Anaheim’s Assistant City Manager to Fill Top Role in Laguna Niguel

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

Laguna Niguel City Hall

Anaheim Assistant City Manager Kristine Ridge will be the new city manager for the city of Laguna Niguel beginning in January 2018, after the Laguna Niguel City Council picked as their new top executive.

“Kristine’s 29-year distinguished public service career, with the last 24 years in multiple high level positions with the City of Anaheim, as well as her talent for creating solutions will make her an outstanding City Manager for Laguna Niguel,” said Laguna Niguel Mayor Fred Minagar in a press release. “We know that Kristine will continue our City’s tradition of high quality service and commitment to conservative financial policies.”

The five-member Laguna Niguel City Council voted unanimously Nov. 21 to hire Ridge.

Ridge, who will take over in January, goes from one city with top vacancies to another.

She will take the helm in Laguna Niguel from Interim City Manger and Finance Director Steve Erlandson, who has been filling the position since July when former City Manager Rod Foster left after he accused former Mayor Jerry Slusiewicz of bullying him. Former Assistant City Manager Dan Fox also left the city in July.

Foster’s claims divided the City Council and ultimately led to Slusiewicz resigning his largely ceremonial title of mayor in August when council members were going to vote on whether to remove him. Yet, as Foster was making his claims, Slusiewicz found the city overspent $410,000 on a tree trimming contract.

Slusiewicz also found that Foster had tree trimming work done at his house by the same company that received the over payment, West Coast Arborists.

After a partial audit was conducted, a public accountant with the auditing firm recommended an expanded audit of the city, but the idea was met with opposition from the council after Slusiewicz proposed it at a later meeting.

Since Foster left, a slew of contract overages have surfaced since August and an investigation into claims against Slusiewicz was launched.

Ridge’s departure also marks another top vacancy for the city of Anaheim, which currently is searching for a permanent city manager and city attorney after years of turnover.

Former City Manager Paul Emery was asked to resign in July by a split city council, which earlier in the year voted to reduce his contract authority – the financial threshold at which the city manager can make purchasing decisions without city council approval – from $100,000 to $50,000.

Former City Clerk Linda Andal was appointed by the council as interim city manager at that same meeting.  

Support for Emery among Anaheim City Council members changed after a power shift following the November 2016 election, in which Mayor Tom Tait – who had feuded with Emery in the years prior to the election – won a supportive majority of council seats.

Tait said after the vote that he requested Emery’s resignation because he wanted to move the council away from one focused on subsidies for the tourism industry “to a new direction toward the neighborhoods.”

Anaheim has had four city managers since 2009 – Tom Wood (2009-2012), Bob Wingenroth (2012 to 2013), Marcie Edwards (2013 to 2014) followed by Paul Emery, who served as interim city manager after Edwards’ departure before taking the official role in July 2015.

“I’m honored to be given the opportunity to serve the City of Laguna Niguel,” said Ridge in a statement. “I look forward to working with the Mayor and City Council, City Departments, and the community. Laguna Niguel is truly a gem offering an exceptional quality of life for its residents and businesses, and I am excited to be a part of securing a bright future for this vibrant and attractive community.”

Ridge began her career in Anaheim as an internal audit manager in 1993 and subsequently served as city treasurer, finance director, human resources director, and deputy city manager before she was appointed to her current position in Sept. 2014, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Most recently, Ridge was appointed the city’s “homeless czar” as part of a city plan to address homelessness. The city does not currently have a plan for who will replace Ridge in that role.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.