Greg Devereaux

Liset Marquez, Staff Writer
Created: 02/13/2010 06:08:19 AM PST

ONTARIO – In 12 years as Ontario’s city manager, Greg Devereaux has helped bolster the city’s economy, build its cash reserves and launched several successful redevelopment projects, including the construction of Citizens Business Bank Arena.

On Tuesday he will begin his new post as San Bernardino County chief administrative officer.

Devereaux didn’t start on the best of terms with Ontario’s city staff.

The first two years were “rocky” following restructuring changes to staff positions and there were even discussions of removing him.

Many felt he had a personal agenda, he said.

“We viewed each other with suspicion,” he said. “And it turned out some of it was preconceptions we had built.”

Prior to his tenure, Devereaux said, city staff members were too involved in making the decisions for the city. He immediately made staff changes to establish who had which roles.

“I have always been a manager with very personal-based way of working with staff, business and with the community,” he said. “I freely admit I don’t know any other way to do it.”

It was then that Devereaux sat down with the City Council, now an annual tradition, and they defined the objectives and vision for the city for the following year to be used as direction for city staff.

But those changes were met with resentment from city staff.

“Once they understood it was the opposite, they believed in the system and everyone became more comfortable,” he said.

City Clerk Mary Wirtes was initially upset with Devereaux’s decision to have city staff take over city records management.

Wirtes said she was overwhelmed by the move because she wasn’t expecting it at all, and Devereaux had made the decision without ever approaching her.

As it turned out, “I was very proud of the city after he took over,” Wirtes said. “We had a lot of problems with city corruption.”

Wirtes admits that it took a while before she realized the positive impacts of his changes.

While tackling those administrative changes, Devereaux also had the task of balancing the city’s budget.

Devereaux was key in bringing economic development strategies to Ontario, Councilman Alan Wapner said.

Ontario had always been more business oriented than surrounding communities but Devereaux said he knew the city needed to make some aggressive moves to “grow our way out of financial problems.”

One of those moves was the purchase of 200 acres upon which the Citizens Business Bank Arena now sits.

The foresight to make that business venture, Devereaux said, came from his strong background in redevelopment.

“We have benefited from his expertise,” Mayor Paul Leon said. “He has come up through the ranks of city government so he knows everything from top to bottom and that makes a real difference.”

Councilman Jim Bowman and Wapner were on the council in 1997 when Devereaux was appointed city manager.

Bowman said Devereaux has kept a tight rein on the city’s finances and has made smart investments.

Devereaux’s vision and direction have helped the city survive the ongoing economic crisis, Wapner said.

Those changes have also improved the high quality-of-life standards residents have come to expect, he said.

“He set up the infrastructure for this city and that is now part of his legacy,” Wapner said.

Leon said he had no reservations in saying that he felt Devereaux had accomplished more than any other manager in the city’s history.

And being the city’s representative has meant Devereaux has been met with criticism from residents who have voiced their concerns about the city being operated in too business-like a manner and council meetings being too short.

“I think that many people overlook the fact that council meetings are the business meetings of a municipal corporation,” he said.

It is a notion the City Council has always understood well, and why the meetings are always met with unanimous decisions, Devereaux said.

Residents should be more concerned if the City Council had a record of split votes because that would demonstrate they didn’t agree with the goals they have outlined for city staff, he said.

“Working with this council has been satisfying, the most enjoyable working experience of my life,” Devereaux said.

Wal-Mart’s coming to Ontario has been widely opposed by residents. Devereaux said he was aware that bringing it to the city could bring a legal battle.

“Very often people don’t make the connection between the services they want and the need to generate ongoing revenue to pay for them,” he said.

The citizens’ effort to stop Wal-Mart from coming in has cost the city about $2 million in revenue, Devereaux said.

As Devereaux settles into his new post, he said he has no regrets with the decisions he made in Ontario.

“You always wish you could have gotten more done,” he said. “I wish the last economic up-cycle lasted a bit longer. I really would have hoped to get more done with New Model Colony.”

The decision to leave Ontario wasn’t exactly easy, but taking the county job presented a challenge he could not refuse.

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