Morro Bay city manager to resign; city says it’s ‘a good time for a change’

David Buckingham announced Friday that he is resigning as Morro Bay’s city manager, effective June 26.
David Buckingham announced Friday that he is resigning as Morro Bay’s city manager, effective June 26.

After three years with the city, Morro Bay’s top administrator is resigning so that city officials can find a person with a “moderately different management approach,” he said Friday.

The city announced in a news release that David Buckingham, who was hired as city manager in August 2014, will go on paid administrative leave until his official resignation date of June 26.

City officials gave no reason for Buckingham’s departure other than that this is “a good time for a change.”

“I am thankful for the opportunity to have served this wonderful community and proud of the significant improvements and accomplishments our dedicated and professional staff have delivered to the city over the past three years,” Buckingham said in the city’s announcement. “I completely respect our City Council and fully appreciate the view that this is a great time for a transition.”

Buckingham echoed those words Friday afternoon and said that during a special closed-session evaluation Wednesday, he and the council “jointly agreed it was good for the city to change direction.”

Buckingham, 52, has been looking for work for several months. He was a finalist for city manager posts in Colorado and Montana, but was not picked for either position. He said he does not currently have any applications for work elsewhere, and that he plans to take time off to go on a backpacking trip with his family before seeking out new employment.

“I’ve got lots of years of good work ahead of me,” Buckingham said.

In the city’s announcement, Mayor Jamie Irons and Councilman John Headding lauded Buckingham’s performance, saying he has had a “significant, positive impact” over the past three years.

The announcement cited Buckingham’s accomplishments, including establishing the city’s first-ever strategic planning and budgeting framework, implementing a 10-year budget forecast process, rewriting the city’s General Plan for the first time in 27 years, improving relationships with regional and state regulating agencies, and securing a $7 million federal grant for dredging the harbor.

Finance Director Craig Schmollinger will serve as acting city manager as the City Council begins the search for a permanent replacement. The city said the decision to place Buckingham on immediate leave is “in accordance with his employment contract and by agreement between the parties.”

Buckingham has agreed to assist in the transition process.

His contract includes a six-month severance “to allow him and his family to consider their options and opportunities to continue his 30-year career in public service,” the news release states.

His annual salary was $160,000.

Buckingham dismissed a question about whether there were tensions between him and the council, saying their relationship was “respectful” and that he was proud of the work he did with current and past council members and city staff.

His departure comes as the city is two years into a five-year increase of water rates while it works to build a wastewater treatment plant near Highway 1 and South Bay Boulevard at a cost of $123 million to $136 million.

Buckingham said council members are “quite aware of the various challenges” ahead and are looking for a person with a different management style.

“And that’s why we both agreed that this was the right move,” he said.

Matt Fountain: 805-781-7909, @MattFountain1