Brentwood City Manager Gus Vina plans to retire at the end of the year, after a 39-year-long public service career – the last five for the city. But he’ll still have plenty to do.
Vina recently stated that he’s compiled a list of 40 aspirations to achieve after leaving, and he plans to check them off one-by-one.
“These are not little things like ‘go read a book,’” said Vina, whose career has also included stints with the state and cities of Sacramento, Stockton and Encinitas. “I have about 40 things on a list. I am going to start picking one at a time and having a little fun.”
Crossing off his retirement pursuits will resemble Vina’s Brentwood working life, wherein he frequently checked off projects that moved the city forward.
Under Vina’s leadership, Brentwood established its own police dispatch center, built a new library, constructed a new municipal service center, updated its parks master plan, crafted a development plan for a key piece of real estate in the northwest portion of the city and ushered in a variety of other changes, with – as Vina asserts – plenty of help from city employees and the council’s vision.
“Gus has been an extraordinary fit for the city,” said Mayor Bob Taylor, who confirmed a recruitment effort to find Vina’s replacement is ongoing. “He’s kept us on track and the city is still in good financial shape. All is good with him. I am going to be sad to see him leave.”
The city’s next manager will step into the role that Vina considered the best of his career, a byproduct of residents’ sincere interest in the city’s quality of life, and a progressive council that’s willing to continually craft two-year strategic plans to maintain the organization’s focus on the council’s highest priorities — a tool Vina spearheaded upon his Brentwood arrival in 2015.
“(The job) was not what I expected it to be,” Vina said. “It was so much better. It’s clearly the best assignment I have had in my career.”
Although Vina has announced his retirement, he still has unfinished city goals. In fact, his office whiteboard is full with lists of projects in various stages of completion. He can’t finish them all, but in his remaining four months, he plans to cross off a few more, including setting up one more two-year strategic plan in October, moving the city’s evolving community build-out and parks master plan processes forward, as well as helping with the transition to a new leader — checking off the official end to his career, after more than once meeting his goal to become a city manager.
Laid off at 29 from a retail industry job, he took a state test and the state treasurer’s office hired him. Nine years later, Vina joined Stockton as a finance worker for the police department, which sought to civilianize the positions handling the budget and personnel. A year later, the city manager beckoned Vina to come work for him.
“After watching that city manager in Stockton, it was my goal,” Vina said. “That is what I wanted to do one day.”
After rising to become Stockton’s assistant finance director, he made a 12-year stop in Sacramento, serving as the city’s finance director, before becoming assistant city manager and, later, interim city manager. After Sacramento, Vina became Encinitas’ city manager for three years, then landed the same position in Brentwood in 2015.
The high-ranking city job is far from easy. Vina admits he rarely ever turns his phone off and, each day, he leaves the office shouldering the city’s successes and burdens.
Over time, he has learned to lean on the talented executive team around him, to not withhold decisions, to take risks and to maintain a positive attitude and calming demeanor.
He knows he hasn’t been perfect, and that not everyone agrees with the agency’s decisions — both are to be expected in the role — but his leadership style appeared to work well, and the city was able to deal with every challenge thrown its way.
“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I don’t think there has been anything in these five years that we have not been able to handle,” he said. “We are lucky. We are not in an environment where we have had a lot of the bad stuff. I have been in organizations where the next call from the police chief every two weeks is the next homicide. That is bad stuff, and we do not have that here. Hopefully, we’ll never have that stuff.”
As Vina looks into the future, he knows his days with the city are ticking down. Part of him looks forward to enjoying the city through the eyes of a regular citizen, catching up on leisurely activities like golfing, strolling into the library and visiting restaurants. But letting go of a job he loves won’t be easy.
“What I will miss every day is that the job feels very purposeful, and it is about people, about real life,” Vina said. “Not all jobs are like that, and I really enjoy that. Letting that go, knowing you’re done, is pretty impactful.”