Exeter city manager Randy Groom set to start as Visalia city manager in January

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By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN

VISALIA – The City of Exeter is not a place that likes much change, but that would be hard to tell by the amount of employees that have moved on from City Hall this year. In 2017 the City lost three out of its four managers, hired two full time replacements and an interim police chief while just letting one department head retire without replacing the position at all. While this organizational shake up was going on Exeter city manager Randy Groom didn’t realize he would be one of the managers to leave as well.

After searching for a replacement for soon to be retired Mike Olmos, the City of Visalia announced last Friday that they will be hiring Groom to head up their City Hall, and he’ll be starting in January.

Randy Groom, Visalia City Manager

Randy Groom,
Visalia City Manager

“I wasn’t looking for a job and I really wasn’t even thinking about Mike retiring. I just figured him and I were going to be leaving [government] together,” Groom said. “If it was anywhere other than Visalia I’d stay here…but it’s really like closing the loop for me.”

Before Groom was city manager in Exeter he served the City of Visalia for 18 years, ultimately holding the position of Deputy City Manager before departing the City in 2003. After working for several years in the private sector for The Hopper Company, Groom continued his career with the Visalia Unified School District as the Director of Administrative Services in 2006 from 2010.

In his time as Exeter city manager between 2010 and now, Groom wanted to help the City improve for the future. He says that organizationally they have. In a time before Groom the City would work on handshake and backslap deals, but in his seven years with the City he instilled a bureaucratic, yet unencumbered, professionalism that was responsive to the community.

“I like to think we have crafted a little higher level of sophistication. I think we have taken ourselves from a viable place to a likable more professional organization,” Groom said.

“I think he has done incredible things for Exeter…he wanted to leave Exeter in a better place than when he found it and he’s done that,” mayor pro tem Mary Waterman said. “It’s going to be tough to find someone to fill his shoes…and to find somebody that really gets Exeter and the people here.”

“We have our work cut out for us that’s for sure,” councilman Jeremy Petty said. “I think we’ll be fine but he’s leaving at a time when we need to find a new chief of police and now a new city manager. The dynamic of the City is going to be different.”

Petty is right, when organizations shift and change as many employees as Exeter in the last year and heading into 2018, dynamics shift and change as well. In his time Groom said he was able to strike a balance between small town charm and typical government professionalism. Now that Groom is moving on he feels the right people are in the right places to pick up the mantel. He already had a seasoned public works director in Daymon Qualls, earlier this year he hired Shonna Oneal as the deputy city clerk/personnel officer and just a few weeks ago Groom hired Chris Tavarez as finance director, and all of which he has confidence in.

Soon to be added to the list is a new police chief. As recently as Monday Exeter opened recruitment for the position with the expectation that whoever fills the position will serve for three to five years while implementing a succession plan for the department. Groom said that time frame is enough to bring up sergeants that will become new lieutenants and then perhaps promote a new chief from within.

“This could be a good positive change for Exeter. They have Shonna who is great and Chris has a lot of potential to grow…They have a great opportunity to build a good team here,” Groom added.

Exeter, under Groom has come a long way professionally and financially. In his tenure Groom has had to struggle with budgetary constraints stemming from the impacts of the Great Recession. In 2010 the City was struggling like every other small town in America, but Groom says this year is the worst as Exeter stares down a $345,000 deficit. Before the City managed to get by and at times increase departmental reserves by tightening their belt here or there and making a few cuts.

“This year was the first year where we couldn’t do that anymore and we really had to live within our means,” Groom said.

Now the City is in need of increased revenue, likely in the form of a sales tax increase. Before taking the position Groom would have been the one seeing the City through but now it will be up to whoever is the new city manager and the current management team. Increasing revenue will allow the City to continue operations and add to reserves. It may also help fund street improvement and repairs which has become a growing demand for Exeter.

With a successfully instilled culture, and a budding management team Groom is leaving Exeter and looking forward to his new opportunity in Visalia.

“For me this very much feels like coming home,” said Groom. “Professionally, I was raised by the City of Visalia, and I have developed and maintained many strong working relationships in the City organization and in the community over the past 30 years. As with all cities, Visalia faces many challenges, but it is on a positive path with a very bright future.”

“We utilized an outside employment firm to conduct a nationwide search, and we had many qualified applicants,” said Visalia mayor Warren Gubler. “With such a strong candidate pool, it was a difficult decision. We are confident that Randy, and the existing administration, will continue to lead the City of Visalia for the good of the entire community.”

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