11:18 PM PDT on Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

Riverside City Manager Brad Hudson is leaving the city after six years with a reputation as its Renaissance man for getting $1.57 billion in projects started — but sometimes with a heavy hand.

Hudson, who steered the city through a public works building boom and tough economic times but offended some by wielding immense power at City Hall, is leaving to become Sacramento County’s chief executive officer.

His departure was announced at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, just hours after he presented a balanced Riverside budget for 2011-12.

The Renaissance program to improve city streets, sewers and parks along with other projects will mark Hudson’s tenure, many said.

“He is the one who took what the mayor and others wanted and made it work,” said Cindy Roth, president of the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce.

Hudson will leave for the Sacramento job in mid-August, Mayor Ron Loveridge said. Hudson did not attend the evening council meeting and could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

The Renaissance program replaced Riverside’s aging sewers, widened local streets and put many dilapidated downtown buildings back in prime condition, notably the Fox theater.

Loveridge called it “a defining six years for the city and its history and its legacy.”

Councilman Andy Melendrez said Hudson understood the community’s needs and credited him with pushing improvements on once crime-plagued parts of University Avenue, getting the Nati Fuentes Child Care Center opened and turning Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park into “an absolute gem” for hikers, bikers and nature lovers.

Getting those Renaissance projects going was no small task, said former councilman Dom Betro, who lobbied for Riverside to hire Hudson.

“Brad is a force of nature,” Betro said. “He is a very unique character as someone in government who operates as someone who is an entrepreneur.”

Divisive figure

But that style also got Hudson in trouble, Betro said, when his often goal-driven demands went unchecked by the City Council. Some residents complained that the public was left out of the loop on important decisions.

Last year court records surfaced that showed Hudson, other city administrators, and some City Council members used city vehicles with special, untraceable licenses plates that state law reserves for police work.

Hudson and former assistant city manager Tom De Santis also bought Glock handguns from the city Police Department in 2005 even though the department had no legal authority to sell firearms to private individuals, records show.

The gun sales were the subject of inquiries in 2007 and 2008 by the state attorney general’s office.

After learning that state laws appeared to have been violated, city officials took corrective actions, and the attorney general’s office concluded that no criminal activity occurred.

The controversy, however, spurred calls for Hudson to resign.

Mary Figueroa, a member of the Riverside Community College District board, was one his critics.

She said Tuesday night that Hudson made city government more hostile to the citizens it serves. He curtailed a community policing program and made it more difficult for citizens to be heard at public meetings, she said.

“Based on what the City Council members are saying (about Hudson), they don’t have a clue about what is going on,” she said. “He left the city high and dry.”

Hudson’s critics hoped his departure would usher in positive changes, such as openness, transparency and more community involvement.

“We’re very happy to see Hudson go,” said Michael Dunn, the co-chair for the grassroots Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability. “He’s leaving under a cloud of suspicion.”

Challenges ahead

Councilman Steve Adams said Hudson’s departure is unequivocally not related to allegations that he steered certain city contracts to individuals he knew.

“This is an opportunity,” Adams said, adding that Hudson is leaving now because now is when the opportunity arose.

Art Gage, a former Riverside city councilman and candidate for mayor, called Hudson’s departure a good decision for the city, a good decision for Hudson, and a good time for a change.

“The timing is right to bring in a different city manager. Riverside has made some giant leaps in the few last years. It’s a good time for a change,” Gage said.

Councilman Mike Gardner said the city has not yet selected an interim city manager. But it likely will be one of Hudson’s hires.

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