CITY HALL — After 34 years of public service, City Manager P. Lamont Ewell — who is widely credited with improving customer service in City Hall — plans to resign from his post at the end of the year.
Ewell made the announcement Wednesday to give the City Council ample time to conduct a nationwide search for his successor.
“It is with great satisfaction that I have been able to answer in my work life what I believe to be one of the highest callings — public service,” Ewell said. “I am grateful for all my years of service and especially proud to end my career serving one of the greatest cities in the nation. I want to thank the community and the highly talented city workforce for our exceptional partnership.”
In leaving, Ewell, 56, said he will have more time to spend with his family — wife Mary, daughter Jamila and son Justin and three young grandchildren with one more on the way. His “next adventure” will include working through a long list of travels that he and Mary have set their sights on over their 32-year marriage.
Ewell, who was hired by the City Council in January 2006 after serving as city manager for San Diego, said thoughts of retiring surfaced one Sunday morning earlier this year, when he had to make a choice between going to work or visiting family in San Diego with his wife.
“I started thinking more and more about it and what my priorities were,” Ewell said. “It didn’t take me long to come to a decision. This is the right thing to do and at the right time. I’ve worked with a lot of cities and I have had to manage through some of the worst chaos that anyone can ever imagine. Here I had the opportunity to leave without chaos. We have a strong budget plan together, our water treatment plant will be up and running by December 2010, we will have a new mall opening next summer … . We’ve accomplished a lot over these last four years.”
Ewell, a veteran civil servant who began his career as a firefighter in Compton, is characterized by many in the community as a conscientious, compassionate and considerate leader who is always willing to collaborate, building partnerships with neighborhood groups, local merchants and long-standing institutions such as Santa Monica College and the Chamber of Commerce, helping to heal old wounds.
Several community leaders said Ewell was a “straight shooter” who followed through on his promises. When something failed, he didn’t run, but instead studied why it failed and how to improve.
“Lamont is an absolute master at consensus building and relationships,” said Kathleen Rawson, the executive director of the Bayside District Corp., a public-private management company that helps City Hall promote and manage Downtown. “He has been such a positive influence in Santa Monica. … The city has gained some respect in the eyes of property owners and business owners in Downtown, due in no small part to his leadership.”
During his tenure Ewell completed an extensive reorganization of City Hall and focused on improving customer service, all the while giving credit to city staff. Almost $300 million worth of redevelopment projects are now in progress to better the community and the path for the completion of the MTBE water treatment plant is firmly set and progress is being made on the California Incline and Palisades Bluff stabilization projects.
Ewell also appointed several new department heads during his tenure, ensuring stability for years to come, said Mayor Ken Genser.
“Lamont has just got that determination … that openness to hear all the concerns and try to find a solution that is respectful of all the various parties involved,” said Genser, who has worked with three city managers during his time on the dais. “That is a difficult thing to do but Lamont handled it professionally and in a very respectful, humane way.”
Councilman Richard Bloom felt one of Ewell’s greatest accomplishments was getting everyone within City Hall “on the same page, talking the same language when it came to homelessness and sustainability.”
“He never ceases to impress me,” Bloom said. “No matter how small the issue or how large, he’s willing to take a personal interest in it and see if it can’t be resolved in a way that meets everyone’s needs. It isn’t always possible, but he makes the effort.”
An example of that is Ewell’s budget meetings held in the various neighborhoods, something he started two years ago to get a better understanding of what the community’s priorities were. Mary Marlow, president of the Ocean Park Association, said she could not remember a city manager being so involved.
“He really went out of his way to work with the neighborhood associations, particularly with budget issues and resident priorities,” Marlow said. “That was super and refreshing. I know he is really going to be missed. We hate to see him go but wish him the best.”
Patricia Hoffman, a member of the Bayside board and co-chair of Santa Monicans for Renter’s Rights, the city’s leading political party, said she was disappointed to hear Ewell was leaving because he was such a positive influence in the community, always asking her about her family when they met at community events.
“I think he is such a decent human being and a really dear man,” Hoffman said. “I think he came in and helped guide the council into understanding or having a clear vision of what their role is. He will be missed, but I am so happy for him. I just hope that he is happy in his retirement and that he can relax and recreate as well as he can run a city.”
Before taking the Santa Monica post, Ewell served as the city manger for the city of San Diego, where he was thrust into the middle of a financial scandal, forcing him to make difficult decisions to return the city to core services. Ewell takes pride in knowing that he is leaving Santa Monica in good financial standing, retaining its stellar bond rating.
He began his career as a firefighter in Compton and worked his way up the ranks to become Oakland’s fire chief. Credited with helping to rebuild the fire-ravaged area, he was later named Oakland’s assistant city manager, going from there to become the city manager of Durham, N.C., before moving on to San Diego.
Ewell plans to remain in Santa Monica until sometime late next year, at which time he will move with his wife further south to be near family. He said he looks forward to being just a resident of Santa Monica, enjoying the many amenities the city has to offer without worrying about how to better maintain those features.
“In the meantime I will just continue to do my work like I’ve always done,” he said.