The Rohnert Park City Council unanimously approved its city manager's request to look into hiring an assistant city manager Tuesday, but not without pressing home the message that they wanted economic development to go to the top of the to-do list.

"There has got to be a clear understanding and agreement that what comes out of this is clarity in how the economic development program is going to be implemented," Mayor Jake Mackenzie said.

City Manager Gabe Gonzalez had asked the council to allow him to hire someone from within the city's ranks as a new assistant manager, which would cost between $25,000 and $40,000 more a year.

The assistant's post was frozen in 2011 and has been vacant for more than five years. It pays from $138,500 to $168,400 a year.

Filling the job, said Gonzalez, will allow him to focus on strategic planning and long-term policy. Right now, he said, he's consumed with handling daily operations.

Vice Mayor Pam Stafford said he was hired in 2010 partly due to his record of economic development successes in his former post, Mendota.

"We haven't been able to see you do that kind of thing, because you don't have the time," she said.

Underlying the discussion was a sense that the city's fledgling economic development efforts have stalled. In 2010, the council adopted a 20-point economic growth plan and in 2011 named Housing and Redevelopment Manager Linda Babonis to economic development manager heading a three-person team.

But Babonis has had to focus on issues related to shutting down of redevelopment agencies by the state, which cost the city millions, Gonzalez said.

"We never really get out of the gate," said Councilwoman Gina Belforte.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or or on Twitter @jeremyhay