A tenure focused on data, civic engagement, and government innovation comes to a close as Council accepts Rick Cole’s decision to step down as City Manager

City of Santa MonicaIn a letter to the City Council on Friday, April 17, City Manager Rick Cole offered to step down from his post as City Manager, to which he was appointed in June 2015.  The City Council will consider his letter in closed session at a Special Meeting to be held at 3:30 p.m. today.   

Cole joined the organization and worked with the City Council to establish five priority areas for the City around the airport, mobility, homelessness, learn + thrive, and inclusive and diverse community Within his first year as the City’s leader, he reached an unprecedented agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration to close Santa Monica Airport and welcomed the Metro Expo Line, connecting Santa Monica to the region. Santa Monica experienced global attention for being the epicenter of shared mobility devices and shepherded a progressive pilot program that has been heralded as a model for cities across the nation. Cole implemented a performance management framework that utilized data to drive progress in key areas such as homelessness, mobility, and affordability. 

“For the past five years, Rick Cole’s leadership in Santa Monica has overseen changes as momentous as the coming of Expo Light Rail and the agreement with the FAA to permanently close the airport.  He’s put his heart and soul into making Santa Monica a model of 21st-century city government, data-driven, focused, and collaborative,” said Mayor Kevin McKeown. “I can only imagine how painful it is for him now to demonstrate, through his own action, how the coronavirus pandemic and resultant economic collapse have made agonizing sacrifices inevitable, right up to the top office in City Hall.  As Mayor, I’m grateful for Rick’s steady hand over these years, as our community worked through challenges like a new downtown plan, unanticipated revolutions in mobility, and creating better accountability and responsiveness through innovations like our community Budget Task Force.  Most recently, of course, Rick has served as our Emergency Director, making the tough choices on how best to protect every one of us in a dust storm of often-conflicting public health and local economic advice. It is therefore with sadness, gratitude, and respect that we must consider Rick’s decision to leave the post of Santa Monica City Manager.  We have called a special meeting for the Council to receive his offer, and consider the role of City Manager and how we can ensure continuity of key leadership during this crisis and upcoming recovery.” 

A hallmark of Cole’s tenure was developing an open and two-way dialogue with the community through programs like Community Conversations, where he and top City leadership would join community gatherings and discuss hot topics. He developed several task force committees to grapple with tough issues like downtown land use, the City’s budget, and public employee pension liability. Residents who took the time to email him, received a response. Even when perspectives differed, he was respected for his accessibility and candor. Holding a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and a prolific and eloquent writerwithout fail, Cole authored a weekly message to keep information flowing to his staff and to the community. He also wrote about diverse topics featured in his blog series “The Long View” available at www.santamonica.gov/city-manager.  

Cole has been recognized as one of “America’s Public Officials of the Year” by Governing Magazine and one of the “Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers” by Government Technology Magazine. He has won awards for municipal management excellence from the American Society of Public Administrators and the Municipal Management Association of Southern California, as well as for urban planning leadership from the Congress for the New Urbanism. 

Prior to coming to Santa Monica, Rick served as Deputy Mayor for Budget and Innovation for the City of Los Angeles where he was responsible for a budget of $8.6 billion and oversaw five city departments. Cole also spent 15 years as City Manager of two Southern California cities, Ventura and Azusa. 

As Santa Monica’s City Manager, Cole was responsible for leading one of California’s most successful and progressive full-service cities. With a AAA bond rating from all three major public credit rating agencies and an annual budget of more than $700 million, Santa Monica’s award-winning services and programs are delivered by a staff of nearly 2,300. 

The Special Council meeting was scheduled for Saturday, April 18, 2020 at 3:30 p.m.