After a closed-session personnel evaluation last weekend, Stephanie DeWolfe evidently chose to retire as city manager, creating the second significant vacancy in South Pasadena’s leadership team in a month.
Fire Chief Paul Riddle is serving as acting city manager, a municipal news release said, but the City Council is likely to appoint an interim administrator while it searches for a full-time hire. DeWolfe’s retirement after nearly three years with the city signifies the latest marker in an ongoing political saga, in which a number of residents have challenged the financial state of the city and taken aim at the officials they see as responsible for or complicit in alleged poor management.
In August, Marina Khubesrian resigned from the council after admitting to have sent numerous emails and public comments under invented personas used to attack other residents and come to the defense of officials like DeWolfe. Additionally, Finance Director Karen Aceves, whom Khubesrian also defended in the messages, has embarked on a leave of absence even as a long-overdue audit is slated for completion.
Though the decision was reached during a Sunday closed session, DeWolfe’s retirement was effective Saturday, Sept. 12, the city release said.
“The City Council wishes her the best in the next chapter of her life,” said Mayor Bob Joe in a statement.
DeWolfe began her role as city manager on Nov. 6, 2017, after being hired by the current elected council members and Khubesrian — whose place has been taken by an interim member — on a four-year contract. She had been the community development director of West Hollywood and replaced Sergio Gonzalez, who had accepted a job elsewhere, in South Pasadena.
Public criticism this year has dogged DeWolfe, who since being hired oversaw significant department head turnover, especially in the Finance Department. Conflict arose between her and some council members over her repeated hiring of a public relations firm for the city for contract amounts just under the minimum that would have required council approval. Other members of the public frequently aired grievances about their difficulty in communicating with the city manager’s office.
The most concentrated criticism, however, regarded the city’s finances, particularly after the budgeting process began in the context of the coronavirus pandemic’s economic shutdowns.
The council was slated this week to consider hiring Elaine Aguilar, a former city manager of Sierra Madre, as interim assistant city manager to essentially take over for Aceves during her absence and potentially lead the search process for a new city manager.
Aguilar previously served in an interim role for South Pasadena: She was here as recently as 2017, when the city felt the ire of numerous residents who had received notices to pay for business licenses for activities that hadn’t previously required licensing, though Aguilar was not blamed for the episode. A lawsuit was filed against the city this year alleging that this occurrence was part of a staff scheme to shore up funds for the municipality.