Cloverdale is poised to hire an interim city manager who departed as the top administrator in Willits last month.

Paul Cayler, 47, the former city manager in Willits, is scheduled to be hired at tonight's Cloverdale City Council meeting.

Although the Willits News said Cayler was "fired," Cloverdale officials disputed that description.

"Fired is not a correct verbiage," said Cloverdale Mayor Joe Palla, who said Cayler's contract was not renewed in Willits. It was not because of performance deficiencies or inappropriate behavior, he said.

"It was more that he was released from his contract, based on the fact they wanted to move in a different direction. It's very common with city managers and in some cases, police chiefs," Palla said.

When Cayler's departure was announced, the city of Willits released a statement saying the City Council "has chosen to pursue a different direction with regard to the City Manager position."

It credited Cayler with joining the city during tough economic times, and having "competency and skill while demonstrating the highest ethical standards and honesty."

Willits Mayor Holly Madrigal said Tuesday "we decided to go in a different direction, but it's not a reflection on the quality of Paul's work. He was a great city manager while he was with us."

She declined to elaborate on the new direction that led to the separation. "Because it's a personnel matter I can't go into details," she said.

Both Palla and Cloverdale City Councilwoman Carol Russell, who were on a subcommittee that recommended Cayler as interim city manager, said he is a good choice to fill in for the next four to six months, until a full-time city manager is chosen.

"I know we would not be bringing him in if I had the slightest concerns. If I had any worries at all, he wouldn't be coming into Cloverdale," Russell said.

The council members said Cayler, the city manager in Willits since October 2008, is well versed in public works, redevelopment and personnel issues.

He served previously as Mendocino County's solid waste division manager and deputy transportation director.

Palla said Willits, a city of 4,900 population in Mendocino County, is comparable in size to Cloverdale with 8,665 inhabitants, just south of the Sonoma-Mendocino County line.

"He's very much from a small city, more hands on," Palla said.

Palla said city managers are at-will employees who typically stay three to five years, and they can be dismissed if the City Council makeup or political direction shifts.

"There are too many good people whose contracts are not renewed, not because they didn't do a good job, or the organization is not right," Russell said.

"I like the guy's personality. He came over as a nice guy," Russell said, adding that Cayler appreciates the importance that businesses play in a community.

"He talked to the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary (Club) and business people. He didn't sit in his office all day," she said of his management style.

Cayler is being eyed to fill in as city manager until a replacement can be named for Nina Regor, who departed Cloverdale last month after five years to take a job as the city administrator in Camas, Wash.

But he could also become a candidate to fill the job on a more permanent basis, potentially after a recruiting agency screens more applicants.

Council members said Cayler's pay will be equivalent to what he made in Willits, which was $112,000 annually, or about $9,300 monthly, according to the state controller's website, less than Regor's salary of approximately $160,000.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.