The search for a leader who will steer the San Mateo County Harbor District in a positive direction is proving as rocky as the organization itself as two candidates have backed out and officials must replace their interim general manager who no longer wants the position.
The special district, which oversees Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay and Oyster Point Marina/Park in South San Francisco, has undergone significant change the last few months having lost its former longtime general manager Peter Grenell and swearing in two new harbor commissioners.
The organization has also been under scrutiny as the focus of a recent San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report suggesting dissolution and the county’s Local Area Formation Commission, or LAFCo, preparing to make a recommendation on whether the district is operating efficiently or if its duties should be absorbed elsewhere.
With current Interim General Manager Scott Grindy eager to return to his post as harbormaster after serving four months as the agency’s chief, a subcommittee comprised of newly elected commissioners Tom Mattusch and Nicole David are considering recommending the board hire another interim leader.
While challenges lie ahead, some are hopeful a qualified candidate will be up for taking the helm.
“They’re going to need to be experienced and they’re going to need to be up for a challenge, there’s no question about that. We are a district in need of assistance. But it’s also a tremendous opportunity … for someone who cares about San Mateo County and they’re passionate about the fishing community and things like the Coastal Trail and all the other great recreational opportunities the harbor provides,” said Sabrina Brennan, president of the Harbor District Board of Commissioners.
Mattusch and David said the subcommittee is discussing hiring a part-time general manager who they would likely share with a neighboring city; an option they’re exploring while working with Brett Ives, a consultant hired to help with the executive search.
“Someone to provide guidance to the Harbor District while we continue our search for a full-time person, someone to lend additional stability and let Scott [Grindy] go back to what he wants to do, which is be the harbormaster,” Mattusch said.
Yet the details are far from solidified, the board and the unnamed city would need to approve the temporary hire and the district has also lost the interest of two former candidates.
“The process has been difficult,” David said. “We had a few very good qualified people that were applying, but they decided to not go through the interview process with the whole board … for different reasons. I think in general, the Harbor District doesn’t have the best reputation right now.”
Commissioner Robert Bernardo agreed, adding several employees have recently retired from the district.
“Right now, we’re kind of bare bones, and then you put on top of that the whole LAFCo thing and we’re still responding to the civil grand jury; there’s just so much on the plate already and the plate’s not getting any larger. So as you can imagine, whoever’s in that spot, whether it’s Grindy or whoever, I would imagine that could scare off people wanting to apply for that job,” Bernardo said.
David said the subcommittee has opted to look for an interim replacement, which would be a quicker process, thus allowing the district more time to secure a long-term manager.
“We definitely need someone with good people skills, management skills and administrative skills to help the district stabilize a little bit. So we can focus on the search for a permanent general manager. But this is a rough time of transition,” David said.
The subcommittee will also put out a request for applications for the permanent position and likely ask for stakeholder and public input, David and Mattusch said.
Brennan said she envisions possibly having a member of the public who has professional skills in executive searches or keen insight to special district policies assist the subcommittee in its process.
Brennan said the board approved a pay increase for the next general manager to help attract qualified candidates, but remains cautious about the district’s budget.
Despite the entire board having yet to interview a single candidate, Brennan said she’s confident there’s interest in running the valuable organization. Another assurance, the board has five commissioners who willingly signed up for the challenge of steering the less than fully functional district, Brennan said.
“Clearly, if you’re going to go there, you are definitely a person who’s up for a challenge and my guess would be your intentions would be that you really are passionate about a tremendous opportunity to fix something that needs fixing,” Brennan said. “So do those people exist? Yes.”
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