Darrin Jenkins is Rohnert Park's new assistant city manager, filling a post mostly vacant since 2009.

A Sonoma County native, Jenkins, 40, was city engineer and development services director until stepping into the new post.

City Manager Gabe Gonzalez had asked the City Council to approve filling the position, which was frozen in 2011 as the city wrestled with deficits.

Two applicants applied for the position, which was limited to current city staff to limit the cost of a search. A panel of government experts and officials from within and outside the city interviewed both candidates, Gonzalez said.

"The vision is to be the chief operating officer for the city and allow the city manager to focus on policy," Jenkins said Friday.

Gonzalez told the council that having an assistant manager would free him up to focus on areas such as economic development, which the city has prioritized.

In 2011 the city named Housing and Redevelopment Manager Linda Babonis the city's new economic development manager. She remains in that role, Gonzalez said, charged with implementing the economic development policies he develops.

Jenkins, who has been with the city since 2003, will be its first executive staffer to be an at-will employee, meaning he can be fired much more easily.

The other department heads work under for-cause contracts that mean they cannot be dismissed without a lengthy process involving counseling and documented warnings about their performance.

The council this month adopted a policy making all future department heads and executive staff at-will employees after Gonzalez said he needed more flexibility to adjust to the city's needs.

Jenkins is still negotiating a compensation package that the council will have to approve. He is currently paid $136,368 a year.

He has worked recently on projects including an agreement with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria under which the tribe will pay to widen Wilfred Avenue, the main access road to the casino it is building on the city's northwest edge.

He also steered an arrangement with the tribe to connect it to the city's sewer system.

He has been with the city since 2003.