Newport loses two key administrators

Two of Newport Beach's top city administrators will soon be leaving for San Diego.

In early August, Finance Director Tracy McCraner will leave for a job with the San Diego County Water Authority. About the same time, Assistant City Manager Dana Smith will retire from 30 years in local government, but plans on working part-time for San Diego-based management consulting firm CEO2.

The departures come as Newport officials continue to restructure government services, looking for savings amid three years of flat tax revenues. Both women have played key roles in those efforts.

McCraner, who started in 2010, oversaw the creation of three balanced budgets without dipping into the city's reserves. Those reserves are expected to hit $98 million this fiscal year. Facing an $8-million loss of tax revenue during the recession, she and other department directors wrestled savings out of each year's financial plan.

"I was told when I started," McCraner said, "'We were not going to use reserves.'"

McCraner also organized the $123-million bond issuance for the under-construction Civic Center, and presented the city's financial situation to the major ratings agencies, all three of which gave Newport a AAA credit rating.

Despite the sunny financial picture, Newport's unfunded pension liability is formidable, and City Manager Dave Kiff sought to set money aside.

Kiff hired Smith in 2010 and assigned her to consolidate services with other cities, in addition to overseeing almost all city departments.

She and the fire and police chiefs have been talking with neighbors about sharing emergency dispatch, jailing, fire training and other services. It is unclear how Kiff plans to finish the process.

"She was so willing to take on the tough issues, and be firm about it," said Mayor Nancy Gardner, adding that Smith was unafraid to tell council members how she felt.

Recently, Smith oversaw the selection of a new company to manage and market the city's business improvement districts.

Since the city laid off its economic development manager in 2011, the work had been pieced together by various city workers. But she met resistance from BID board members and from some council members who said Visit Newport Beach, the city's destination marketing organization, could perform some of the work.

The council voted to delay the selection of a new contractor.

McCraner was previously director of financial reporting for the city of San Diego, and still commutes from there each day. She said she wanted to spend more time with her daughter, who is in middle school.

Smith was previously assistant city manager for Napa, assistant city manager for Chula Vista, and executive officer for the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission.

Kiff is still planning how to replace both women.

"It's a lot to replace at once," Gardner said.

Twitter: @mreicher

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