At 10 years on the job, Rick Dudley was Murrieta city manager for longer than any other individual to hold the position. But even at the end of his tenure, the power still hasn’t gone to his head.
Dudley speaks humbly when asked about the many things accomplished over his time in Murrieta’s top job, which he left at the end of June.
“The department heads really manage it,” he said. “I’m the coach. The encourager. They do the management, and the staff really does the work.”
But once past the issue of who’s really responsible, Dudley will readily state the city of Murrieta as an organization has done a lot since he took over in November 2007.
The city has completed a number of major infrastructure projects, including the California Oaks Road-Interstate 15 interchange, the Clinton Keith Road-Interstate 215 interchange and the Los Alamos Road overpass, to name a few.
All of these projects were completed despite a crippling recession that manifested itself just as Dudley was settling into his new gig. Dudley said the recession actually made it easier to complete some of the infrastructure projects finished under his tenure.
“If there’s anything good about a recession – and not that there’s a lot good about it – prices dropped,” he said.
As a result of the fall in construction prices, he said the Clinton Keith interchange project was built for millions less than anticipated.
“You actually get a lot more, if you’ll pardon the road expression, mileage out of your money during recessions,” Dudley said. “To the point where, one time I kind of jokingly thought, ‘I’m going to start saving money for the next recession,’ because they’re cyclical, and you get so much more value.”
These infrastructure projects were also made possible in part by federal and state money earmarked for such capital improvement expenses. This money, however, could not be used for operational costs such as police and fire, leaving the city playing the economic version of Tetris to stay afloat.
Dudley is modest about his part in guiding the city of Murrieta through the worst economic calamity in a lifetime, but Mayor Rick Gibbs is quick to bestow the credit on the longtime city manager. Gibbs said it was Dudley’s unique abilities as a city manager that allowed the city to strategically weather the recession.
“I do not think that any other city manager would have been as successful as Rick Dudley,” Gibbs said.
Dudley said city department heads got together to prioritize essential services and minimize the impact on the community as much as possible. The goal, Dudley said, was for residents not to notice the cuts, something he thinks the city was successful in doing.
“I’m not saying they didn’t notice all of them – certainly we had weeds growing up in places where we would rather they not – but for the most part, most people didn’t see too much impact,” he said.
Dudley’s long career in public administration was never a sure thing.
“Well, I was one of those people that was casting about trying to figure it out,” he said of his early years at San Diego State University in the 1980s. A dean suggested he take a computerized aptitude test to find a suitable career field, he said.
“It narrowed it down to either hospital administration or public administration,” Dudley said. “And there were more cities than there were hospitals in San Diego County, so I thought, cities sound good.”
From there, he interned at the city of Lemon Grove, got a temp job in Escondido and landed an aide position at Vista City Hall a couple months before graduating college, where he stayed for over 20 years.
He had worked his way up to the title of assistant city manager by 2007, when the city of Murrieta hired a recruiter to search for a new executive after the exit of former city manager Lori Moss.
“The recruiter called me and said, ‘Hey, I think this would be a really good job for you,’” Dudley said.
After interviewing various candidates, the council narrowed it down to two potential city managers.
“Ultimately, I’m not sure if they made the right choice or not, but it was me,” Dudley joked.
Because he had a child living at home and attending college in the San Diego area at the time of his hiring, Dudley elected not to move to Murrieta at first.
Dudley stuck it out with Murrieta for so long because he believes the city is accomplishing great things.
“This is an awesome city,” he said. “And I mean that as a resident. I mean that as a local government professional.”
Murrieta has low crime, good parks, green streets – many of the things people want in a city, Dudley said, but the city’s most important quality is its atmosphere.
“You want a sense of community,” he said. “Every city that I know of, no matter how large or small they are, want to feel like a small town. And Murrieta does.”
He said the many of the city’s events, like this week’s annual birthday bash and its Veterans Day parade, are what gives it this small town quality.
“It’s a very hometown feeling,” he said. “Despite the fact that we have a population of just about 115,000, it retains the flavor of a community of 15,000. That’s huge.”
Another quality about Murrieta he enjoys is the “color-blindness” he said the community has.
“I don’t hear people describing themselves by ethnicity or anything like that,” Dudley said. “I hear them describing themselves as, well, ‘I’m a coach,’ or ‘I’m a teacher,’ or ‘I’m a dad’, or I’m involved in this project or that volunteer effort and so forth. ‘I’m Murrietan.’ That’s how they see themselves. And how much better do you get than that?”
Dudley, who received numerous gifts and awards from the city council and others at his final council meeting June 20, will be missed by local leaders and officials.
“Being able to work side by side with him at the International Council of Shopping Centers conference every single year and being in some of his meetings and his ability to speak on a level with developers that they understand was very refreshing,” Murrieta Chamber of Commerce CEO Patrick Ellis said. “His acumen, when it comes to economic development, is second to none compared with city managers I’ve worked with in the past.”
Dudley will be replaced by current assistant city manager Kim Summers.