Rohnert Park may drop economics job for engineer

Rohnert Park's City Council will be asked Tuesday to approve a plan to lay off its economic development manager, Linda Babonis, to make room for a new city engineer.

Babonis, the former housing and redevelopment manager, was appointed the economic development chief in 2011, charged with reviving the city's business climate.

But while the city's economic circumstances have markedly improved, Babonis has been hampered because she also has had to wind down the city's redevelopment affairs, which she formerly oversaw. The state eliminated redevelopment agencies in 2011, leaving a maze of financial, contractual and legal details to be sorted out.

"There was so much work that needed to be done with that and we just didn't have the manpower to absorb the work needed to be done," said Councilwoman Gina Belforte.

Progress still is needed on many of the goals that Babonis and the council articulated when she was appointed, Belforte said.

"We've had a lot of talk with regards to economic development but we haven't had a lot of execution," Belforte said. "I don't think we've done enough to drive retention of businesses or to really talk about Rohnert Park outside Sonoma County."

At the same time, she and Mayor Joe Callinan said, Babonis and Development Services Manager Marilyn Ponton have worked effectively to streamline permitting and planning procedures.

"Economic development is more of making it business friendly when you're coming into the planning and building departments," Callinan said. "It's starting to show and that is making a difference."

City Manager Darrin Jenkins said the city needs a chief engineer to oversee new housing and commercial developments in the pipeline. Economic development work will be handled by Jenkins, Ponton, the city's chief financial analyst, and whoever is hired as assistant city manager, Jenkins said.

"We're not going to be seeing a dropoff in economic development, and we wouldn't be doing this if we were," he said.

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