LONG BEACH-City Manager John E. Dever, a central figure in reversing the economic decline of this city since 1976, has announced that he will resign Jan. 30.
Dever, 63, whose performance has been evaluated in two recent closed-door sessions with the City Council, said his job in Long Beach is "largely completed" and that it is time to seek another challenge.
Dever could not be reached for comment, nor did he state his plans in the one-page letter of resignation to the council.
Mayor Ernie Kell said he expected the council to conduct a nationwide search for a replacement, who would be on the job by the time Dever leaves.
"He was a good facilitator of council policy, but John Dever is not the only good city manager in the country," Kell said. "I'm sure we'll have no trouble replacing him with someone just as good or better. . . . . Six months from now the city will never know he left."
Several council members, including some with whom he has had sharp differences, said they were surprised by the announcement because council relations with Dever seemed to be improving in recent weeks. All said the council had not threatened to fire Dever.
In the recent frank exchanges, and over the years, the part-time council has criticized Dever for not giving it enough information to make informed decisions. Some council members have also said that Dever--a laconic, self-assured former Marine lieutenant--has not treated them with enough respect.
"I'm not glad to see him go, but some may be," Kell said. "There's been a lot of dissension, and I would assume John Dever picked up on it. There were some problems but in my opinion they did not warrant a termination of services."
Dever did not notify council members of his decision in person. His resignation letter was in the agenda information package they receive on Thursdays for their regular Tuesday meetings.
Several council members said that, overall, Dever had been a good city manager.
"I think he's an outstanding manager and is going to be hard to replace," Councilman Thomas Clark said.
Council members Jan Hall and Wallace Edgerton, both Dever critics on several occasions, also said that Dever did much good work as city manager.
"John is someone with whom I've disagreed frequently, but whom I've grown to respect a tremendous amount. It's a loss for the city," Hall said.
Kell, who with Clark and Councilman Warren Harwood have been Dever supporters, agreed that Dever had helped pull the city through difficult financial times, especially when first hired.
In his six-paragraph letter, Dever told the council: "The new City Council is organized, in place and functioning. A long-range strategic plan has been adopted. . . . The city is experiencing the greatest period of residential, industrial and commercial development in its history. . . . "
He also noted the sound financial position of the city, which entered this fiscal year with a budget surplus of about $28 million, and he mentioned that new three-year labor contracts have just been negotiated.
When he took office in January, 1977, Dever had to immediately lay off dozens of employees to balance the city's budget. The city had millions of dollars of unfunded liabilities to its sick-leave, vacation and pension funds.
Now, after five years of budget surplus, Dever said in his valedictory: "We have an outstanding management team and a fine corps of city employees--together they can accomplish any reasonable goals established by the City Council."
Dever, a widely regarded professional who served as president of the 7,500-member International City Management Assn. until a month ago, will receive a pension of almost half of his $94,511 annual salary. He will leave after 35 years as a city manager, including 10 difficult ones in Long Beach.
His tenure here has been marked not only by economic recovery, but also by his ongoing disputes with the council.
The council came within one vote of firing Dever in 1979, when it said he did not inform them about a key appointment to a city commission, and in 1981, when several members accused Dever of keeping key information from them.
In his resignation letter, Dever said he has appreciated the council's support.
While Dever could not be reached for comment about his job options, his letter said that "it is time to seek and accept a new challenge."
Others in the profession of city management said recently that Dever will have lucrative choices.
"Managers always have the option of making a hell of a lot more money in the private field," said William Hansell, executive director of the city managers organization. "And I think it's safe to say that John Dever is probably the most respected city manager in America."
An old friend of Dever's, Carl Husby, a former finance director in Long Beach, also said in a recent interview that Dever has been sought by a number of large corporations.
Dever, said Husby, "always keeps his bags packed" so he will not have to compromise if a city council makes unreasonable demands.