The retirement of Westminster City Manager Marwan Youssef means the city’s clerk will, at least for a brief period, oversee day-to-day municipal administration — the latest symptom of a years-long City Hall leadership vacuum.
Christine Cordon — who for years has overseen city records, administered local electoral processes and tallied votes among City Council members during public meetings — will technically be Westminster’s first Vietnamese American city manager.
Regardless of the duration of her term as city manager, Cordon said in a Wednesday phone interview she’s “honored” to “navigate through some key projects during this transition of leadership.”
“I recognize the challenges we face in the community, and I hope to bring some clarity and stability,” Cordon said. Recently, she has also juggled city communications duties.
Around 37,000 Vietnamese Americans are estimated to live in Westminster — comprising 41% of the city’s total residents — which sits at the heart of Orange County’s Little Saigon.
Youssef is officially retiring on Sept. 13, after 32 years with the city. Cordon will take on city manager duties in the interim from there, at least until the council is expected to officially appoint a temporary city manager on Sept. 22, Cordon said in a Wednesday interview.
This means Cordon will be Westminster’s fourth city manager in the last year-and-a-half.
Youssef was only city manager for just the initial part of this year.
He used to be the city’s public works director, until the council voted to appoint him to the role in February after former acting city manager Sherry Johnson retired.
Johnson, who used to be the city’s full-time finance director, took the role in a temporary capacity after the city’s last full-time city manager, Eddie Manfro, bowed out at the beginning of 2020.
Over that same time, City Hall has also seen the exit of the city’s former police chief Mark Lauderback, who went on to take a police chief job in Cypress.
Cordon will become the top staffer at a city beset by a slew of substantial, municipal crises.
She becomes the city manager amid a politically divided City Council — a divide which is known to turn public meetings into bitter back-and-forths that can drag city business into the wee hours of the morning.
The city also faces a structural financial crisis, with city revenue expected to dry up after the expiration of the city’s sales tax increase measure, Measure SS, in 2022.
When the State of California under former Gov. Jerry Brown did away with redevelopment agencies in 2011, it devastated Westminster financially as local officials used redevelopment money to subsidize staff salaries.
In 2012, officials had to let go of a third of City Hall’s workforce in what became a mass exodus.
Staring down the barrel of bankruptcy in 2016, City Council members first approved their 1% sales tax increase ballot measure, Measure SS, which allowed officials to close certain funding gaps, reinvest in streets, establish trusts to pay off pension costs and subsequently approve raises for and hire more police officers.
But the measure wasn’t designed to live forever. Prior to its 2022 expiration, city staff asked the City Council last year to put the choice of whether to extend the tax measure — or let it sunset — before voters during the November 2020 election.
Proponents on the council for putting it back before voters lacked enough support, meaning the decision won’t be able to come back until the 2022 election period where, by then, the city will already have suffered losses.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.