Jerry Gruber came to Cambria before his job came to him. While many community members think of Gruber’s initial year as general manager of the Cambria Community Services District as an era of change for the better, what pops into his mind when he thinks of his first anniversary coming up on Monday, April 30 is, “I was a Cambrian first.”
The Grubers have owned their Cambria home for about seven years. Long before he got the district job, he and wife Melanie knew they wanted to live here.
The collegial, energetic general manager, 52, said recently his wife and his love of Cambria help keep in perspective the demands of his pressure-cooker job.
If Cambria’s a good fit for Jerry Gruber, he’s apparently an equally satisfactory match for townspeople, who have noticed changes and a new atmosphere at district facilities.
“I actually hear laughter coming out of the office now,” Gruber said.
Longtime district employee Jim Adams said, “The difference is like night and day.”
When Gruber was appointed CCSD utilities manager in November 2010, it was assumed he would succeed General Manager Tammy Rudock when her contract expired in mid-2012.
But some people already were irritated by Rudock’s management style and how she’d handled some issues. Then last April, she suddenly terminated the employment of Fire Chief Mark Miller, a popular leader who had helped solve long-standing fire-safety problems without ruffling feathers.
More than 300 people, nearly all of them angry, attended a district hearing about Miller’s firing. The next day, April 30, the district board terminated Rudock and appointed Gruber as interim general manager. They approved his three-year contract June 23.
His $150,000-a-year salary is lower than Rudock’s (which was more than $166,000), and Gruber pays back $12,000 annually for his share of his state retirement fund, something he wishes every public employee would do. And he hasn’t refilled the $113,000-a-year utilities manager’s position, saving another big chunk of money for the district.
By May 16, Miller was back in his old post. Rudock — given $132,456 in severance and $47,738.69 for accumulated sick leave/vacation pay — has since moved to be near her family in the Fresno area.
The new management team under Gruber was off and running.
Actions and priorities
Changes happened quickly.
Gruber reinstituted longer district-office hours (now 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. four days a week).
Staffers, not the answering service, answer phones during business hours on Mondays.
There’s a desk for the public in the administrative office, where documents can be examined.
Before each board meeting, staffers man an information table.
Politeness and enthusiasm are essential. When customers come in, “they should feel they’re our employers, not a nuisance,” Gruber said.
Gruber serves on the Camp Ocean Pines board. He attends as many public events as possible, and encourages his staff to do likewise.
He emphasizes collaboration, a refreshing trait when many public officials seem in a perpetual state of war with virtually anybody on “the other side.”
Among current joint efforts are:
Skate-park responsibility shared by the district and, potentially, American Legion, Rotary and Lions clubs.
The long-stalled Moonstone Beach connector trail project, with the county and Conservation Corps.
Reinvigorated, cooperative research into shared services between CCSD and the Cambria Community Healthcare District; and
Using the school district’s water truck and employee to sprinkle CCSD’s nonpotable water on Main Street’s landscaped medians maintained by the Cambria Garden Club.
Gruber meets weekly with department heads on their turf, not his. He’s done their jobs, so he understands.
If customer service, enthusiasm and collaboration are Gruber’s passions, maintaining district infrastructure is his mantra, despite a squeaky-tight budget.
But his key is respect, for employees, customers, partners and district equipment.
“I don’t want this to be all about Jerry,” he said. “It’s about Cambria. That’s what counts.”
In their words
In alphabetical order and in their own words, this is how some community members and leaders view Jerry Gruber.Realtor Becky Adams: Gruber doesn’t seem to feel “his opponents should be punished. He has no need for a power play.”
Gruber consulted Realtors about how to improve a water-conservation ordinance “a refreshing change.”
She hopes he can solve having each new manager bring “a different interpretation of district codes, and find a better way to manage data.”
Jim Adams, CCSD’s water department supervisor, who has worked for the district for 24 years: Gruber’s “a breath of fresh air. It’s nice to have a boss who cares for the community, let alone the CCSD.
“Morale hasn’t been this good in years and years We have a lot better working relationship with the public it’s “a joy to come to work.”
“There’s a level of trust regained, with him being more open and responsive to the public. Everyone on staff seems to enjoy him very much.
“He has a true, true open policy He has nothing to hide, and that’s how he presents it.”
Gruber “has a good relationship with board and employees, which is hard to find and hard to maneuver as a manager. He’s bridged a lot of governmental gaps from the past It’s not us against them. It’s us working together.” “My only complaint is he’s hard to keep up with at times. He’s very energetic.”
Elizabeth Bettenhausen, a district watchdog who frequently comments at district meetings: CCSD now provides “detailed monthly reports of the work they are doing, an excellent example of transparency to the community.” Gruber’s “respect for the community and environment of Cambria is matched by a strong sense of responsibility.”
CCSD Director Mike Thompson: Gruber “has a terrific ability to work collaboratively with all segments of the community. Gone is much of the tension that used to exist between CCSD” and other entities. “He has a ‘can do’ attitude” and “has done much to dispel the ‘siege mentality’ which existed” before.
Jim Webb, fisherman and community activist: Gruber “seems to be making progress, in a practical and methodical manner, on maintenance tasks throughout the district. He has been responsive to information requests, though follow-through has been uneven.
“Perhaps by design, he has not provided public leadership on long-term water and wastewater projects Applying the same common-sense approach to these would be a welcome change. “All in all, (Gruber is) a change for the better, in my opinion.”
Mary Webb, vice president of Greenspace — The Cambria Land Trust: “Jerry Gruber is professional, polite and his good attitude is reflected in that of his staff –- the same staff” that worked in a “climate of tension and combativeness.”
“He responds to emails and is very approachable. Rather than pitting one faction against another, he genuinely seems to want to bring the community together again.”
“Although staff salaries and benefits are still too high for a small community, he has done twice the amount of work and saved money in the past year.”