for Winters.

A requirement in Trepa’s employment contract provided that the City Council and she mutually establish goals for her first year of service. In response, Trepa submitted a memorandum in February listing five priority focus areas: 

  • Fiscal stability.
  • Community engagement and transparency.
  • Economic development.
  • Community development.
  • Organizational/Operational excellence.

Cowan told the Express that he would tell the community in summarizing Trepa’s first six months as City Manager, “rest assured Winters, we are in good hands.”

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