Lewis Griswold

Griswold: Visalia's longtime city manager prepares for retirement

Hundreds of well-wishers attended a retirement party for City Manager Steve Salomon on Friday at the Visalia Convention Center.

Salomon, 65, has been Visalia's city manager for nearly 17 years -- a long time by city manager standards. It takes only three votes of the City Council to get the heave-ho, but there's no evidence Salomon was ever at risk of being fired.

Former Visalia Council Member Don Landers said Salomon proved his worth before he even started.

At the time, Frito-Lay had told the city of its plans to close its plant in Visalia.

Salomon, then the city manager of Farmersville, went to company headquarters in Dallas with Visalia officials and made the case for staying. Company executives reversed course, saving scores of jobs in Visalia.

From the start, Salomon made it clear that he's a staffer, not a politician. Unlike city managers who sit on the dais with the council, Salomon sat at a desk next to the dais like other staff members.

"I don't believe the city manager is to be the star," he said.

Salomon's avoidance of the limelight may have helped him take better care of business. Milt Morrison, a retired College of the Sequoias professor, said it's worth noting that during Salomon's tenure, "we never had scandals to speak of" at City Hall.

Meanwhile, Salomon's fashion style and mannerisms made for easy gags.

He is known for draping his necktie around his collar but failing to actually tie it. Some attending Salomon's "Sunset Soiree" wore ties that way in tribute.

He was also famous for leaving lengthy voicemail messages for city staff members. Assistant City Manager Mike Olmos said the technology department eventually limited the messages to five minutes -- forcing Salomon to be somewhat briefer.

Despite the quirks, Salomon proved himself time and again to be "brilliant" and a "visionary" with a monumental work ethic, said Olmos, who has been named Salomon's replacement.

Developer Harvey May praised Salomon for coming up with creative solutions.

"Steve had a very important impact on Visalia in a very quiet, unpublic sort of way," May said.

For example, the city once charged new businesses in downtown a hefty fee for parking, which impeded growth, he said. When Salomon suggested that the city would cancel the fee if the downtown improvement district made an annual contribution to the parking fund, the idea was adopted, May said.

Even so, Salomon made sure the city's treasury got its fair share. "He ran a tight ship when it came to finances and the budget," Council Member Warren Gubler said.

In an interview Friday, Salomon dodged questions about his legacy, but noted that during his tenure downtown has continued to grow, a sports park was built and that Visalia was the first city in the state in which voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax for city operations -- Measure T, in 2004.

Council Member Bob Link praised Salomon as the "catalyst" for Measure T, which pays for 20 police officers and a fire department engine company.

Even though his retirement party was Friday, Salomon still has a few weeks of work left at City Hall. His last day is Sept. 13.