Manteca city manager navigates transformative path for city

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This article was previously published on publicceo.com

Miranda Lutzow has had a whirlwind career at the City of Manteca thus far. Just last year, she was hired as the City’s Administrative Services Director. But when the City faced a series of personnel changes just a few months into her tenure, she found herself thrust into the role of Acting City Manager. Recently, she has had “acting” removed from her title and has settled into her seat as City Manager of Manteca. It’s been quite a year, and as Manteca continues its trajectory of transformation, Miranda brings a fresh perspective and an adaptability that will help steer the City on its journey forward.

The City is also in the midst of recruiting for four key positions, and details on those openings can be found on the PublicCEO job board.

We sat down with Miranda to talk about the City of Manteca, how the transformation is going and what she is excited about for the future of the City.

This is your first experience serving as a city manager. How does it feel being in the CM’s seat?

First, I have a greater respect for the role of city manager than ever before. I was always told by mentors and former CM’s that it is difficult to fully appreciate the role of city manager until you are in it. They were absolutely right.

Second, I feel an increased pressure to deliver for the City knowing the buck stops with me. I wake up thinking about Manteca and go to sleep thinking about Manteca, but I sleep well at night because I know there is a team of people at City Hall and a positive and supportive City Council who all want to provide for our community.

Third, you quickly appreciate how critical the role of the team is in delivering on Council goals. You simply can’t do this job by yourself. Building a strong team and having great chemistry and culture is a cornerstone of having a successful and effective city government that can respond to the needs of the community and goals of the City Council.

Manteca has seen a lot of turnover in the staff leadership in the past year. Why have there been so many changes at the top and what does that mean for City operations?

There is no doubt that this past year has been transformational for the staff in Manteca City Hall. We have seen several high-level positions open up, but what really struck me in the midst of all the changes was how city staff immediately stepped up to fill bigger shoes – and they did an amazing job of it. Manteca is the kind of community where you get things done no matter what, and I have seen that spirit in action within our skeleton crew of internal leaders and the staff who work with them. As a result, we have promoted a couple positions to fill new roles – like my new Assistant City Manager Lisa Blackmon – and as they step up it creates new openings that we will be filling. The bottom line is that progress continues to happen in Manteca. The team that is here today has stepped up and earned more responsibilities, and the community and Council remain well-served. Notably, that same crew and spirit of ‘getting it done’ has fueled us as we respond to COVID-19 and the new challenges it brings.

Indeed, you have taken on this leadership role in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. What is that like as a newly minted City Manager?

Being relatively new in this role and then facing the single biggest crisis in local government for decades is eye-opening. What is not lost on me is the importance of the work we are doing to help our community and our City Council succeed in these tumultuous times. We are living and working in a dynamic environment – we don’t have a playbook for this or recent examples to point to for guidance. Now, more than ever, we need the strength of a diverse team with differing viewpoints to work through scenarios and imagine innovative solutions to the challenges our community faces. I’m immensely grateful that I not only have the foundations of a strong team with our existing staff and leadership, but that we are now getting the opportunity to build that team out even further and ensure that we’re creating the most effective city government possible. Cities all over California are being pushed into areas and actions that are completely new territory and we are seeing cities respond – including here in Manteca.

What is the culture like in the city ranks these days?

There is a widespread commitment to change and improvement, from embracing new and more efficient technologies to addressing California’s housing crisis through changing land use policies. Up until recently the community of Manteca has been focused almost exclusively on agriculture, but this is changing. Manteca is shifting to a broader economy with a significant bedroom community. As our resident demographics and economy changes, the needs and interests of the community change and our city staff recognize and appreciate that fact.

Our team is also adaptable. The City Council is in tune with the changes that are happening and is supportive of our efforts to rebuild a dynamic crew that can adapt to whatever we take on next. Our staff in City Hall, from our directors to our part time parks and recreation staff, are all ready to adjust course as needed. Coronavirus has certainly tested that theory and, in our case, proven that we are agile in our ability to shift focus and combat new challenges.

Finally, innovation is a passion for the leadership team. They want to learn from other cities and improve upon existing approaches and policies. We also want to blaze some trails and apply new approaches to old problems to see if we can come up with better solutions. It is powerful to have a team of innovators and a City Council who supports that vision.

You are past-president of the Municipal Management Association of Northern California (MMANC). How did that impact your career growth and ultimately help you arrive in your current leadership role?

MMANC has been a critical part of expanding both my tactical and leadership skills. First and foremost, it is a great group of members who are united in their passion for local government and serving all. When you share those values with a large group, you can quickly learn about the things that matter and hear helpful anecdotes that you can bring home to the city you work for. I had an opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors and as president of MMANC and that gave me a chance, at a relatively early point in my career, to lead a team of people who were held together solely by our shared mission and values. Everyone on the Board was a volunteer, and we were all committed to the mission and supporting one another. It made for a truly great year and member experience.

As we are building out our team in Manteca, I am looking for that same feel among our leadership team: a group of leaders who share the same values and mission – only this time they get the bonus of it not being a volunteer job.

What does the future of Manteca look like?

Through the fog of coronavirus, that is difficult to declare – and I can accept that because we are ready to do what it takes to move forward. The sun will rise tomorrow and the day after, and we will do what it takes to deliver for our community. So, too, will our residents. That is what we do. It is the MyManteca Way.

That said, we know we will continue to grow as a community and add more housing – mostly for residents who work outside of the city. Second, we expect to see significant positive impacts from the opening of the Great Wolf Lodge and other properties that inevitably show up when Great Wolf shows up. Third, we are making significant infrastructure investments, including improving our streets, constructing a highway interchange and installing a fiber optic network. These are all transformational projects and will generate local work and economic stimulus as we enter a challenging period for cities across America. Finally, we are taking on regional problems, including homelessness, mass transit and affordable housing.

All of this will be accomplished with the team of people we are cultivating here. The City has several open positions, including a Finance Director, Development Services Director, Public Works Director, and an Engineering Director. We also have openings for Deputy City Manager, Director of Information Technology and Innovation, and Director of Legislative Services/City Clerk. It is a massive list of openings and reflects just how big the team building opportunity is for Manteca. Filling these positions is a critical step in executing on the transformation we kicked off last year. Our team is excited.

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