The aftershocks surrounding former City Manager Weldon Rucker’s September retirement announcement continue to rumble at Berkeley City Hall.
City Manager Phil Kamlarz consolidated the new chain of command Tuesday by telling City Council that he had picked Lisa Caronna, 51, the city’s director of Parks, Recreation and Waterfront, to succeed him as deputy city manager—a position now established as the training ground for future managers.
He also promoted Chief of Staff Arrietta Chakos to assistant city manager, making her number three at city hall.
Caronna’s promotion—she will serve as acting deputy city manager for six months starting Monday— marks the latest leap in her meteoric rise through city government.
She joined the city in 1995 as a landscape architect in the Public Works Department, moved to the Parks Department in 1996 when that department splintered off from Public Works, and rose to director of the department in 1997.
Caronna, who has lived in Berkeley since 1971, came to city hall after 20 years at a landscape architecture firm she co-founded.
“It’ll be a big change,” she said. “We have big challenges ahead of us, and I’ll be here to help Phil Kamlarz work around those issues.”
The city has still not settled on a temporary replacement to head Parks, and one well-placed source said the eventual successor would likely come from outside the city.
Kamlarz passed over several more-experienced department heads and city officials in choosing Caronna.
City officials said the announcement caught them off guard because Caronna had not actively lobbied for the job—but, added one, “The buzz is that everyone is happy Phil picked her.”
Two well-placed sources said Finance Director Fran David had campaigned hard for the position, and that City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque had thrown her hat into the race as well.
Councilmembers praised Caronna’s management of Parks, crediting her with improving field maintenance, renovating play areas and finding grant money to pay for refurbishing recreation centers.
“Lisa’s really low key, but she gets the job done and doesn’t toot her horn around like some people,” said Councilmember Betty Olds.
“That is a difficult, demanding position,” Councilmember Kriss Worthington said. “Now that she’s risen from one of the junior department heads—that’s a strong testament to her ability to bring people together.
Caronna’s fans even praised the forthright way she handled perhaps the biggest disappointment of her tenure at Parks—the environmental problems that continue to plague the Harrison Skate Park. Currently park officials must close the facility during rain for fear of underground chemicals seeping into the park.
“That was a hard project,” she said. “The professional engineering assumptions did not pan out to be true. We made the best decision at the time based on what we were told.”
Caronna said she is still working out her job duties with Kamlarz, but said the challenge for them would be to get the city government efficiently on limited resources.
“We kind of did the belt-tightening part. Now we need departments to start talking to each other about efficiencies between departments,” she said.
The last two deputy city managers—Rucker and Kamlarz—rose to the top job, but Caronna refused to speculate on the prospect of one day becoming the first woman to serve as Berkeley’s city manager.
“Right now, I’m here to help Phil. We’ll see how it goes after six months,” she said. “This will definitely be a challenging appointment.”