New Grover Beach City Manager Matt Bronson will tell you it’s not easy being the new guy in town, but it’s a challenge he feels up to.
“I’m coming in as a new manager: This is my first city manager role,” he said on his 12th day on the job. “I have a lot to learn and a lot to absorb here. Part of my first 100 days is to really listen and understand, get a sense of where the community is coming from, where my employees are coming from and where the council is coming from. To really understand the interests, the hopes, the dreams, the frustrations and the opportunities.”
Bronson, 41, was hired in May to replace former City Manager Bob Perrault, who retired in February after 10 years with the city. Bronson will receive a base salary of $176,000, plus up to $8,000 in moving expenses and a $4,000 annual auto allowance, according to his contract agreement.
I have a lot to learn and a lot to absorb here.
Bronson officially started work June 15 amid a roller coaster of activity as the staff and City Council welcomed its first new city manager in a decade, and as Bronson attempted to familiarize himself with the beach town.
As Bronson settles in to his new position, he agreed to sit down with the The Tribune and share some of his background, as well as his vision for Grover Beach.
Kaytlyn Leslie: So let’s start easy: Where are you coming from?
Matt Bronson: I bring a pretty strong generalist look and experience to Grover Beach. I most recently served as the assistant city manager in San Mateo. I was working in San Mateo for six years — great city, great organization, it gave me an excellent foundation to take this next step as a city manager.
Prior to San Mateo, I worked for seven years in the county of Marin working for the county administrator’s office. So that gave me a great opportunity to learn about county government, and how cities and counties work together, which is really important down here in SLO County, because we have a very close connection with county government and need to work in a close partnership to accomplish city goals. Prior to Marin, I worked for the city of Charlotte in North Carolina for five years.
KL: So what brought you from North Carolina over to California?
MB: I’m actually from California originally; I’m from San Jose. I was born and raised in San Jose, went to UC Davis for college, and then from there I wanted to go out and see a different part of the country, and I used graduate school as a way to do that. I got my master’s in public administration from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
So I come at this role in Grover Beach with 17 years of experience at a variety of different communities and different states. And (I want to) bring that experience to bear into my role as Grover Beach city manager, and also see and learn the local culture and customs, and how to apply what works here along with some ideas and thoughts about other communities, to make an even stronger Grover Beach.
KL: So what are some of your big plans for the city? What do you know you want to come in and accomplish?
MB: Our City Council has provided very strong guidance and leadership on a number of key priorities, most notably infrastructure improvements and economic development opportunities. Those are compelling projects, those are part of a compelling vision for what our community can become. Grover Beach is a very strong, community-oriented city. It has a very unique vibe, a very unique quality of life and that is great. That’s part of what drew me here was seeing that really strong quality of life and a community that has a can-do spirit and wants to do big things. And our council embodies that. They have a very strong vision for what they see Grover Beach becoming. West Grand Avenue is really symbolic of that. ... We have amazing opportunities to make this into a true gateway from the beach all the way through Grover Beach.
Grover Beach is a very strong community-oriented city. It has a very unique vibe, a very unique quality of life and that is great.
(Bronson also listed water, the upcoming Grover Beach Lodge and Conference Center, the train-station expansion, Measure K road improvements and expanding the city’s broadband network as some of the projects he is focusing on at this moment.)
KL: What about modernizing City Hall and it’s relationship with the public? Like branching into social media?
MB: We have a staff that cares deeply. My job is to build on that care, and build on that commitment and see how we can perhaps have some more modern processes and ways to interact with the community. You mentioned social media, and I’m a big believer in social media. I am a frequent Twitter user, so Grover Beach now has a city manager who will be actively tweeting a wide variety of different news and events. It’s one example of creating a strong connection, particularly with those who use social media pretty frequently, which are the millennials and others. They aren’t going to come to a public meeting. They’re not going to come to City Hall to talk to somebody. They’re going to want to see what is happening in the digital environment. So social media is one way that I plan to really help push the envelope. I am working with our staff to really expand our presence on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Our police department does a great job already in that, and I’m working with other staff members to use that medium more frequently.
I also want to explore other ways to engage the community through things like surveying and workshops and getting out into the community. A lot of times, cities will think community engagement is just holding a public meeting in council chambers. That’s not community engagement. Community engagement is when you use a variety of different ways to get out to the community both online and in person.
(Bronson noted he hopes to start coffee-with-the-city-manager events, plus branch out into neighborhood social group www.nextdoor.com to help encourage community communication and outreach.)
I want to build on what is already working, and really help emphasize that and celebrate it.
KL: So how would you describe your style of city management?
MB: My style of city management combines a number of different things. One is I’m a passionate believer in collaboration and teamwork. I believe strongly in the importance of working together as a team — as a city organization team — to accomplish the results that the council and the community is looking for us to accomplish. We have departments, and they each do their set tasks and assignments. I want to find ways for us to work together better across those different departments — really to be one organization that is serving the Grover Beach community.
I bring that spirit into my role as city manager. I also bring a spirit of looking at new ideas, seeking constant improvement and building on what is already here. We have a strong team and a strong organization. I want to build on what is already working and help emphasize that and celebrate it. Let’s celebrate the accomplishments and the success that we have in Grover Beach. I think sometimes we tend to get overshadowed by communities around us. I want to tell a story about what we are already achieving, what’s on the horizon and what opportunities we have as a community to be a premier coastal community with an amazing quality of life for residents and for visitors. That’s the story I want to tell.