22 to watch in 2022: Incoming Santa Rosa City Manager Maraskeshia Smith

Santa Rosa should be asking “what can we do to help businesses who have shut their doors,” says new city manager Maraskeshia Smith, who begins in her post Jan. 3.|

For more people to watch in 2022, go here.

Name: Maraskeshia Smith

Title or position: Incoming Santa Rosa city manager

On the job since: Smith begins her duties Jan. 3.

Hometown: Georgetown, Kentucky

Age: 45

Why Smith is someone to watch:

Smith is a seasoned administrator poised to lead Santa Rosa’s city government after stints as second-in-command in both Stockton and Oakland. In those cities Smith worked on homelessness, affordable housing and economic development — key issues squarely among Santa Rosa’s most pressing challenges.

Before coming to California, Smith spent the bulk of her career in Cincinnati, where she led the public works department for nearly 10 years. In Santa Rosa, Smith will serve as chief administrator of a local government with about 1,250 employees and a general fund budget of $190 million. City Hall faces a budget deficit of about $11 million, while Santa Rosa’s elected leaders continue to push for spending that brings greater investments in diverse neighborhoods. The City Council’s commitment to investing in change has at times prompted warnings from city administrators about the existing deficit strain.

Smith is Santa Rosa’s first Black city manager. And she will begin her job following a year when Sonoma County government saw three Black leaders exit or turn down jobs, in two cases citing a lack of support, racial bias and microaggressions.

Santa Rosa has been without a permanent city manager since May 2021, when Sean McGlynn left for Escondido. Jeff Kolin, who previously served as city manager from 2000 to 2009, has been acting as interim city manager since June.

What others are saying about Smith:

“I want her to really assess the state of the city, particularly as it comes to our organizational structure and staffing, and recommend to the council what she needs. “Our staff is burned out. People have been going a mile a minute since 2017 and they haven’t had a chance to slow down or take a break, so the question is how do we create a structure that is supportive of our staff but also able to meet the needs of the city.”

“She’s already had a positive impact on staff they are excited about the opportunity to work with her,“ Kolin, who will return to retirement in mid-January, said. ”They’ve heard great things about her experience and involvement in other cities." — Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers

What Smith says about 2022:

“The first thing my concern gravitates to is COVID-19 recovery and that’s both internal and external. When you talk about small business relief and businesses that have shut down their doors after decades or years, it’s heartbreaking,” she said. The city needs to ask “what can we do to help businesses who have shut their doors. Then, internally, I’m looking at a staff that’s exhausted.”

Smith intends to focus on streamlining systems to prioritize the most important topics for city staff while lessening other burdens. “I’m just the leader and I’m not the superstar,” she said. “We really need to find the strength of our workers and really build that up.”

For more people to watch in 2022, go here.

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