San Clemente’s City Manager resigned last week after just over a year in the top job, marking the third chief administrator to leave since the start of 2020.  

In his resignation letter to the city council, outgoing City Manager Erik Sund praised his time at the city, and said he was dedicated to “ensuring a smooth transition,” before his official departure on September 9 for the city of Big Bear Lake. 

“It has been an honor to serve the City of San Clemente and lead a fantastic and dedicated staff that support and serve the City unconditionally,” Sund wrote. “I am very grateful for the opportunity.” 

Sund was the city’s third manager in the last three years, leaving the city looking at another search for its top employee.

Sund did not respond to requests for comment from Voice of OC on Monday afternoon on why he was leaving, but his tenure at the top spot saw a lot of controversial issues play out. 

Just after he started in May 2021, then Councilman and now Mayor Gene James attempted to make the Spanish Village by the Sea a “Second Amendment Sanctuary City,” which triggered a slew of upset public commenters to the city. 

The city went through a similar response earlier this month to Councilman Steve Knoblock’s proposed “Sanctuary for Life,” resolution that would’ve banned abortions within city limits, which ultimately was voted down. 

[Read: San Clemente City Council Backs Off Abortion Ban Following Public Backlash]

San Clemente also left the county Toll Roads Agency last year in a messy debate after years of discussion about putting a toll road through the center of the city. 

[Read: San Clemente Officially Breaks From County Toll Roads Agency, Setting Up Potential Lawsuit]

Sund has also regularly clashed with Councilwoman Laura Ferguson, the city’s former press information officer who worked at the same time as Sund until she quit city staff in 2017 to run for office. 

The two have regularly gotten into public arguments on the dais, and Ferguson was ultimately censured by her colleagues for repeatedly calling out city staff members publicly. 

[Read: San Clemente City Council Censures One Of Their Own For Speaking Out Against City Staff]

Ferguson was the sole vote against hiring Sund, saying she thought the city could “do better,” and has repeatedly accused Sund of attempting to limit her ability to review public records and not answering her questions, and is currently suing the city for access to official documents.

[Read: San Clemente Councilwoman Clashes With City Staff Over Access to Records]

“That was a surprise to me but a welcome surprise,” Ferguson said in a text to Voice of OC when asked about Sund’s resignation. “I’m looking forward to what the future brings and hoping for positive,  proactive, professional customer service oriented leadership to oversee the operations and fiscal proficiency and transparency at city hall.” 

Sund isn’t the first manager to recently leave San Clemente.

City Manager James Makshanoff, who served as city manager for nearly five and a half years, left the city in January 2020 to go to Pomona, and was replaced by interim city manager Robert Dunek. 

Dunek was dropped by the council in June 2020 after members of the public and two members of the city council repeatedly criticized his handling of the city’s COVID-19 response, focusing on his decision to set up a fence along the beach that led to a protest and a threat by OC Sheriff Don Barnes to pull patrols out of the city. 

[Read: Orange County Sheriff Threatens To Pull Patrols Out Of San Clemente]

Sund served as the assistant city manager for seven and a half years before taking over the top job in May 2021, stepping in as interim after Dunek was pushed out. 

Sund’s contract was originally set to keep him at the city until May 2024 with a base annual salary of just under $250,000 annually, with options to extend the contract annually.  

During the Big Bear Lake City Council’s discussion on hiring Sund, city attorney Stephen  Deitsch said Sund’s new contract has no end date, with a base salary of $265,000. 

San Clemente City Councilmembers failed to appoint an interim city manager at their August 16 meeting, but the council unanimously selected Mayor Gene James and Councilman Chris Duncan as a subcommittee charged with hiring an interim city manager from outside the existing city staff.

Sund remains in charge until Sept. 9.

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

•••

Start each day informed with our free email newsletter. Be alerted when news breaks with our free text messages.

And since you’ve made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.