‘A really good run’

Oroville administrator welcomes challenge of running Compton

G. Harold Duffey’s last day as Oroville city administrator is July 23.

G. Harold Duffey’s last day as Oroville city administrator is July 23.

Photo By katy noah

It’s a long way from rural Oroville to Compton, in the heart of the greater Los Angeles metro region, but Oroville’s city administrator, G. Harold Duffey, is eager to make the move.

Duffey, who is widely credited with turning Oroville city government around, will be leaving his position July 23 with a year remaining on his contract to become Compton’s city manager.

He points out that the tenure of a city administrator is rarely longer than five years. “No one ever thought I would retire here,” he said. “I never alluded to that.”

While Oroville made some significant strides during his two-year tenure, Duffey refuses to take any credit. “Oroville had all the basic skills going for it when I got here. I merely came in and tweaked them.” He says the role of a city administrator is to make the visions of the community come alive, and that’s what he tried to do.

He says when he first got to Oroville there was a misapprehension that the city was broke and couldn’t accomplish anything. “There was this negative attitude, and yet it wasn’t justified,” he said. “Oroville has had a balanced budget for the last two years and has $6.9 million in uncommitted cash. That’s certainly not broke.”

Getting the council to accept that fact was one of Duffey’s goals. He believes he got them to embrace the fact that as a council they can do more, and as a city they can be more.

One project in particular that had been talked about for a decade but never moved forward was idea of building a whitewater park in the Feather River as a tourist attraction. “When I heard about that one, I said let’s get it done, let’s see if it can be a reality.”

Recent studies indicate that the whitewater park can in fact happen, and Duffey is hopeful the council won’t drop the ball on the project.

Another project he pushed was the Gateway Development Project, which the City Council just this week moved forward.

Professionally and personally, Duffey said he feels positive about his time in Oroville, but that’s not to say everything was perfect. His biggest complaint is with the form of government—city administrator instead of city manager. The difference is that a city administrator reports to the council right alongside the department heads, whereas a city manager hires and supervises the department heads.

“With a city manager system, it doesn’t matter who is related to whom, or if someone on the council likes them or not; management of department heads is totally up to the city manager,” Duffey explained.

An example of how that can be a problem occurred when the council let the city planner go, despite Duffey’s efforts to keep him on board. “When that happened, I lost my momentum,” Duffey said. “I think the city lost momentum too.”

That’s one of the reasons why he’s looking forward to moving to Compton. “I won’t have that problem,” he said. “I’ll be able to create my own team, and ultimately I’ll be responsible for whatever happens.”

Pay-wise, it’s a step up, too. Duffey’s new contract gives him $205,000 annually plus a vehicle allowance of $650 a month. This is a significant increase from the $144,000 he’s paid in Oroville.

He grew up in Southern California, so he is familiar with the demographics of Los Angeles. “I find it fascinating to work with a multi-cultural community,” he said, adding that he’s looking forward to moving from a city of 15,000 people to one with more than 100,000 residents. “Understanding who people are means I can do more.”

Historically Compton was a largely African-American community, but that’s changed in recent years and the city is mostly Latino. It offers a challenge much like the one Oroville offered, however. “It’s a city that projects negativity,” Duffey explained. “I hope to turn that around.”

City Council members are disappointed that Duffey is leaving. Mayor Linda Dahlmeier said Duffey’s time in Oroville turned the page for the city. “Now we’re ready to start writing a new chapter.”

Councilman David Pittman said he’s not surprised that a well-educated, highly experienced professional like Duffey would stay for only a few years.

And Councilwoman Thil Wilcox said that, although she didn’t always agree with Duffey, she was sad to see him go. “I hoped he would at least stay to finish out his contract, but unfortunately he’s not going to.”

Duffey has made a vast difference in Oroville, Councilwoman Cheri Bunker said, adding that with him as administrator the city made great strides in making Oroville a better place to live. “A part of that was helping secure the city’s future by assisting in bringing in several new businesses like Marshall’s and Petco.”

Duffey said he will miss Oroville. He also said he was “pleasantly” surprised at how welcomed he felt by the people of Oroville when he arrived two years ago. “This is an amazing city with so many resources that can be used for so many different projects.

“It’s never been boring; I always loved coming to work,” he said. “I think we had a really good run.”