Rod Gould, who was hired as Santa Monica's city manager in late 2009, said Friday that he planned to retire at the end of January.
He made the announcement as the coastal city is embroiled in a debate over the scale and scope of development and as it prepares in November to fill three seats on the seven-member City Council.
"I have relished my time with the city of Santa Monica and view it as the capstone to my 35-year career in public service," Gould said in a letter to the council. Gould, 57, said he planned to "reset my work-life balance" by devoting time to teaching, consulting and volunteering.
Debbie Lee, a city spokeswoman, said it was likely the newly constituted council would hire Gould's successor after the November elections. The position pays $353,000 a year.
Gould wrote that the council, city staff and community could be proud of a number of accomplishments during his tenure, including maintenance of the city's AAA bond rating despite the loss of redevelopment funds, construction of Tongva Park and completion of most of the Phase 2 Expo Line from Culver City to Santa Monica.
In recent months, Gould came under fire for the handling of a personnel matter. In May, the city announced the hiring of Elizabeth Riel, a community activist, as public affairs officer but then withdrew the job offer.
Riel filed suit against the city in June, alleging Gould had bullied her after learning of her past political affiliations. The lawsuit further alleged the offer was rescinded because of contributions she made in 2006 to a political campaign critical of Pam O'Connor, now the city's mayor, and because of a local-newspaper column she had written that criticized City Hall.
Lee said Gould was not available for comment.
"I don't think the Riel matter, or any specific issue like that, was the trigger," said Councilman Kevin McKeown, who had supported Riel for the role and expressed dismay that the offer was withdrawn. "Rod seems to be re-evaluating his life. The testy nature of development politics may have contributed, but my sense is that this is a larger life decision."
McKeown said Gould "brought strengths to a difficult job."
Rather than choose a successor immediately, he said, the council should begin a public process "to carefully ascertain the direction desired by residents and other members of our community."