What does the Benicia City Manager do? By Lorie Tinfow

[Our current Benicia City Manager, Lorie Tinfow, is said by many to be the most highly qualified and best City Manager we’ve ever had.  She has brought stability in staffing, visionary planning and tough financial oversight in these hard times.  I hope she stays for a long, long time!  In today’s email newsletter, City of Benicia This Week, Lorie describes the work she does as our City Manager, published here with permission.  Incredible!  We should ALL be glad we’re not juggling everything she deals with every day.  Read on….  – R.S.]

City of Benicia This Week
read it – watch it – like it – share it

August 10, 2020

Hello Everyone,

Lorie Tinfow, Benicia City Manager

During a recent conversation with the Mayor, she asked if I thought people in Benicia knew what my job as the City Manager actually entailed. I said, “no”. In fact, even my mother didn’t know what I do until about 4 years ago. I was visiting my parents and while there I was sending an email on my smart phone. My mom said, “Honey, what are you doing?” and I responded, “Sending an email to the Police Chief.” She looked puzzled and then said, “You’re in charge of the Police Chief?”  I said, “Yes, and the Fire Chief, the Public Works Director, etc.” She said, “I thought you were a City planner.”

That reaction wasn’t a total surprise. City Managers tend to be in the background and mostly we like it that way. The Council/Manager form of government that Benicia (and most California cities) operates under has the City Council as the face of the City to the community, where it sets the policy direction and the City Manager implements that direction. Because of this structure, community members often don’t know much about what City Managers do. At the Mayor’s suggestion, I decided to share some information here.

One way to think of a City Manager is to compare the City to a company structure-think of me as the CEO of a $90 million non-profit corporation that provides critical services to everyone who lives or has a business in Benicia. Other executive level staff report to me and help me oversee all City operations. The Finance Director could be compared to the Chief Financial Officer, the Assistant City Manager is similar to a Chief Operating Officer and so on. Of course, there are major differences between running a City and running a business so the comparison isn’t perfect-for example, there’s really no private sector version of a Fire Chief or a Police Chief, and private sector businesses are not required to operate with the public sector’s breadth of service delivery, transparency rules, limits on pricing, and required service to all.

I’ve worked in city government for almost 25 years. My experience is broad and that’s necessary to be successful in this position. The work is fast-paced so knowledge and expertise about a variety of areas is important in order to keep the City moving. I’ve overseen many functional areas such as Human Resources, Information Technology, Finance and Economic Development. I’ve been the project manager for the construction of two large scale capital projects (the Saratoga Library and the Walnut Creek Library) and led many community-based efforts around traffic calming, community problem-solving, communication, etc. If you’re interested in knowing more, my resume at the time I was hired is attached here.

One of my primary responsibilities is delivering a balanced budget to the City Council and overseeing the City finances. I also enforce all the laws, ordinances and contracts; hire and supervise directly all the department directors; make staffing decisions related to all employee positions (except the City Attorney); negotiate labor contracts; conduct studies, reorganize work and exercise general supervision over all public buildings, parks and property. In all hiring decisions, I am always looking to recruit top talent from an increasingly small, competitive pool of qualified people. In short, I’m responsible for all the operational elements of the City. And, I serve as the Emergency Services Director during emergencies.

I also provide leadership by supporting and guiding the City Council through establishing its vision and helping to translate that into a work plan. In the City organization, my leadership is often a blend of overseeing the day-to-day activities with keeping an eye on the shifting long-term needs that require change and innovation.

I first learned what a “City Manager” was during an undergraduate class at Stanford taught by two City Managers.  I was already interested in government and this position intrigued me-serving the community and being part of something bigger than myself was attractive. As I continued into graduate school at Harvard and ultimately decided on working in city government, I stayed focused on becoming a City Manager. It’s a very challenging job and a very rewarding one.

So, now you know something more about what I do and how the City is structured.  Let me know if you have any questions.

Thank you for your interest in the City of Benicia This Week!

Lorie Tinfow,
City Manager