The new year brings change to a roster of top managers at Fresno City Hall that is always a source of controversy.
New leadership in the public works and public utilities departments could be announced as soon as next week, Assistant City Manager Renena Smith said.
The administration of Mayor Ashley Swearengin also may name a permanent fire chief this month, she said.
Smith declined to give details other than to say that "Fresno deserves to have the best talent."
Patrick Wiemiller, who has headed the public works and public utilities departments for almost three years, leaves city employment Friday. He is resigning to become city administrator in Lompoc in Santa Barbara County.
Kerri Donis has been interim fire chief since the summer. Rob Brown resigned as chief in August, nearly two months after he was arrested in a domestic violence incident.
A week after his resignation, Brown pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor domestic-violence charges involving his family.
In Fresno's strong-mayor government, the hiring and firing of department heads falls on the city manager's shoulders. City Manager Bruce Rudd faces two challenges in replacing Wiemiller.
The first is deciding whether to look for another Wiemiller -- someone able and willing to lead two large departments -- or revert to the old ways of a separate director for each.
Wiemiller is finishing his second stint at City Hall. He was interim public utilities director in early 2006 when he resigned to become public works director in Tracy. He returned to Fresno 18 months later to become public works director, and took on the public utilities department in February 2011.
"Ideally, that's the way it should be -- two departments, two directors," Smith said. "The technical issues they face are very different. To find a candidate that has the unique background to understand both sides of those technical issues is difficult."
Wiemiller's resignation was announced in December. Smith said the city is looking in-house and externally for candidates. She said the first step may be interim directors.
Money figures to be a prime consideration. City Hall has struggled to balance its books since Swearengin began her first term in January 2009. This is why Rudd also serves as parks director and oversees the transportation department when he has time.
Rudd's second challenge is finding one or two managers willing to tackle the meat grinders that are public works and public utilities.
The city during a stretch of Alan Autry's two terms as mayor averaged about one public works director (permanent or interim) every 10 months.
Public utilities wasn't much easier. Martin McIntyre resigned as the department's director in early 2005 after a dust-up with the Local Agency Formation Committee. Many at City Hall thought Autry gave the popular McIntyre a choice of walking the plank or being shoved overboard.
Money and politics remain occupational hazards in both departments.
The Great Recession reduced payrolls to such an extent that public utilities and public works, formerly on two floors at City Hall, now share the fourth floor.
Public utilities in the past three years was in the middle of fights over the outsourcing of the commercial and residential trash services. The department is now in the middle of a fight over steep hikes in water rates.
Public works basked in glory last year when it teamed with Council Member Lee Brand to solve the plague of copper-wire theft in street lights. But the department never has enough money to fill all of Fresno's potholes.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his City Beat blog at fresnobee.com/city-beat.