New City Manager Sees Stability, Unity as Priorities

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Marcella Marlowe

Her office is just about put together. The business cards are printed and ready for taking. She’s looking forward to Friday’s City Council meeting, which will officially be her first.
Marcella Marlowe, at the helm for two weeks now as San Marino’s new city manager, said her welcome has been about as good as it gets.
“It’s really great,” she said in an interview Oct. 20. “Everyone has been welcoming and wonderful. I’ve been telling everybody how lucky I feel here.”
Marlowe was reflecting on her first week in City Hall, having officially started on Monday, Oct. 16. She took the reins from Cindy Collins, whose career included a variety of roles in San Marino’s government before she took on the role of interim city manager for what would be a little more than 14 months. Marlowe officially fills the vacancy left by John Schaefer, whose retirement in June 2016 resulted in Collins’ appointment.
“I saw when he left,” said Marlowe, who was an assistant city manager for San Gabriel before accepting this job. “Being close by, we talked about it, but it wasn’t really on my radar yet.”
Marlowe was on maternity leave with her first child when San Marino formally listed the job opening earlier this year. It ended up being an itch she just couldn’t scratch, she admitted.
“I saw the job finally get posted,” she said. “At the same time, I was a new mom, so I didn’t know. I did go back and forth on it, but I just kept being interested.”
Marlowe had been San Gabriel’s assistant city manager since 2011 and was human resources manager for Duarte before that. Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley (except for a brief jaunt to Colorado when she was young), Marlowe started at USC as a junior in high school and would earn all three of her degrees there — a bachelor’s degree in classical Greek civilization and both a master’s and doctorate in political science.
After college, Marlowe spent 10 years with the newly incorporated Calabasas and then ventured out of her comfort zone to work in two separate positions for Phoenix, Arizona, for a couple of years. The experience working for a big city, while valuable, only served to influence her to return to the smaller suburbs of home, she admitted.
“I felt like I was too far away from the people making the decisions and from the people affected by those decisions,” she said.
Winding up in San Marino looks to be a natural response to that, as it is the smallest city for which she’s ever worked, population-wise. (Duarte, which contracts most of its services, was a smaller governmental operation.) Marlowe said she is acutely aware of the major issues — historic preservation, residential burglaries and pension liabilities, to name a few — that currently occupy the city, as well as the turnover it has experienced for more than a year.
“There’s been a lot going on the last couple of years and I know the community has been asking, ‘What’s going on here?’” she said. “It’s a very highly engaged community and that appeals to me. I’d rather have these conversations directly.”
The election next month has the potential to give the city an entire City Council of first-termers. The city has a new public works director after hiring the previous one a little more than a year ago. Following a reshuffled administration, City Hall lacks a permanent administrative services director, after two searches did not produce a viable candidate, Marlowe explained.
“Part of what I’m trying to figure out is what to do differently, so that we’re not just hitting our head into the wall for a third time,” she said, on that job search. “We’re going to have to get a solid-caliber person in here to really meet the standards and needs of this city.”
With that in mind, Marlowe said she has strong confidence in the city’s department heads and officials to take the lead on their projects, and she hopes to support those departments in their work by bringing the community closer to the city’s operations.
“I think the task that’s going to fall to me is to build a better relationship between the community and the organization,” she said. “Both groups of people have a tremendous stake of what’s going on in San Marino and I’m not sure we’ve brought these groups together to marshal those resources and bring us together as a community.
“My plate’s pretty full,” Marlowe acknowledged. “That’s how I like it. I’m not good at being bored.”

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