SOLEDAD — Soledad City Council appointed Brent Slama, who has served as acting city manager since May 18, as interim city manager during its July 15 meeting.
Former City Manager Michael McHatten was terminated on July 1 without cause. He had been the city manager since 2016. Slama declined to comment on the matter.
The transition comes months before an election where city management could potentially experience a shift, as the mayor and two council seats are up for re-election. Slama said he expects the interim position to last for at least six months, as the council would likely wait until after the election to begin a recruitment process for a permanent city manager.
“We’re still acting business as normal,” Slama said. “It helps with the staff to know there’s some stability, so they know who their boss is going to be for the next few months.”
Slama has also served as interim city manager in Greenfield before coming to Soledad as community and economic development director in 2012.
Some of the projects Slama has helped bring into Soledad include the 10-screen Premiere Cinemas project, which is currently under construction, and the 140,000-square-foot future shopping center. He also had a hand in the creation of Soledad Visitors Center and was involved in the Vosti Park and Gallardo Park renovation as well as on the team to secure $7 million in funding for the new Orchard Lane Park.
In addition, Slama was responsible for the City side of development of more than 300 housing units and the approval of another 500-plus entitled units. He also led the City’s team on the Miramonte Specific Plan/Annexation project to bring 2,400 units to north of Soledad over the next 25 years.
“Brent’s years of experience within our city’s government, as well as his passion for our city makes him ideally suited to serve as interim city manager,” said Soledad Mayor Fred Ledesma. “Since he stepped in to serve as acting city manager, the City has continued to provide our residents with quality city services.”
The shift from acting to interim city manager means transitioning from simply keeping the city government going to instead being more active in the management, according to Slama.
“We’re in a pretty good position, we haven’t had to lay off anyone,” he said. “Luckily, we’ve always run on an essential economy. Most of the revenues that we do get are essential. It’s not crippling like it has been to the tourism industry.”
Rather than layoffs, Soledad has staff vacancies, which it aims to fill. Slama said the promotion of Damon Wasson to chief of police left a vacancy in the deputy chief spot, for example. The city also has an opening for an economic development coordinator.
Slama said he was excited to soon hire an IT director for the city, as one of his goals is to help guide the municipal government into becoming a 21st century office. He also noted looking into universal internet for the city was something he’d like to do.
Guiding Soledad toward improvements in the future is something Slama said would be a big part of his focus, from seeing the new movie theater open and the new shopping center area continue development, to looking into how the city can get a center for more community programs.
“We actually have our own building that has a gym,” Slama said about the community center. “It’s a nice facility, but we’re outgrowing it. We have a need and it’s not just sports. It’s science, art, theater. We’re big enough we should have an equivalent of a Sol Treasures, for example. But how do you do that unless you have the facility to host it? We can’t fit it in the community center.”
He said the city is moving forward with a ballot measure that is aimed at funding recreation services, which voters will decide on in November.
“We need to respond to the community’s needs,” Slama said, noting that STEM, martial arts, ballet, theater, senior services and day care are all things the city is looking into.
“Right now is a good time to talk about those things because the community center is closed and the parks are closed,” he added. “These things take time to put together, so why not take advantage of the time we have now?”
Preparing during the pandemic closure will allow the city to get a footing for when things reopen and programs are flooded with children and participants ready to engage in sports and activities, according to Slama.
“When it lifts, we better be ready, because people are going to be begging for things to do,” Slama said. “Every kid is going to be signing up for something all at the same time.”
Looking further into the future is also on Slama’s mind, as he said he’s evaluating the 40-acre area that had been considered for a Walmart site, and the Pinnacles Parkway is still on the table.
Shopping centers and chain restaurants are a growing need, especially as the city’s growth continues, and getting a crossing over the railroad toward the south is a large need for the community as well, he said.