Edward S. Kreins, the strong-willed city manager of Beverly Hills whose greatest achievement, a monumental new Civic Center, has been stalled indefinitely because of a contract dispute, announced Tuesday that he will retire at midyear.
Kreins, 55, had said as recently as December that he was enjoying his job and that retirement "would depend if I was happy or not."
But that was before contractor J. A. Jones Inc. walked off the job in January, charging that the city had refused to pay $10 million in bills for three months of work on a new police station and refurbished library.
With lawsuits looming and city staff members scrambling to find another contractor, Kreins said in a letter to Mayor Max Salter that "it is time to move on to new challenges" in teaching or consulting work.
Kreins, city manager for 10 years and police chief for four years before that, said he will stay on until July 1 to oversee completion of the Civic Center project, which has been rising for half a decade along Santa Monica Boulevard. It may end up costing as much as $94 million, city officials have said, several million dollars over the original estimates.
Salter said he received Kreins' letter over the weekend and that it came as "kind of a surprise." The mayor said the City Council will discuss it in closed-door sessions later this week.
"Obviously, he's going to be a hard guy to replace," he said.
In his letter, Kreins said he has worked for 16 different City Council members, "each demanding an expertise suited to their individual styles and egos, as well as their personal agendas. . . ."
"My style has not always suited each individual and I have always been a strong personality when it came to working through the staff," he said. "I feel that my style has best served the city of Beverly Hills."
The city, which was facing a $2-million deficit when he became acting city manager in 1978, has had a balanced budget for the last 10 years. It now holds an investment portfolio valued as high as $150 million, he said.
During his tenure, the city's capital improvements program built apartments for senior citizens and parking structures for the business district, among other projects, he said.
He also appointed all but one of the city's 22 department heads and key staff members, whom he credited with providing "quality of life . . . at a level higher than any city in the United States."
Friends and foes agree that he is gruff, intelligent and a natural leader who is fiercely defensive of his staff.
The 6-foot, 4-inch, 225-pounder made fun of his own image when he appeared at a charity musicale last year dressed as King Henry VIII.
"I'm Eddie the Fist, I am," he sang, delivering his own version of the 1960s Herman's Hermits hit, "I'm Henry VIII."
" . . . Eddie the Fist, I am, I am; I rule the city with a velvet glove; I get no pointers from the man above. . . ."
It was a star turn, drawing cheers and hoots of laughter because everyone knew that the big man, if he does not rule the city, has run it virtually his way for the last decade.
"I don't feel like I'm the czar of Beverly Hills," he said in an interview in December. "I've been married for 38 years. Maybe Emily (his wife) is the czar."
Beginning his career as a police patrolman in Hayward, Kreins became police chief at Sausalito in 1966 and later was the founding chief of a new police force in Pleasant Hill, a small city east of Oakland. He was named Beverly Hills police chief in 1975 and formally became city manager in 1979.
Kreins makes $127,300 a year and lives within walking distance of City Hall in a condominium he bought with the help of a $144,000, no-interest loan from the city.
What makes Beverly Hills different is that its people are willing to pay for the best of everything, from pothole repairs and tree trimming to garbage collection and police protection, he said.
"If the people tell you to take what you want and get the job done, if you don't get it done they should find someone else," Kreins said.
Some residents have criticized the size and cost of the Civic Center. And Kreins has acknowledged that the project, which includes police, fire, and parking facilities as well as a refurbished City Hall and library , is "expensive and big."
But he argued that the passage of time will make it seem too small.
"I guarantee you that in 28 years, whoever's city manager is going to try to figure out where to put all the people," he said.
Throughout his career, Kreins has pushed for more and better equipment and higher salaries for his staff.
One month after fielding a brand-new force in Pleasant Hill, which had been served previously by the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department, he stunned the City Council by asking for, and eventually winning, raises for all his staff.
Jim Nunes, the present chief at Pleasant Hill, recalled the time he and Kreins ran their squad cars into each other while chasing a robber.
"I always admired him for taking responsibility for it," he said.
Not all who know Kreins idolize him.
Charlotte Spadaro, a former Beverly Hills mayor and City Council member, said he has "enormous power . . . and unless there is a very strong mayor who takes interest in these things, even then it's hard to have much input on what's on the agenda of the city."
But Salter, the current mayor, said in December that he has no complaints.
"He doesn't have the same type of personality I do, but the city functions well," he said. "You can't have a pussy cat. You have a pussy cat and nothing gets done."