Convinced he had little prospect of prevailing, an exhausted Tom Schwab opted out of the Grand Terrace city manager sweepstakes this week.
Schwab had been scheduled to go into a closed door meeting with the Grand Terrace city council on Tuesday night to lay out his case for reassuming the city manager’s post he held for 19 years before he suffered a subdural hematoma in June 2008 and was forced into an extended medical leave.
In his absence, assistant city manager Steve Berry stepped into the post of acting city manager.
After a three month hospitalization and three further months of home rest, Schwab was entrusted by the city council with the limited duty of working on the city’s 2009-10 budget. By this spring, with his health substantially recovered, Schwab began campaigning to be brought back as city manager.
That petition was not enthusiastically received by the city council, however. Three of its members - Bea Cortes, Lee Ann Garcia and Walt Stanckiewitz - had gravitated toward keeping Berry at the helm. An outpouring of popular sentiment in favor of Schwab was heard from around the community over the last three months, a movement that seemed to overwhelm the lukewarm support for Berry. Simultaneously, an information campaign pertaining to alleged and actual missteps by Berry in his tenure as assistant city manager sprung up spontaneously, giving a lift to the effort to reestablish Schwab.
Ultimately, however, the commitment on the part of the council to install Berry as the city’s top administrator outlasted the countervailing pressure brought to bear by the traditionalists in town who favored Schwab.
Early this month, the council declared its intention of doing a recruitment drive to hire a city manager to guide the city over the next several years. Both Schwab and Berry were encouraged to apply. Still, there were unmistakable signs the council was leaning in favor of choosing Berry. Last week Schwab summoned up the courage to ask the council to give him an opportunity to lay his qualifications out and plead the case for simply allowing him to return to his executive office on the second floor of City Hall. He earnestly set about making that pitch. He was ready to go into the closed session with the council and remind them that he had spent five years as the city’s finance director from 1984 until 1989 before he was elevated to the city manager’s spot. He was prepared to regale them with his mastery of the major considerations and the minutiae involved in the government structure, the infrastructure and the lay of the land both geographically and politically in the community. That comprehensive tour-de-force to show his qualifications never took place, however. Instead, he approached city attorney John Harper with a retirement proposal, which Harper took to the council.
“I’ve grown weary of the entire process,” Schwab told the Sentinel. “I’ve come to be convinced that I’m not going to get my job back. I stopped deluding myself.”
In a moment of scrupulous examination, Schwab said, he realistically appraised what it all had come down to.
“That they are going to go out to do a statewide search for a city manager tells you what the score is,” Schwab said. “They’re looking to get applications from twenty or thirty or forty candidates and bring them in for an hour interview and evaluate them on the basis of that as to whether they will make a good city manager.
“I’ve had a 19 year interview as city manager already,” Schwab said. “I was finance director for five years before that. Do they really think they can get enough out of any one of those candidates in one hour versus what they’ve seen from me over 24 years? 24 years. That’s half my life. I know everything there is to know about this city. I can see I’m not going to get my job back.”
For that reason, Schwab said, he decided to simply put in for retirement and walk away. Asked if that decision is irrevocable, he said, “If they change their minds, it could be revoked, up to 30 days of me drawing the first retirement check. The second I draw the first retirement check, it would get very complicated.”
He had pushed for the retirement to go into effect as of August 1, Schwab said, but added that September 1 is the more realistic date for his retirement to become official.
He said he could not disclose the terms of the retirement settlement at this time
Now that he has made the decision to retire, Schwab said, he feels “good about it. It’s a relief. And its better for the community. This whole thing was tearing the community apart. Every meeting where there was a discussion about me or Steve it was just an ugly scene. Until that ends we’re not going to get anywhere.”
His exodus will benefit the city financially, Schwab said.
“They need one of us out of the budget,” he said. “By my leaving the city will save all of my salary and benefits, which comes to almost $200,000 over the next year. So
the city will be able to balance the budge t next year.”
And Schwab said, the timing is right otherwise. “I
would have retired in two years anyway,” he said. “It makes sense for me to retire now.”
He said he did not think he would apply for the city manager’s post in Colton, where an opening was created by yesterday’s departure of city manager Daryl Parrish.
His immediate plans were to visit his parents in Sacramento to celebrate with them their 50th wedding anniversary. He said he might go back to work in some capacity in time. “I’m going to take off for about six months and then figure out what I’m going to do,” he said.
He would not be lured into bad mouthing Berry, whom he had hired as assistant city manager in 2001 and whom he had mentored for seven years.
“I don’t really want to start criticizing anyone or talk about what mistakes I think the council is making,” he said. “They are paying me to keep my mouth shut. There’s a confidentiality clause in my retirement package.”