Avera’s departure overdue

A little over two years ago, this newspaper called for the resignation or termination of Hollister City Manager Bill Avera.

The Free Lance editorial said Avera’s mishandling of sewage spills and lack of accountability showed that the former development services director lacked the capacity to react with professionalism in the face of unexpected challenges.

Specifically, we pointed out how Avera worked to keep secret the two spills of wastewater from local tomato processing plants, and worked with the council majority to conceal the incidents from the Central Coast Regional Quality Control Board. This is the same agency that in 2002 had fined Hollister $1.2 million and slapped the city with a crushing six-year ban on all new construction after a 15 million-gallon sewage spill into the Pajaro River from the city’s main wastewater treatment plant.

And while Avera was a redevelopment professional and not a facilities manager at the time, he had an insider’s view in 2002 on how not to react to problems, and of the consequences of dereliction and deception. Unfortunately as a longtime city employee, Avera’s patterns of behavior had been firmly set when his two-decade career culminated in his appointment as city manager five years ago.

Avera didn’t resign in 2017, and the council didn’t fire him. In fact it gave him a new three-year contract in early 2018, worth $189,950 at the start and $204,434 in 2020.

He got the new contract four months after the Free Lance revealed that he had neglected to inform the city council of the existence of a $690,000 appraisal of San Benito Street’s 400 block months before the city sold the property for $390,000, based on a two-year-old appraisal. As Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said at the time, it was “one heck of a sweetheart deal” for the developers, and a $300,000 loss for city taxpayers.

But of course, Avera had been working with developers for two decades.

In announcing he would retire, at age 52, in November, the city manager was, sadly, true to form. He first revealed it to council members in an executive session, and then submitted his formal letter last month without even listing it on the staff report or including it in agenda materials.

Further, the nine-month advance notice he has given the city could hamstring the council’s efforts to find a replacement, if a qualified candidate turns up this spring or summer, prime times for families to move.

Avera wrote to the council that he is proud of his Hollister legacy, claiming housing and industrial growth as if they were driven by him instead of regional economic factors. He also must take responsibility for the things that were within his control: his poor oversight, secrecy, outright deception and failure to take responsibility—all traits and patterns that perhaps could serve a small city in the mid-1990s but not in the 21st century.

“People here can’t accept mediocrity in their leadership,” we wrote in early 2017. That still holds true.

So now Avera departs—perhaps his best contribution to City Hall. The city has a unique opportunity to leap forward with new leadership, a new perspective, new professionalism and a new vision.The council has a chance to write a new job description for its top administrator, and a chance to reach far and wide for the best candidate who can shake off cobwebs, rattle some cages and encourage new transparency and accountability to give Hollister the leadership it deserves.

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