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Updated Oct. 5, 11:14 p.m.–
Seated at his already emptied-out desk just days before his official retirement, Henry Tingle sat down for a final interview with The Sentinel last week to discuss his reflections on being city manager of Citrus Heights for the past 17 years.
With a note of satisfaction in his voice, Tingle said his decision to retire came as a result of several factors, including turning 60 years old, serving 42 years in the public sector, building a “highly efficient and effective” staff, and seeing the recent completion of the new city hall — which he called one of his “ultimate goals.”
“Seeing that the [city] has grown and matured into a really fine organization, my job here is done,” Tingle said with his signature soft, but articulate voice. The retiring manager said he’d seen Citrus Heights grow into a respected city in California over the past two decades, and believes it’s ready to move on without him at the helm.
Growing up in Oakland and serving as deputy city manager of Richmond beginning in 1995, Tingle first came to Citrus Heights as its general services director in Sept. 1998, just over a year after the city incorporated in 1997. He was later appointed as city manager in Oct. 1999 and served in that capacity until last month.
Moving to Vallejo in 1989, Tingle commuted a 75-mile distance to Citrus Heights each day for nearly two decades of working for the city. Though a much further commute than his first job out of high school with the East Bay Municipal Utility District, Tingle said he enjoyed the lengthy drive time to look ahead on what needed to be accomplished, and then reflect on the day during his return trip.
Affectionately referred to by many staff and city leaders as “Tightwad Tingle” for his fiscal focus and strong stance against taking on debt, Tingle spent much of his time focusing on financial aspects of running a city. He explained his philosophy in more detail during his final interview, emphasizing that Citrus Heights has stayed out of debt ever since becoming a city.
“It’s so easy to spend other people’s money and create debt and put the burden on taxpayers,” said Tingle, crediting his grandfather as the one who instilled fiscal values in him.
“My grandfather was one of my most important mentors in my early childhood,” he said. As a young boy, Tingle recalled his grandfather — who was born in 1899 — teaching him to always save money for “a rainy day, a sick day, and a good day.”
Under Tingle’s leadership, the city has operated under that savings model, still holding at least $5 million in reserves after purchasing its nearly $22 million new city hall in cash. His leadership also led to the city operating with a 10-year budget model for assessing the financial prudence of a proposal.
“Any adjustment you make in the first year, look over 10 years,” said Tingle. The model encourages decision-makers to look not just at immediate costs of a proposal, but their cost in the long-run, like with pay raises or community donations. In contrast, Tingle said most cities have a 5-year, or less, budget model.
Asked about challenges he faced during his term as city manager, Tingle focused on his efforts to stabilize city finances — a problem he said was exacerbated by an agreement with the County to not give the city its property taxes for the first 25 years. The “revenue-neutrality” agreement was a condition of Citrus Heights being allowed to incorporate as a city, and when the agreement expires in 2022, Tingle said the city will have lost out on around $100 million in revenue that cities normally receive from property taxes.
[See related video: Mayor reflects on fight to make Citrus Heights a city]
A major financial challenge was getting police services “under control,” as Tingle said the city’s initial contract with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department was getting more expensive each year. He said switching over to in-house police services by launching the city’s own police department in 2006 has saved the City around $2.5 million per year, beginning with the first year.
Another hurdle was the medical office building and new city hall project, which Tingle described as a “big challenge with a lot of opposition.” He said with Citrus Heights approximately 98 percent built out, most development projects in the city have to come from tearing down existing facilities and turning them in to new — and hopefully better — uses.
When Dignity Health proposed constructing a three-story medical building in place of the old city hall at Fountain Square Drive and Greenback Lane, Tingle argued in favor of tearing down the old hall and moving it — pitching the plan as a “once-in-a-lifetime” chance to get a new hall at a subsidized price, using $6.9 million in lease payments from the medical building along with added annual energy savings from a new building.
The proposal initially faced intense opposition and a lawsuit threat in 2014, but tensions eased after the city turned its focus to the nearby 10.9-acre property the new hall now sits on — instead of the original proposed location for the hall on Antelope Road, over a mile away from other civic buildings on Fountain Square Drive.
Tingle also said another difficult challenge was a rent control proposal for mobile home parks in the city in 2006. He said the parks had threatened a major lawsuit and the proposal ended up with a tied 2-2 vote on the council, with one member abstaining due to conflict of interest.
Asked how he handled controversy as a leader, Tingle said he focused on a win-win, or a win-lose as a second-best — as long as the win was for the community. He also emphasized patience, active listening, and hearing from all those involved — characteristics that, along with his tall stature, earned him the name “Gentle Giant.”
As a well-loved manager, spoken highly of by virtually all local community and city leaders, an honorary plaque titled “the Gentle Giant” is now featured at the new city hall. Vice Mayor Jeff Slowey explained the name as referring to Tingle’s somewhat imposing six-foot-plus height, along with his likeable, approachable character. Another community leader referred to him as “a big, huggable teddy bear” for his warm, accessible style.
Preferring to operate behind the scenes, Tingle has not left behind stacks of interviews and public records with his name and face in the papers, but he has left behind a behind-the-scenes legacy.
“It’s not really my job to be in the public spotlight,” said Tingle, deferring that role to elected members of the council.
Asked to comment on his accomplishments over 17 years as manager, Tingle named the startup of the new police department among his top-ranking achievements, but said his “top and most important accomplishment” was building a team of customer-service-oriented staff — something he said is generally missing in the public sector.
“Understanding the history of government and a lot of the negative connotations associated with government, particularly at the federal level, we really wanted to make sure that we had a customer-friendly service to the community,” said Tingle. He added that in hiring the team of about 65 city staff, he sought those with a “dominant trait” of serving people, and those “able to put the organization in front of self.”
Though not volunteering his salary as an accomplishment, Tingle also rose from a starting salary of $120,000 up to the highest base pay of any city or county employee in the region by 2015, according to an Aug. 18 report in The Sacramento Bee. Salaries published on the State Controllers Office website indicate Tingle’s base pay in 2015 was $296,000, with total pay and benefits equaling just under $400,000 — although the city’s Human Resources Department said his base pay was slightly less, at $272,000 in 2015, and total pay and benefits equaling $374,000.
Commenting on his salary, Mayor Jeannie Bruins said “every penny paid to Henry Tingle came back to the city a thousand fold. Look at the result of his leadership and it speaks for itself.” She also said his long tenure of service contributed to the final salary, with annual pay raises being typical for employees.
Following his retirement, Tingle said he’s considering writing a book on “how to run a city.” During a retirement celebration held at the community center on Sept. 30, he also said he looks forward to fishing, traveling to see family around the country, and watching 20-plus episodes of the TV series “Gunsmoke.”
His wife of 27 years and three grown sons will also likely keep him busy in his retirement.
Tingle is also confident that his successor, Christopher Boyd, who has served as police chief of the city for the past 10 years, will do a good job as the new city manager. Tingle said he had mentored Boyd over the past few years, ever since he said the chief had expressed an interest in possibly becoming city manager some day.
“It should be a really smooth transition,” Tingle said confidently. Citing Boyd’s 10 years in the city as police chief, he said the experience should help continue the city’s stability, rather than bringing someone new in from the outside where “you don’t know what you’re getting.”
Boyd officially took the helm as city manager on Oct. 1 and appointed Rocklin’s top cop, Ron Lawrence, to be the new Citrus Heights police chief.
At a Sept. 22 council meeting, city leaders unanimously voted to name Sept. 30 as “Henry Tingle Day,” in honor of his impact on the city. Commenting on Tingle’s legacy, Mayor Bruins said “his policies and the groundwork that he’s laid for Citrus Heights will be enjoyed for generations to come.”
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The mayor also highlighted his long-term planning as the reason the city was able to move ahead without any debt, while at the same time investing money in three new civic buildings, a major Auburn Boulevard revitalization project, LED street lighting upgrades, and other infrastructure projects.
“It’s one thing to save money,” said Mayor Bruins. “It’s another thing to make millions of dollars of improvements at the same time.”
“We are thrilled for him that he can enjoy many years of retirement, but it’s always hard to say goodbye to a friend.”
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