Escondido city manager merry-go-round

Escondido Interim City Manager Jeff Epp, rear, with former Escondido City Manager Cay Phillips who set the merry-go-round in motion with his 2015 retirement/resignation/Archive

Oh what a tangled web, the search for a new Escondido city manager has woven. That would be the search for a third city manager since 2015, and that’s not including interim city managers.

While Mayor Sam Abed said over 70 candidates have applied for the permanent job, and city officials said the search was proceeding smoothly, it was proceeding nonetheless.

For now, City Attorney Jeff Epp assumed the position in the form of  the interim city manger on March 9. That was the determination of Escondido city council members behind closed doors Wednesday. His appointment will be finalized at the council’s March 1 meeting.

That’s a good deal since Interim City Manager Graham Mitchell said he would not proceed past March 8.

Escondido City Manager Graham Mitchell resigned after less than one year in office.

Actually Mitchell already had succeeded himself not once, but twice. After only a year on the job, Mitchell sprang a surprise resignation on the city last October. He said he wanted out by the end of 2016, but twice agreed to extend his tenure on an interim basis pending a job search for his replacement.

Mitchell publicly gave unspecified personal reasons as the impetus to depart. However, later Mitchell said he had taken another job, but couldn’t disclose what it was yet.

Epp has been with Escondido for three decades, serving as city attorney since 1996. He said a permanent — or at least non-interim — city manager =could be in place by the Summer Solstice.

“The search process is going well but we want to make sure we get the right person for the job,” Epp said to the Union Tribune.

.Assistant City Attorney Michael McGuinness gains the silver chalice of interim city attorney during the next few months.

Tale of the tape

After 12 years in office, Clay Phillips started the city manager merry-go-round when he left office on Dec. 18, 2015 to start a winery and pursue business interests. Mitchell succeeded Phillips.

Mitchell was Lemon Grove’s city manager for 12 years before coming to Escondido in mid-2015 to take an assistant city manager position. He was earning $181,824.50, plus an annual $6,000 put into a deferred-compensation plan, when he left that post. His starting salary in Escondido was $203,000

Mitchell received a base salary of $234,719 annually, according to city council documents making him the second highest highest paid city manager out of 18 in San Diego County. Carlsbad city manager Steve Sarkozy receives a $260,000 annual base salary.

In addition to base pay, Mitchell’s benefits included 20 days of management leave with the ability to convert 15 of those days to salary, auto allowance of $750 per month — the same as council members receive; life insurance policy at twice the salary; separate contribution to deferred compensation plan of 7 percent of the base salary.

Mitchell also received a $100,000 relocation bonus in 2015 for moving from Lemon Grove to Escondido. Mitchell said he, and his family, would remain in Escondido.

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