SANTA CRUZ – City Manager Martín Bernal on Wednesday announced his retirement in a press release from the city.
Bernal originally expressed his intent to retire during the closed session of Tuesday afternoon’s City Council meeting, according to the release. He plans on remaining in the position until a replacement is chosen. He marked the end of July as the likely end to his tenure in the release.
His planned retirement falls in line with the finish line for the city’s yearly budget. The city currently in the process of finalizing an interim recovery plan, which focuses on fixing the financial shortcomings of the city from the last several years, including the impact of the pandemic.
“I think the timing is right for me personally and I think the timing is also right for the city. It’s a good time to make a transition in general,” Bernal said. “We’re at a place where I think we have pretty solid leadership all around in our city and we’re on a path to recovery here. We’ll know our budget situation and we’ll be able to get through that process.”
As a city manager, he piloted the city through and economic recession in his early years. Now, he completes a loop as one of his last acts in the position will be to help Santa Cruz through an economic downturn.
“I think we’re on the right track. It’s never perfect. It’s a continual thing. I feel confident that we’re on the right path. While not everything is not 100% buttoned up (fiscally), but I don’t think that will ever be the case. But I think we’ve got everything in place to make sure that we get through the next year plus in pretty good shape.”
The timeline will also reflect a completed cycle for Bernal. It will be 11 years almost to the day since he transitioned from the assistant city manager role to the city manager. He started the position in late July 2010.time for a new city manager to take the reins, he said.”]
The decision has been one that was in the works in the Bernal family for some time. Bernal and his wife had talked about him retiring at around age 55. The couple also spoke about switching roles in the family at some point.
Bernal’s wife is a medical professional, a career which can demand a lot of time and can be physically and mentally draining. Meanwhile, managing a city is an around the clock service, according to Bernal, which he must always be present for.
“We both have pretty demanding careers. She gave up her career aspirations in order to be the head of the household and raise our kids,” Bernal said. “At one point we talked about reversing those roles so that I could be more helpful around the house and she could do more of what she wants to do as far as her medical practice.”
Bernal received his bachelor’s degree at Stanford in urban planning and urban studies. He returned to his home state of Texas for his master’s degree in public affairs at the University of Texas in Austin.
While completing his studies, he tutored kids in underserved neighborhoods in Palo Alto, which paved the way for a career in public service. Bernal spent 30 years as a public employee, 24 of which were in Santa Cruz.
The announcement of the impending conclusion of his 24 years of service to the city came at a time when he was slated for a public employee performance evaluation, an agenda item that also happens during the closed session of city council meetings.
However, City Attorney Tony Condotti stated no reportable action happened during that agenda item once the meeting convened publicly. Instead, Bernal’s public announcement didn’t come until the next morning.
The delay in the announcement was due to a busy City Council agenda, according to Bernal. The meeting was jam-packed with items such as a contingency plan in the event of a water shortage, an update on the interim recovery plan and contentious deliberation over a city ordinance that could limit the locations of homeless encampments, which kept the council locked in a meeting until nearly 1 a.m.
“It just didn’t seem like it needed to be part of the meeting and have another distraction,” Bernal said. “What I thought made the most sense was to let them know because they’re my bosses and that’s sort of my responsibility.”
The road that lies ahead for the soon to be retiree is less paved than his career that spanned three decades. He hopes to continue a life of public service, but first he wants to spend time with his family. He wants to help his wife around the house, spend time with his children and grandchildren and even visit his parents in El Paso.
The outlook for a future city planner is still unsure, as the City Council will have to begin the process of searching for a replacement. The current assistant city manager, Laura Schmidt, has been in the role for two years, but whether she moves to the head of the department is at the discretion of the council.
The council will provide more information about the search process at a future council meeting, according to the press release. The date of the meeting has yet to be determined.