Orange city residents have a new city manager who is taking charge of the day-to-day operations at city hall.
But he won’t be around that long.
The Orange City Council unanimously voted in October to hire Thomas R. Hatch as the interim City Manager on a month-to-month contract for up to one year.
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City officials announced back in June that their longtime city manager Rick Otto would be retiring in October after 24 years of service to Orange.
Otto has worked at several positions in Orange prior to becoming the city manager in 2015, including Assistant City Manager, Community Development Director, and Economic Development Manager.
Local officials in Orange manage a $120.1 million General Fund budget with the city manager in charge as the chief executive overseeing ten departments and about 750 employees that provide a host of services ranging from operating parks and libraries to the local police department and public works.
Back in September, City Council members presented Otto with a proclamation detailing many of his achievements during his term.
According to the City’s proclamation, some of Otto’s most notable contributions to the residents of Orange include administering the construction of the Old Towne West Metrolink Parking Structure, development of affordable housing projects, establishment of the North Orange County homelessness coalition, rehabilitation of Shaffer and Yorba Parks, and Old Towne Orange being named “A Great Place in America” in 2018.
Council members expressed their gratitude for Otto’s dedication to the City and wished him well in his future endeavors.
“I think we as a city owe you a debt of gratitude, for what you are leaving with us is an amazing team to keep Orange going as the great city that it is. I think that is your legacy. I believe that is your legacy and I thank you for that,” said Council Member Kimberlee Nichols. “I think our city is in really really good hands because of what you’ve done and I’m grateful for that.”
Council Member Arianna Barrios highlighted Otto’s kindness and professionalism, saying that he always took the time to answer questions from her and from the residents.
“It’s such a rare thing, such a humbling thing to have someone understand that people are scared about change, or they’re upset about things that directly affect their life. You’re a very calming presence in that and explaining things and walking people through and listening. Those things are going to be very sorely missed,” said Barrios.
Otto thanked the Council and said a few parting words.
“My job is easy because I’m surrounded by 750 great employees that do a hard-working job everyday with one goal in mind: excellent service for our residents, businesses, and visitors,” said Otto.
“This is a great community. I’m not leaving this community, my heart will always be here. I was born in Orange and I will always be a part of this town. I love it. This is hard to actually leave, but I know you’re in good hands. This community’s in good hands because, again, the Council is focused on making this town the best town ever and I know our staff has the same focus as well.”
Since retiring, Otto has moved to Oregon to enjoy his time with his family.
Orange residents will, in turn, be working with Tom Hatch for the next year.
According to a staff report, Hatch will receive a compensation of $22,833.33 per month, a technology stipend of $125 per month, and a deferred compensation contribution of $500 per month.
During the October City Council meeting where Hatch was hired, City Attorney Gary Sheatz explained that while his contract is for one year, Hatch’s employment may be terminated for any reason by either himself or the City so long as there is a 30 day notice.
Hatch has 34 years of experience in public service, working for cities in both Los Angeles and Orange County. Hatch, 55, is a current resident of Costa Mesa who served as City Manager of that same city for almost eight years before the outgoing city council in their last vote of 2018 terminated his contract on a split 3-2 vote.
After his stint in Costa Mesa, Hatch’s most recent job was working as the Chief Human Resources Officers for the County of Orange, where he’s been for almost three years.
In a statement forwarded by Hatch through a city spokesperson, he noted that he “strives to be a humble problem solver and an excellent listener.” He also stated that he approaches his work by caring deeply, working hard, doing the most important thing first, and going home to be a good husband, father, brother, and friend.
“Above all, it is my job to lead our City staff consistent with the vision and policy directions of the Mayor and City Council,” said Hatch in an emailed statement that was forwarded by City Spokesman Paul Sitkoff. “My position is entrusted with significant authority, but at the end of the day that authority is meant to guide City staff to do as we have always done at the Council’s direction: Make a positive impact on the quality of life of our residents and businesses.”
Hatch also described his view of the challenges that come with being city manager.
“The average person would be surprised at the sheer volume of information that funnels through the City Manager’s Office each day,” Hatch stated. “Staying informed is one of my top priorities, especially since this job requires that I make many expedited decisions throughout my day. Keeping myself, and my staff, on top of things is critical to ensuring that our City government stays efficient, and responsive to the Mayor and City Council, and the taxpayers they represent.”
Many of the Council members appear to be pleased with the interim agreement and have welcomed Hatch to the City.
“Just the fact that Mr. Hatch is still here and hasn’t run out says loads. But I just want to publicly thank you for offering to do this,” said Council Member Kathy Tavoularis at the October meeting.
“I know you as a very kind man. I want you to know what a great staff we have. I know you’ll find that out when you come here, but I wish you all the luck in the world and I know you’ll see Orange as a special place that we all see it as,” said Tavoularis.
Council Member Chip Monaco told residents during the meeting that he wanted to be clear that the Council is practicing due diligence in its search for a long-term city manager.
“Just because the Council could not come to consensus in our earlier process doesn’t mean that there’s disruption or chaos at our level,” said Monaco. “It merely means that we’re not going to settle, and that we know what it’s going to take to run this city effectively and preserve the staff culture that we have here that sets us apart from every other city.”
Given the high level of responsibility placed upon the City Manager, the City wants to be thorough and utterly certain of its choice, Monaco said.
“We’re gonna do our job, we’re gonna do it well,” Monaco added. “Hopefully at the end of this process we’re gonna deliver someone that you will all sing our praises.”
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