Benicia City Manager leaving to take post in Martinez, CA

By Roger Straw, April 30, 2016

City Manager Brad Kilger oversaw Valero Crude By Rail proposal, not sticking around for outcome

Brad Kilger, City Manager of Benicia, 2010-2016
Brad Kilger, City Manager of Benicia, 2010-2016

In Benicia’s Council/Manager form of government, there is no more powerful person than the City Manager.  The Mayor and City Council supposedly run the city, and they do make the final decisions. Some decisions are also made by Commissions, but the real power in Benicia is the city manager.

The CM presides over staff, and staff guides every decision of our elected and appointed officials, making recommendations and consulting with officials outside of public meetings. For instance, the city manager works with the mayor in setting the agenda for every Council meeting.

Brad Kilger was hired as Benicia’s city manager in 2010, and has overseen the Valero Crude By Rail (CBR) proposal from the start. Outwardly, CBR has been routed through the City’s Community Development Department and its Planning Division. Those offices have undergone personnel changes during the lengthy 3½ year Valero process, but Mr. Kilger has remained in charge throughout.

Kilger is due to begin work in Martinez on June 13, leaving only 6 weeks to finish up here in Benicia. As of this writing, no word has been released as to Kilger’s final day in Benicia. Nor have details been given about his rather sudden departure.

Getting out of dodge before a decision on CBR may very well be a smart career move. Everyone expects litigation, which would be any manager’s nightmare, and a loss either way could be expected to leave a blemish on his professional profile.

Kilger was welcomed to Benicia by Council members and citizens in 2010 as a promising new presence, bringing credentials and commitments that offered hope in the area of environmental sustainability. Indeed, his tenure has seen numerous advances on that front. But many of those advances can be credited primarily to the leadership of Mayor Elizabeth Patterson and the Community Sustainability Commission.

City Council during Kilger’s time in Benicia has often been contentious. Collegiality has often been wanting among Council members, and the public has come into fierce conflict with staff over staff’s seemingly blind support for Valero’s CBR proposal.

The City will no doubt bring in an interim. No telling how long the interim will be in charge, but it seems highly likely a permanent replacement would not be in place until January 2017, after elections, and under the authority of a new City Council.

It seems likely the City Council will face a decision on Valero CBR in September with a new and possibly untested interim city manager. If the delay for review by the federal Surface Transportation Board results in a re-write and recirculation of the environmental report with attendant written comments and lengthy public hearings, it could be a real handful for whoever is in charge.

It may be a real challenge locating a qualified candidate who is willing to step in at this critical moment in Benicia’s history.