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Jerry Budrick
07/17/2014 11:54 AM

I was set to interview the interim replacement for Sutter Creek City Manager Sean Rabe a few months back, but I waited so long that it made more sense to interview the permanent hire.

The term “permanent,” when referring to this position, does not mean “until retirement.” Hopefully, it means more than six months, but almost always less than five years. A contentious issue like a subdivision application or a sewer rate increase can shorten the stay and an election might introduce the manager to a new council majority that would like to celebrate by picking a replacement. The insecurity comes with the profession. The headhunters are always shopping and most managers do not ignore opportunities.

Locally, Jackson’s Mike Daly has broken the mold. I think both the City of Jackson and Mike have benefited for it. As it turned out, I could have interviewed the temp, because Amy Gedney was selected as the “permanent,” too. She returned my call and we met at a shaded table in the park behind her office. The interview quickly turned into a conversation.

She asked as many questions as she answered. I struggled to regain control a few times, but eventually lost any command I feigned and just enjoyed getting to know and share with my city’s new boss. I’d worry about columnizing the exchange later. That later is now.

Amy grew up in Ohio and followed her parents’ wishes by attending a Christian college in Tennessee. She liked the state, but not the college, and transferred to the University of Tennessee for her sophomore year and the next five. She earned a B.S. in agriculture, with a specialty in soil science, but her masters was in planning. I asked how that happened. “I worked in environmental labs for a couple of years in college,” she replied, “and I realized this was not my future. I had taken a course in urban geography, which intrigued me. It was a study of why places develop as they do. I checked out the planning track and decided I could do that.”

After two more full academic years and a thesis on the tourism industry, she had an advanced planning degree and looked West, which had a reputation for progressive planning. Amy applied for a Merced-based regional transportation planning position in 1997, got it and moved. After completing work on the circulation element for the City of Gustine’s General Plan, the city asked if she had an interest in becoming a city manager. Gustine had an opening. She liked the city and the career potential and went for it. She held the interim title before being named “permanent” three months later, in August of 1999. She repeated the scenario 15 years later, here.

Amy met her husband, John, in 1999, when he worked for the Stanislaus Council of Governments. She found him very interesting. She went to Ohio for Christmas that year, and her sister helped build up the confidence to call him when she returned. She made contact on Jan. 2, 2000; he proposed on January 6; and they were married on September 2. “Is that an example of decisive decision making?” I asked. “That might be the appearance, but it was more just the manifestation of the very unscientific principle: ‘When you know, you just know.’ I was 29 and John 35. We knew.” Her sister called on January 7 for the customary first-date checkup. “How was it?” she asked. Amy answered that it went well. “He asked you to marry him, didn’t he?” Sister knew, too. Augustus (Gus) was born in July of 2001 and Elle two years later. Amy was at a late-night council meeting after the six-week maternity leave and her thoughts went to her kids. “Why am I not at home holding my little girl right now?” The answer was simple, but complicated. She was a city manager, dealing with the complexities of a subdivision application, a General Plan Update, and the perpetual sewer and water issues. And, she was a new mom. She knew at that moment where her priorities had to be, but she also knew where they needed to be, at least for a while. Amy resolved the conflict by resigning the consuming position and replacing it with a part-time position in Modesto, as an administrator in infrastructure finance. The job provided the flexibility she and John, now with Caltrans, needed to raise their children with a parent present. She stayed in Modesto for eight years.

In 2012, the Gedneys made another change and moved to Amador. John had been promoted to Caltrans District 10 representative. He was based in Stockton, but the district covers Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne and Calaveras counties. The search for a residence ranged from Angels Camp to Shingle Springs, with Sutter Creek the winner. The town had an advantage, because Amy and John had been celebrating anniversaries for years at the Sutter Creek Inn.

John’s family lives close by, in El Dorado Hills, and the couple discovered the town when Amy’s second cousins from Ione held a family reunion, in 1997. They found a property for rent on Shake Ridge Road, 12 minutes away. “Just far enough for tardies.” The rental has two acres, but Amy said they are looking to buy five to 10 acres. Amy’s ag background has resurfaced in the form of animal husbandry. “I was into soils and plants, not livestock, but that has turned around. I have one tomato plant that might or might not make it, but a bunch of animals that are thriving.” The menagerie includes dogs, cats, goats, two 4H lambs and some new chickens, which we talked a bit about, since I’ve had a few around since childhood. I felt like maybe I should warn her of the danger a larger parcel would create for a woman who likes animals and kids who encourage the acquisition of anything, but I didn’t. After all, she is a professional. Amy enjoyed the brief life of a stay-at-home mom and animal tender.

John heard that Sean was leaving Sutter Creek, and Amy couldn’t resist the chance to manage the city they loved. The opportunity was just too coincidental. She called, sent in a resume, was interviewed and hired. After the six-month interim position expired, she applied for the permanent position, along with 26 others. The council decided to stay with the manager they already knew.

I asked about issues and challenges the city was facing, but neither one of us felt like talking shop. She was going to be back dealing with those in a few minutes. Amy was quite interested in the history I had with the town, and we talked about some of my experiences on the council, along with events and people that were partially to credit or blame for the situation she has to manage. She was optimistic about the budget. “We are finally emerging from the dark time that I wasn’t here for,” she said.

She told me about a Bella Rosa Restaurant coming to town and a market opening in the beautiful, old building where Soracco’s Hardware once was. “I can buy milk on the way home,” she beamed. I couldn’t begin to convey how much the citizens have pined for a grocery store since Crain’s Market closed almost 30 years ago, an event which marked the beginning of the end for the consumer-based downtown and the transition to something else. Currently, that something else involves a lot of wine. The city conducted several surveys when I was involved, to get resident input for the general plan. The desire to bring back a downtown market always showed up on the list of assets worth protecting and those worth pursuing. If no one is taking credit, Amy should try.

I decided to forget the issues and get back to the fluff. There will be other opportunities. I think a move out of the area is not in the plan. I asked why she got back into the business, “Was the stay-at-home mom not all it was cracked up to be?” “No, it was wonderful. It is true that I really do not have to work. John has a good and stable job. But,” as she looked up at the park and down the creek, “how could I pass this opportunity up? My children are older and instead of me dressing Elle in the morning rush, she picks out my clothes. The town is wonderful, the council a delight, the staff competent, and the citizens, even those critical, are respectful and offer intelligent input. Everyday I’m here, I have to pinch myself to confirm that it is real.”

I wondered if some bad times might change that perspective. “I do not see that from my present situation, but I know things can get rough. I’ve been there. If the job begins to wear on me or my family, I will have to give it up, but I love working here, and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I believe I am good at what I do.”

She asked that I omit the last statement and looked at her watch. “Oh, oh, I have to run and pick up Gus.” I left the statement in.

Copyright © 2014 Amador Ledger Dispatch
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