June 21, 2003 - San Bernadino Sun: Venezuela RPCV Sam Racadio is Highland City Manager

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Venezuela: Peace Corps Venezuela : The Peace Corps in Venezuela: June 21, 2003 - San Bernadino Sun: Venezuela RPCV Sam Racadio is Highland City Manager

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Venezuela RPCV Sam Racadio is Highland City Manager

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Highland city manager treading carefully*

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Highland city manager treading carefully

By STEPHEN WALL, Staff Writer

HIGHLAND - Sam Racadio doesn't want to get burned by the political fires raging around City Hall.

The city's first and only manager, Racadio is taking pains to stay out of the most acrimonious political rivalry the city has seen.

He uses humor to deflect questions about doing his job in the midst of a campaign to recall Mayor Ray Rucker and Councilmen Brad Sundquist and Steve Graves.

That's not an easy task when two other councilmen, John Timmer and Larry McCallon, are part of a group seeking to oust the trio.

"Recall?' Racadio, 55, said with a nervous laugh. "I didn't know there was a recall going on.'

With three decades of government experience under his belt, Racadio knows better than to spout off. Colleagues in other cities have paid the price, ending up unemployed.

"It's exceedingly difficult,' said Mike LeMay, a political science professor at Cal State San Bernardino. "In many city-manager cities, this kind of political conflict between council members can often lead to difficulties. They end up falling out of grace with one side and have to leave.'

City managers are relied upon to give advice on complex issues such as the annual budget. While the politicians have the final say, the city manager and his staff make the recommendations on which key decisions are based.

They serve at the pleasure of council members, knowing they can be dismissed at a moment's notice.

"A city manager is always three votes away from losing his job in any city,' said Councilman Larry McCallon.

Caption: Sam Racadio was municipal adviser to the city of Maracay, Venezuela, while he and his wife, Len, were Peace Corps Volunteers in the early 1970s.

Balancing act

An example of the tightrope act that Racadio is forced to walk came late last month, when the two-year budget forecast was released.

Timmer and McCallon immediately blasted the plan as fiscally irresponsible. Their criticism was not at Racadio. It was directed at the council majority that proposed $40.4 million in spending, the highest total in city history.

Defending the budget, Graves said Racadio told him a few weeks earlier that the plan was "aggressive but responsible.'

Racadio said he didn't recall saying it was responsible.

When asked by a reporter his opinion of the budget, Racadio was polite but evasive.

"I'd rather not comment on that,' he said. "You're going to get me in trouble. It's already difficult as it is.'

Timmer said it must be hard for Racadio to support a policy direction with which he has a fundamental disagreement.

"Sam is an extremely fiscally conservative manager,' Timmer said. "That's why he was hired by the City Council years ago. His philosophy in the past was we basically stay within budget and pay as we go.

"The council has adopted those kinds of things. He supports those. I can't speak for him, but with this budget, having deficit spending occur, I think it has to bother him.'

The proposed budget anticipates $29 million in revenues next fiscal year, $11 million less than the city expects to spend. The city is making an unwise move in using reserves to balance the budget, Timmer said.

Rucker disagreed, saying the city must make long-term investments to secure its financial future.

Rucker said Racadio must recognize Highland is no longer a bedroom community.

"Sam has very unique talents and talents this city really needed in its infancy and as it started to grow,' Rucker said. "Those talents have served us well. The time for change is here. It's time to start growing in bigger and different ways. I'm hoping Sam will lead us in that direction.'

Rucker doesn't think disagreements on the council will hamper Racadio's job performance.

"I would think that staff would be determined to stay out of the middle and do their jobs,' Rucker said.

A tight ship

Racadio began as Highland's city manager in February 1988, three months after the city incorporated. The late Bob Covington, longtime San Bernardino County administrator, was interim city manager the first three months.

Racadio was city manager in Banning from 1985 to 1988. He also worked for the cities of Tulare, Corona, Fontana and Riverside. He was municipal adviser to the city of Maracay, Venezuela, when he and his wife, Len, volunteered for the Peace Corps in the early 1970s.

When he came to Highland, Racadio knew about the grim economic predictions. The city was in a developed area whose choice retail spots had already been annexed by San Bernardino.

Few people gave Highland a chance to survive.

But the city ran a bare-bones operation, keeping down the number of employees and contracting for services such as building inspections.

Highland's annual payroll is about $1 million less than similar-sized contract cities in the county.

"This organization is run very efficiently and effectively,' said Racadio, the father of five children. "I'll put it up to any other organization around.'

Racadio said he originally planned to stay in Highland seven years, then move on to a larger city for another seven years and finish his career in an even bigger community.

Over the years, Racadio said he has been contacted several times by "headhunters' and council members in other cities with offers of employment. In 1999, he turned down a higher-paying job in Citrus Heights, a city of about 90,000 people northeast of Sacramento.

"I only steer the boat,' said Racadio, who earns $158,000 annually. "Sometimes I get more credit for the success of the city than I deserve. Ultimately, the council has to give the direction I go.'

Precarious position

Despite his longevity in Highland, Racadio lacks job security.

Loma Linda City Manager Dennis Halloway knows firsthand the precarious nature of the position.

Halloway got caught in the middle of political fights in Baldwin Park and San Jacinto and lost his job in both cities.

In San Jacinto, two of the three City Council members who wanted him ousted were later recalled from office, he said.

"You have to comply with the wishes of the majority of the city council, which is what I did, and it still wasn't good enough,' Halloway said.

It's hard to focus on routine city business in such a contentious environment, he said.

"It becomes distractive on the whole staff, not just the city manager,' Halloway said. "It influences the way you look at things and the way you do things. It's a very difficult situation, and I don't wish it on anyone, especially Sam.'

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