November 29, 2005 > Newark Bids 'Goodbye' to City Manager Al Huezo
Newark Bids 'Goodbye' to City Manager Al Huezo
Newark says 'hello' to Al Huezo, active resident
After a long and illustrious career in public service with the City of Newark, Alberto, "Al" T. Huezo will close the door of his office on December 30, 2005 for the last time. Hired by the city on July 1, 1974 and promoted to the position of city manager on July 1, 1996, for the last nine years, Mr. Huezo has added his warm, humanistic style to Newark's top management position. TCV asked about the imminent transition, Al's personal reflections and his thoughts of the future.
TCV: How would you define the position of city manager?
Huezo: A city manager is the chief executive officer of an organization that provides municipal services. I emphasize the word services. This person is also an ambassador for the organization - someone who actively markets and promotes that organization to people on the outside, potential customers and certainly customers within. This is a service business.
TCV: Has this role changed over the time you have been a city manager?
Huezo: Yes and no. The role has changed because circumstances have changed. Active protection of revenue sources is necessary as well as making wise decisions about use of financial resources. This has increased dramatically because the economy expanded rapidly and then contracted. The key has been to maintain some level of sanity, balance and discipline during this process. City management's role has changed from stewardship of assets and resources, both human and material, to ensuring a healthy organization continues to work during these severe economic fluctuations.
TCV: Reference is sometimes made to a unique culture of Newark. What is this?
Huezo: It is part of the Newark culture to 'grow your own executives.' It is very difficult to bring in people from the outside for key positions. There has to be a good fit. People need to understand the community which usually takes a long time. The good thing about Newark is that even though I am leaving my position, the very same culture will prevail. There will be consistency since my successor has been brought up and nurtured under the same culture. The 'how to' may change simply because we are different personalities.
TCV: How long has the transition been going on?
Huezo: About two years. Two people were chosen to train for my position. One was put in charge of Finance plus other areas and the other, Community Development and allied duties. After a period of time, we switched them so each would have the broadest perspective of city operations possible. Because public safety is such a significant part of governmental services, I met with our fire and police chiefs on a weekly basis. Each assistant sat in both sessions. They heard the same things I did and we discussed, on a collaborative basis, issues and actions.
TCV: What is going on now?
Huezo: The last meetings I will have with department heads will be at the end of November. I am handing off leadership of the executive team meetings to my successor, John [Becker], so I will have time to unwind and don't stop cold on December 30th. I do not want to be making decisions in the next month that I will not be here to implement. John needs to start running before I hand the torch to him.
TCV: What happens to Al Huezo on December 30th?
Huezo: I go home and leave the keys on John's desk. I will leave a nice message for the employees thanking them for making me look good and the honor of working with them. Al Huezo becomes a private citizen - which is who I am. From the moment I began working in this office, I knew it was temporary; I was holding it for someone else, serving at the pleasure of my bosses who are ultimately, the public.
TCV: What will you do in retirement?
Huezo: I will continue to live in Newark. Initially, I will take some time off to go skiing and vacation in a warm climate. As the business agent - and Conga drum player - for the Yowza Band, I will be setting up the gigs and finding a practice facility. As part of my responsibilities, I will set up a fundraiser for the Music in Schools Program of the Newark Education Foundation. We plan to sell T-shirts of the Yowza Band World Tour (so far, it has only happened in our minds).
I will continue tutoring and mentoring and become more involved with the Hispanic Community Affairs Council, an organization that raises scholarship funds. In the past I lectured at Ohlone College on government and would like to do that again on a part-time basis. I may even write a column or two.
Maria and I plan to travel. We have a place in Portugal and will use it more often than in the past. I want to visit places and see things I haven't seen before, for instance, Australia and parts of South America like Southern Chile. I will be active with Rotary - probably engaged in international projects. There are a lot of things to do.
TCV: What is your legacy to the city of Newark? How would you like to be remembered?
Huezo: As a man who didn't take himself too seriously; someone who did his job with passion and gusto. Although I could point to the Silliman Center and maintaining city services through difficult fiscal issues and challenges, the proudest moment of my career as city manager was as part of a team that dealt very effectively with the [Eddie "Gwen"] Araujo homicide. This was an ugly and horrible situation affecting our community, state and country. About six months ago, a PBS story about Newark called, "Not in our town," was aired. This program gave an affirmation that we did some things right considering the chaos that was occurring - the play at our high school (The Laramie Project), the reverend from Kansas calling names - in a tense situation with a lot of emotion.
I will never forget the high school kids who demonstrated in front of city hall. It was raining and we asked them to come inside. They had called the press to maximize media exposure and there were a lot of cameras and reporters. We listened to them - let them vent. Those were challenging times. You are never prepared for this but people in our organization reacted professionally. The police department did an outstanding job. From the time of the missing person report to finding the body was two weeks.
The "professional face" of the police department showed a lot of compassion and understanding of the tragedy. Elected officials went out of their way to put themselves out front. Our community was put under a microscope and acted with dignity as a tightly knit group that faced a significant challenge together - working to prevent this from ever happening again.
TCV: Is there a clear path for Newark to face its future challenges?
Huezo: There are parts in place now. There certainly is a vision. We do not have the plan of how to get there yet but at some point in the future there will be a roadmap. We have top notch people in our organization to work on this. Referring to my legacy, it is the quality of people that I have promoted or brought into this organization. That is the legacy you leave. An important part of our community is public safety and we have two outstanding individuals, Ray Samuels (police chief) and Demetrious Shaffer (fire chief) both of sound character, great personalities and at ease with themselves. In other areas of city government, the same applies - Public Works with Dennis Jones, Finance with Jim Reese and on and on. These key people are in place to lead us forward. Newark employees and leadership is a reflection of who you are and your values.
TCV: How do you view the city council with the recent election of Ana Apodaca?
Huezo: The leadership of the council remains constant. Mayor Dave Smith has a way of building consensus even with a wide range of personalities. Although Ana is new on the council and it will take some time to for her to feel comfortable as a full member of the team, she is not an outsider or new to the area. She has seen how the city operates and will appreciate that it has worked well.
TCV: Any additional thoughts about your tenure with the city?
Huezo: I am living a dream; sometimes I am afraid I will wake up. I am very grateful for my life. There are several "birthdays" of my life; the first and most obvious is when my mother gave birth to me on December 16th. Another is February 29, 1960 when I arrived in the United States. This date was like a new birth. May 26, 1973, I married my best friend and on July 1, 1974, I began working for the City of Newark. Two others were when my children were born. Those dates are like the beginning of new lives, new beginnings.
I am so thankful that I was adopted by this country. It wasn't a natural birth but people opened their hearts and gave me a chance. I will always be grateful to the council that expressed confidence in me to assume the role of city manager - Dave Smith, Al Nagy, Sue Johnson, Louis Freitas and Sue Boggs. This was the council that said, "Go ahead and pack our parachutes." That is a lot of trust. I am also grateful to the people who followed on the council, Alberto Torrico and Paul Tong. I am confident that Ana Apodaca will do a great job on the council in the Newark tradition of excellence.