Antioch has found a new administrator to lead City Hall, leaving Hercules scrambling for a replacement.
The East Contra Costa city announced Monday it has hired Steve Duran, the current city manager in Hercules, to replace retiring Jim Jakel.
All contract terms have been agreed upon, and the Antioch City Council is expected to formally approve the hire Dec. 10.
While the announcement signals a smooth transition in Antioch's day-to-day leadership, it leaves beleaguered Hercules with more uncertainty only two years after it hired Duran to help lead it out of crisis.
Antioch Mayor Wade Harper said Monday that Duran's experience with financial challenges, economic development and budget skills, particularly as Antioch looks to implement a recently passed half-cent sales tax for public safety, made him the best fit for city manager.
"He's going to be able to hit the ground running," said Harper, noting that Duran already has extensive county contacts and familiarity with issues important to Antioch such as proposed ferry expansion and the county's waterfront plan.
"There were so many positives, it let me know in my gut that this is the right person to lead us into the future," Harper said.
Duran, 58, added that his nine years in Richmond from 2002 to 2011 as economic development and redevelopment director gave him experience addressing some of the crime and blight issues facing Antioch.
In Duran's two years at the helm in Hercules, the city eliminated a $1.1 million structural general fund deficit and moved forward on an Intermodal Transit Center project and a Safeway-anchored shopping center. His job was also to help restore public trust after years of alleged mismanagement and cronyism that resulted in an FBI investigation and lawsuit by the city against former City Manager Nelson Oliva and his family company that was recently settled for $3.15 million.
"It's always a hard decision to leave because there's never a time when you feel everything is done," Duran said.
In addition to the lure of a bigger city and salary, Duran said he was drawn to Antioch despite its challenges because the city's leadership "has things going in the right direction," and he wants to help continue that.
Meanwhile, Hercules leaders expressed concern Monday about how the city will cope with Duran's departure just as it is trying to put its financial house in order.
"It couldn't have come at a worse time," Councilman Dan Romero said. "We were a house of cards barely standing. Now, the middle card is being pulled out.
"I wish him well, but the timing is really bad. It poses a great financial danger to the city."
Romero said many issues are pending right now, such as fulfilling the terms of a settlement with bond insurer Ambac, a land deal for 17.25 acres and a residential-and-retail project, and he fears there's "a strong possibility" deals could be lost.
Duran said the Hercules deals "are in good hands," as the hired consultants are some of the best real estate professionals in the state.
City leaders are also worried because there is no one to fill Duran's job in an interim role. Hercules Mayor John Delgado said he is calling a special City Council meeting Tuesday to address the situation.
"Obviously, I wish we had an assistant city manager to take the reins," Delgado said. The absence of an assistant city manager has been a topic of concern, he added.
Duran said he has already started working with city leaders on lining up some potential candidates to serve as interim city manager.
Duran's current employment contract is for three years, beginning in October 2011, and he said it contains a clause obligating him to give 60 days notice if he quits.
In his resignation letter to Hercules, Duran asked that his final working day be Jan. 6. Otherwise, his last day will be Jan. 31.
In the upcoming discussion of Duran's exit plan, Romero said he will ask that Antioch compensate Hercules if Duran leaves early.
Before returning to West Contra Costa, where he was raised, Duran worked for four years with San Jose's redevelopment agency and before that in the private sector in real estate and business management for 23 years.
Duran's compensation package includes an annual salary of $230,000, which will be cut to $207,000 until city furloughs are discontinued, and a one-year severance package. His base annual salary in Hercules was $193,239 in 2012, according to this newspaper's public employees salary database.
"I wish Steve the best," Delgado said. "Antioch is getting a good city manager."
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.