As press releases went, it was an awkward slip. But everything around City Hall is a bit awkward these days. As expected, the Santa Barbara City Council voted to appoint Rebecca Bjork — a get-things-done administrator with 32 years in city government — to serve as acting city administrator, replacing Paul Casey, who is retiring on September 10 after 24 years in City Hall and seven at the helm. After the first sentence, the press release suggested — via italic type — “It would be great if we could have a quote from the Mayor here. Maybe ‘I am confident the City will be in good hands with Rebecca.’ ” It turns out, the Mayor — Cathy Murillo — was not present for this week’s council meeting. In her stead, Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez — mayor pro tem — presided. And typically, most City Hall releases do not include such prompts.
Bjork — who recently ran the Public Works Department — has always been short on small talk but long on competence. Casey, beaten and bruised by the last four withering years — the Thomas Fire, 1/9 Debris Flow, COVID, district elections, massive turnover at top city positions, and mounting criticism about his leadership — attended his last council meeting as city administrator this Tuesday.
All this comes at a time when Mayor Murillo finds herself running against five other candidates for the mayorship and two other council seats are up for grabs. In the meantime, a search for a new police chief is on, a sexual harassment lawsuit against the city’s finance chief unfolds, and former transportation planner and downtown champion Rob Dayton — who happens to be an evangelical Christian — is threatening a lawsuit on the grounds of religious discrimination. Whether the council is willing to pay Dayton what it would cost to defend the city against such a lawsuit — said to be somewhere just south of $500,000 — has yet to be seen.