Is Levitt looking to leave?

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

— As of Tuesday afternoon, officials from Simi Valley, Calif., were in Janesville conducting a background check, hoping to hire Janesville City Manager Eric Levitt to lead the southern California city.

The Simi Valley City Council announced Tuesday that Levitt is the only finalist for its vacant city manager position.

The city will conduct a background check that could last two weeks, according to a news release. If the results come out as expected, the city and Levitt could move into contract negotiations, said Simi Valley Mayor Bob Huber.

"Everything that we've heard so far has been positive," Huber told The Gazette on Tuesday, adding that the council had not yet been briefed on interviews that took place Tuesday in Janesville. "He's a delightful man."

Levitt has been Janesville's city manager since December 2008. He has faced "some of the toughest challenges" any city manager has faced, said former Janesville council member Tom McDonald.

McDonald was on the committee that in 2008 went to Sedona, Ariz., to interview references and residents about Levitt, who was then Sedona's city manager.

Among challenges he faced were floods, major snowstorms and managing the response to Janesville native Paul Ryan being named as a candidate for vice president.

Levitt noted he is the only city manager in Janesville's history to lead when the General Motors plant was closed. The experience has been challenging and educational, he said.

"(The closure of the plant) is a huge shift in the paradigm for this community," Levitt said. "I knew it was a volatile time coming in."

Forward Janesville President John Beckord said Levitt came on board when city leadership was turning over. Levitt's predecessor, Steve Sheiffer, had held the job for more than 30 years, Beckord said.

Many senior city officials retired around the time Levitt started in Janesville, Beckord said.

"He had a rebuilding task or challenge on many levels," Beckord said. "I know he's worked very hard to make that transition and obviously guide the community in a way that guides us to economic recovery during a recession that has been stubborn.

"His tenure here has been one of a really difficult environment to operate in."

Despite the challenging environment, Levitt said his work in Janesville has been a positive experience.

"I have a lot of mixed feelings right now," he said. "It's been a good experience considering the environment. It's been good because of the people, the quality of the people I've worked with and of the residents."

If Levitt leaves Janesville, it will leave two big holes in city management. Vic Grassman, Janesville's economic development director, resigned Friday. At the time, Levitt said Grassman resigned for personal reasons.

Levitt's search for a new job and Grassman's resignation are not related, Levitt said Tuesday.

"There's no relationship between the two," Levitt said. "This announcement from Simi Valley is after a lengthy recruitment process. This had to do with a unique opportunity that my wife and I decided I couldn't pass up at this time."

Levitt said the Simi Valley job is not a done deal and he remains committed to working in Janesville.

"At this point, my focus is still on Janesville and on its economic development," he said. "I'm still engaged in a variety of projects."

Huber declined to comment on the range of pay Levitt could expect. A March 2 story in the Ventura County Star listed the salaries of the county's 10 cities as being between $120,000 and $229,000. The current interim city manager of Simi Valley makes $199,500, according to the news report.

Levitt's last review was in August, at which time he got a positive review but no raise, leaving his salary at $140,080. Other elements of Levitt's compensation package have not changed through the years and include a $5,100 annual vehicle allowance, $6,000 for a deferred compensation account, $1,200 cell phone allowance and five weeks vacation.

Simi Valley is a city of 126,500 people northwest of Los Angeles. The city was rated the eighth-happiest city in the United States in a recent University of Vermont study of more than 1 million tweets in 400 locations, Huber said.

Janesville City Council President Kathy Voskuil said the council was made aware last week that an announcement of some kind could come this week. She said it is too soon to speculate on what it would mean for Janesville if Levitt left.

"Given the preliminary nature of what the announcement is, we will have to wait for more information," Voskuil said. "Otherwise, he's still our city manager."

Last updated: 7:55 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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