STOCKTON - City Manager Bob Deis, who led Stockton through its financial crisis that hit rock bottom with the city's historic bankruptcy filing last year, announced Tuesday that he will retire and return to Sonoma County.
Deis, 57, said he plans to put in his last day at City Hall on Nov. 1.
Deis quit his job as Sonoma County's top administrator in 2009 and became city manager in Stockton one year later. Since taking the job in July 2010, Deis has battled with the Stockton Police Officers' Association, reorganized and hired a new team of administrators at City Hall and charted a crime-fighting plan to curb generations of street violence.
By month's end, Deis said he will present the City Council with a tax proposal to fund the Marshall Plan on Crime, and in the fall, Stockton will present its exit plan from bankruptcy.
Deis said that by November, he will have accomplished a job that the City Council asked him to do, marking the right moment for him to leave, he said.
"I've been operating in crisis mode for three years," he said. "I can't do that forever."
His tenure may have covered the city's rockiest and most contentious time of its 163-year history. He came on amid a pitched battle over a ballot measure that gave the City Council more control over the fire union contract.
His troubles peaked in 2011, when the police union bought the house next door to one owned by Deis and his wife, Linda.
That sparked a lawsuit from the city, countering one from the union seeking millions in back pay.
Deis and then-police union head Officer Steve Leonesio engaged in a public war of words, and the union served Linda Deis with a subpoena, which a judge later quashed.
Deis asked the council to approve a painful budget that cut $37 million in city services, culminating in the June 28 bankruptcy, putting Stockton on the map as the nation's largest city to seek Chapter 9 protection.
Most recently, he has locked horns with Mayor Anthony Silva, who has aligned with developers to propose a restricted ballot measure to hire police, despite a warning from Deis that it could harm the fragile bankruptcy proceeding.
Deis said that he has consistently put in six-day workweeks and in three years as Stockton's city manager has not had a vacation longer than five days. Each time, he took work with him, he said.
In 2012, he earned gross pay of $242,121.
Officer Kathryn Nance, president of the police union, said news of Deis' retirement came as a surprise. The acrimonious relations between the union and Deis have calmed, but the scars remain, she said.
"I've got to give credit to somebody who's a hard worker and did something he set out to do, even if I don't agree," Nance said.
Personally, Deis said his retirement will come a decade after learning that he would likely not survive cancer, which he beat.
His wife already retired and wishes to spend more time with her four grandchildren. The couple plans to return to Sonoma County, his last post before coming to Stockton, to be close to them.
"My wife said she wants her husband back," Deis said. "It has taken many years for me to realize when your wife says something is really important, you respond, 'Yes, Dear.'"
Deis insists he does not have another job awaiting him and said he is leaving Stockton in better shape than he found it. He cited a lineup of department heads who he recruited as one point of pride.
Among them, he promoted Eric Jones to police chief and hired Jeff Piechura to lead the city's Fire Department. He claims the top crew of administrators of any city in California.
"It was chaos when I came here," Deis said. "Now it's a stable, orderly organization with business plans." Stockton will not have put bankruptcy behind it by November, but Deis believes that he successfully shifted the city away from a financial meltdown and put it on a path toward recovery.
Councilman Elbert Holman, at the close of Tuesday's council meeting, said that he and Councilwoman Kathy Miller were on the council that hired Deis, who delivered the hard, cold truth about Stockton's disastrous finances.
"He said it's fixable but not without a lot of blood, sweat, tears and a lot of hard work that would make some of us vulnerable to re-election," said Holman, adding that in the end, "He didn't let us down." Miller expressed her gratitude to both Deis and his wife for enduring the personal attacks and for doing a hard job. A minority of residents have come to hurl insults in public meetings, but a silent majority are grateful, she said.
"You both have had to go through things here in Stockton that are so far beyond what could normally be expected," Miller said. "It hasn't been fair a lot of times. It's been outrageous at times." Silva, who has been at odds with Deis, wished the city manager well and said he looked forward to the remaining months, working with Deis through bankruptcy and adding officers to the force.
"I wish Bob the best of luck in the advancement of his career," Silva said. "I will be providing him with excellent references."
Deis assured Silva that his retirement announcement is genuine.