LONG BEACH — There was a collective sigh of relief Tuesday at City Hall when the council acted with startling quickness and paid top dollar to hire Los Angeles County's chief administrative officer as the new city manager.
Council members left little doubt that they felt that the luring of James C. Hankla away from his prestigious county post, following a whirlwind three-week recruitment, was an extraordinary coup.
The city's professional staff also expressed relief that Hankla, 47, a Long Beach city employee for 20 years before leaving in 1980, would assume the powerful $112,500-a-year position March 1. (He makes $98,280 in the county job, which he has held since 1985.)
"First of all, he's a known quantity . . . and you know he can come in very quickly and take charge and know where he's going," said Planning Director Robert Paternoster, who worked closely with Hankla when the new manager was redevelopment director from 1976 to 1980.
"I think the staff will tell you, even privately, that they are pleased with this selection," said Paternoster.
Style Caused Problems
Staff reaction, he said, would not have been the same to some other candidates mentioned over the years as possible replacements for City Manager John E. Dever, a respected professional whose laconic style has caused him problems with the council since arriving in 1977.
Dever, 63, was a key figure in reversing the city's economic decline, but his performance was criticized at two recent closed-door sessions with the council. On Oct. 23, Dever surprised the council by announcing that his task was largely complete and he would retire at the end of January.
Within 24 hours of Dever's announcement, Councilman Wallace Edgerton, traditionally a critic both of Dever and the "strong manager" form of government, had contacted Hankla about the job, the councilman said.
And within another day, Edgerton was on the phone with Mayor Ernie Kell, telling him that Hankla might be interested. Kell, in fact, said Edgerton had begun mentioning Hankla as a possible replacement for Dever at least a year ago.
"A number of us are personal friends of Jim's and he had never made secret his hopes of coming back to Long Beach some day," said Edgerton. ". . . He has a lot of other friends at City Hall." Hankla said he had reservations initially about leaving the county, with its $7-billion budget and 75,000 employees, to run a city with a $1.2-billion budget and 4,600 employees.
But he said he had long harbored a desire to some day become manager of Long Beach, his home for 23 of the last 26 years. "I don't think many things in a person's life are more significant than his roots," he said.
When Hankla's name was raised, the council almost immediately warmed to the idea, although a couple of members held out initially for a nationwide talent search, said Kell.
Finally all agreed that they did not need to spend the months and at least $35,000 to find a candidate, said Kell. The council, he said, saw Hankla as one of the top professional local government administrators in the country and one who knows the city.
In addition, Hankla had worked well with Dever and his hiring would smooth the transition, Kell said.
The biggest potential stumbling block, said Kell, was Hankla's insistence that the $94,500 annual salary paid Dever was far too low.
After examining the compensation packages of other city managers in the region, the council agreed. They found that Dever's $106,785 salary-and-fringe benefit package did not approach the $125,501 earned by the Anaheim city manager or the $120,000 of the Irvine manager. It was even less than the $107,000 paid in Huntington Beach and in other much smaller cities, said Kell.
Severence Pay Clause
Hankla will receive $124,450 in salary and benefits. Also included in his contract is a provision calling for six months severance pay if fired, a stipulation Dever negotiated for himself in 1981 after surviving a job threat.
Sixth District Councilman Clarence Smith, who got to know Hankla when both were officials in the Recreation Department, said of him: "There is no finer man you can work with in terms of knowing the (human) side of people."
Hankla's reputation at the county, where he was director of Community Development before getting the top administrative job 21 months ago, is that of a bright, efficient administrator who gets along well with all members of an often-divided Board of Supervisors. He is also known to be very conscious of public and press relations.
Hankla, meeting with reporters after his appointment, declined comment on his management style except to say he intends to be accessible, especially to the council. He promised "subtle, evolutionary" changes in city management. His priorities will be set by the council, he said.
Kell and Edgerton, while saying they have great respect for Dever's professional abilities, said matters of style were important in Hankla's selection.