PIEDMONT -- The new guy in town is settling in.
With about a month on the job, new City Administrator Paul Benoit is getting to know Piedmont and its residents. Benoit presided over his first City Council meeting on March 3. He replaced retiring administrator Geoff Grote, who left his post at the end of February after serving for 25 years.
"I have my own ethos, way of doing things. The first few months, I want to get to know the community," said Benoit, 59, the former Astoria, Ore., city manager.
To that end, Benoit asked each council member to provide him a list of Piedmonters from different walks of life he should talk to. He is impressed.
"The residents are smart and engaged. Their service and volunteerism to the city is extraordinary. The ones I have talked to emphasize they love their city the way it is -- 'don't screw it up.' "
Benoit also has been meeting with department heads and staff, whom he says "are top-notch professionals with a surprising work ethic."
Benoit emerged as the top choice for new city administrator because of his previous experience and people skills. He is being paid an annual salary of $200,000. He also was a finalist for a city manager job in Monterey.
"But Piedmont moved more quickly with the hiring process, and they won out," he said.
Mayor Margaret Fujioka said Benoit clearly is the man for the job.
"Paul has made it a priority to meet residents and familiarize himself with key city issues. His depth and breadth of municipal experience and his genuine desire to work with all stakeholders for the benefit of the entire community will serve Piedmont well," Fujioka said. "I look forward to working with him to accomplish much in the next two years (of my term)."
When asked, Benoit cited his strengths.
"I am a natural optimist, and I have good intuition about people," Benoit said. "I am a visionary and look for opportunities for positive change. I will take baby steps to change what is needed. I am a patient but persistent person. Progress will be made inch by inch."
Benoit enjoys and encourages pushback from his "team" of staffers "who will bring their expertise to the table."
The new administrator grew up in Rhode Island, where much of his family still lives. He received a degree in marine and environmental science from the University of Rhode Island, then opted to travel west to obtain his master's in coastal planning from the University of Washington in Seattle.
From there, he went international, taking a job for the National Fishing Service as an observer of fishing practices for restricted species in U.S. waters aboard a 110-crew Korean fishing vessel in the Bering Sea.
"I did statistical work observing the collection of king crab, salmon, halibut and pollock."
Returning to Seattle, Benoit then took a job from 1979 to 1983 with the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, based in Saipan, where he worked on a land-use management program.
"They had no rules for development," he said. "It was bad."
His first son was born in Saipan. One son now lives in Alameda, and is expecting Benoit's second grandchild. Another son lives in Idaho; his youngest son is in Oregon studying nursing. He and his wife are taking their time finding a home in the East Bay. For now, he is renting an apartment in the Temescal district in Oakland and flies back to Oregon on many weekends.
Benoit, switching to a municipal post, served as community development director in Astoria for 17 years. He then took a job as the city of Alameda's director of development, then as assistant city manager there from 2003 to 2005.
"Astoria's city manager was leaving, and they contacted me, so I went back," he said.
He served as city manager in Astoria starting in December 2005 until he took the job in Piedmont.
"There is something about Piedmont that is very interesting and attractive," said the new administrator. "And I don't miss the rain. Astoria rains a lot."