One day before her two-year anniversary as Pacific Grove’s Deputy City Manager, Charlene Wiseman is explaining her resignation. She hasn’t made it official yet, but she says she plans to leave at the end of the year with resigning City Manager Jim Colangelo.
Colangelo and Wiseman worked together in Monterey County government, where he was assistant administrative officer and she director of general services. Before that, Wiseman served in various positions with the state DMV, including chief of human resources. She says she took the P.G. job in August 2006 because she wanted city government management experience.
For Colangelo, Wiseman was a perfect fit for the No. 2 position he had created. “The idea in her coming over here was for us to work together and combine our strengths in organizational development,” he says. “We always talked about it as a team.”
Her critics, however, have griped on the message board www.morriefisher.com that “she never does anything but pull in a high salary.” (Wiseman is the second-highest-paid P.G. employee after Colangelo, earning $152,000 per year.)
“People don’t understand what administrative positions are,” Wiseman counters during lunch at Erik’s Deli in Seaside. “It’s not tangible.”
The staff of the museum, library, golf course, recreation department, deputy city clerk and others report to Wiseman. She’s also in charge of purchasing, risk management, human resources, information technology and administrative policy: “all of those things that have to be done that [Colangelo] doesn’t have time to do.”
When she arrived, Wiseman says, city employees didn’t keep time sheets and weren’t regularly reviewed. They shared purchasing cards and didn’t track changes to (often ancient) city forms– nuances Wiseman saw as legally dangerous and ethically dubious.
“You can’t say ‘Wink wink, nod nod, you’re my friend and, I’m gonna give you the contract.’ That’s what was happening,” she says. “If you’re not adhering to state purchasing laws, you’re going to have a problem.”
Working with Colangelo, Wiseman streamlined city procedures, centralized staff and updated protocols. Reorganization is her bag; she says this is her fifth organizational overhaul in the past 10 years. “I’m a change agent. That’s what I do,” she says.
But instituting that change has not made her popular in P.G. “People are resistant to change,” she says.
The presence of an African-American woman in a top managerial position also challenged P.G.’s status quo– something Wiseman’s friends warned her about before she took the job. “They told me it was a racist, good-old-boy town,” she says. “I said, ‘I’m going to take the challenge, because I’m not going to let anyone disrespect me.’ ”
Certainly, prejudice against Wiseman was out there– cue racially nuanced jokes about her hair on the message board. But she skirts the question of whether she experienced discrimination on the job.
“I think it’s a good thing we’re discussing race in America,” she says, pressing her lips together.
After more than three decades in public-sector management, Wiseman has cultivated a self-confidence that allows her to shrug off the personal attacks. “I knew what I was doing behind the scenes,” she says. “I also knew the illegalities of what I was finding. I don’t think that’s something the public sees. I was saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential lawsuits.”
After leaving City Hall in December, Wiseman plans to move to Sacramento and take up private consulting.
As for P.G., she says, “There’s still a lot left to do.”