Three weeks in, Kim Summers is settling into her new job as Murrieta city manager. She replaced longtime city leader Rick Dudley, who retired at the end of June.
She’s got a lot of experience. But some things still take getting used to.
“When something comes across my desk, I’m the final say,” Summers says. “So we were working on the agenda for next week and I was kind of realizing, you know, when I approve it, it’s going on the agenda. I’m the last one to look at it.”
She’s been left in charge of the city before. Dudley would take a couple of vacations a year, leaving her to run things. But it’s not quite the same, Summers says.
“Because when he came back, I wanted it to be, you know, how he’d want it,” Summers says. “So every now and then, I’ll stop and go, ‘Wait a minute, this is how I want it.’ That’s still a new feeling, but I like it.”
When Summers was tapped to be the newest holder of Murrieta’s top job, it was the culmination of long career in public service.
Three careers, in fact.
Summers, a Downey native, is a second-generation public employee. Both of her parents are retired from the city of Downey—her father a former fire department battalion chief, her mother a former executive secretary to the town’s head librarian.
And her brother works in city government, too. He’s the fire chief of the city of Santa Fe Springs.
Summers has a lot of background and experience with city governments, though that wasn’t always her career.
A 1987 graduate of CSU Fullerton with degrees in public relations and communications, she got married and ended up working for a PR firm after college. She and her husband made a temporary move to the High Desert area so he could open up a mortgage company.
“Temporary,” however, turned out to be closer to a quarter century.
“You have kids and then they get involved in school and boy scouts and so, it took me 25 years, but I finally escaped,” Summer said.
In 1999, 12 years after graduating college, she secured a foothold at Hesperia city hall, first as a temporary economic development aide, then as a public information officer—the job she’d always wanted.
“I thought it was the best job in the world,” she said. “Loved everything about it. I designed the website, did the newsletter, wrote the press releases, special events. I mean, what’s not to love about it?”
But in time, she found something was missing.
“After a while, you start realizing the executive staff are meeting in this conference room every week,” she said. “And I wanted to know what was going on in there.”
So she started taking on more responsibilities. She rose through the ranks of Hesperia city officials quickly, and within 8 years of first being hired, she was assistant to the city manager. In 2012, she was appointed deputy city manager.
She also managed to earn a master’s degree in public administration from CSU Long Beach during her time in Hesperia.
Summers was promoted through city hall so quickly that there was soon no more room for her to advance, and she realized she would have to start looking elsewhere. Around the same time she realized this, former Murrieta assistant city manager Jim Holston stepped down, leaving a vacancy in the city.
“I had a recruiter contact me and say, ‘You need to apply for this job,’” she said. “I was a little skeptical at first, because they ended up having 140-some applicants. I was a deputy city manager and I knew a lot of people are going to want to work here and they’d have a lot of experienced city managers and assistants. So I kind of took a chance. And it worked out.”
There were some challenges at first, as there are with any new job. It took some time for her to learn who was who and what was what.
“It’s a brand-new community,” she said. “It was interesting to make the change going from San Bernardino County to Riverside County. You know, I’d been up there for 13 years and you don’t realize you know all the city managers in the county and all of that, so it was really learning the streets, the projects, the names of the developers.”
In her new capacity in Murrieta, she was also the department head for the city’s library and community services district, something she had no prior experience with.
“It was very interesting,” Summers said. “I learned a lot.”
Summers was hired on at Murrieta city hall in March 2014. Three short years later, she now has the city’s top job. And her selection was rather unusual. Most of the time, a city will hire a recruiter to find potential city manager candidates, as was the case when Murrieta hired former city manager Rick Dudley in 2007. But Summers was promoted directly to city manager—without the ‘assistant’ in front of it.
“I was very pleasantly surprised,” she said. “I was hoping to be the interim city manager, because (the city council) usually appoints someone to do that during the recruitment, and they actually appointed me directly. So I was very proud.”
Summers says there’s much to look forward to in Murrieta.
“One of our challenges is, we have big dreams,” she says, gesturing to a nearby conference room wall adorned with details of future projects. “This wall, as you can see, has very large numbers on it, but they’re all thing that are goals of ours that we want to work towards.”
Among these future projects are a new interchange at Keller Road and Interstate 215, continued construction in the medical office park in the same area, potential new restaurants and businesses in Downtown Murrieta, and more.
“It’s lot of juggling,” she says. “All good things, all things to be really excited about. It’s just sort of putting the puzzle pieces together to make it work.”
Another challenge for the city: “Money,” she says. “You know, we don’t have any extra.”
Just like her predecessor, Summers says the goal is to provide a high level of city services.
“We don’t ever want the community to feel any difference there,” she says. “But things are tight.:
Per the city’s most recent budget, Murrieta will be forced to dip into its reserves within the next couple of years in what’s likely to be one of Summers’ first major challenges in office.
Organizationally, Summers says she is starting a “lunch with the city manager” for employees and an all-staff meeting to update city workers on the state of things.
She also says she’s excited to work with the city council.
“We have a really good council,” Summer says. “I’ve spent almost 20 years working with city councils. I’ve always worked in the city manager’s office, and always had good relationships with the councilmembers.”
She stresses the importance for city staff of staying out of council politics and working with the entire city council.
“I think as staff, it’s so important to just—to not be political and to treat them all equally,” she says. “And that can be a challenge because they all have different personalities and some of them can be more approachable than others, but you really just need to make sure we’re the neutral ones. And so whatever’s going on politically, we’re not involved in that. A lot of times, you’ll have elections and there might be some anxiety about, you know, who’s running and who could be elected. And I always tell staff: It doesn’t matter. Whoever is elected, that’s our council. And we take care of them. That’s our job, so in the end, there’s really nothing to worry about, because we’ll make it work.”
Summers says she hopes to stay with Murrieta until she retires – a timeframe of about eight or nine years, she says.
For now, she’ll be learning, which she freely admits she has a lot of to do.
“I don’t know that I have seen all the dynamics that this job will have,” she says. “I think over the next few months, I’ll learn a lot more.”
Summers says her former title, the now-vacant assistant city manager position, will be filled by current development services director Ivan Holler.