The Union Democrat
Top official will leave for job with the Peace Corps
Sonora City Administrator Mary Rose Rutikanga will be leaving her current position for a new role overseeing United States Peace Corps operations in Africa, she announced following a closed session of the City Council at a public meeting Monday night.
Mayor Pro-tem Mark Plummer announced after the closed session that the council gave direction to staff with regard to filling the position of city administrator before revealing that she would be leaving for another opportunity.
Rutikanga said she has accepted an offer from the Peace Corps to be the agency’s director of management and operations for the Africa region and will be stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon, Africa.
“Well, wow, it’s hard to compete with that,” Plummer said. “Thank you for the time that you’ve given us here at the city, and we still have two more months to work with you.”
Rutikanga’s last day on the job will be Jan. 14, she said in a phone interview Tuesday.
The council approved hiring Rutikanga in late January 2020 after a lengthy search that began when the previous city administrator, Tim Miller, retired after 10
years in the role. She previously served as a deputy executive officer for Merced County and an administrative analyst for Calaveras County.
Rutikanga served with the Peace Corps for two years while in graduate school before moving to Sonora in 2011, which is how she said the new opportunity with the organization came about earlier this year.
“I was contacted last spring from the Peace Corps asking if I would be interested in looking at a position as they were trying to ramp back up their staffing because, obviously, they had to reduce staffing when COVID hit,” she said.
The Peace Corps is an independent agency and volunteer program run by the U.S. government under the State Department that provides aid on social and economic development to foreign countries throughout the world.
Rutikanga said her role with the organization will be focused mainly in the western Africa region with responsibilities similar to her current role, including managing budgets, general services and ensuring the safety and security of Peace Corps volunteers in the area.
“I’ve been very blessed to have great opportunities here stateside, most recently with the City of Sonora, but it’s always been a dream of mine to go back and work in the development field overseas,” she said. “I grew up as a dual citizen, my father is an immigrant from Malta, I grew up in a multicultural household, and I’ve always enjoyed languages and culture, so being able to work in that type of environment where you’re being exposed to working with different countries and cultures has always been a passion and interest of mine.”
Rutikanga was appointed by the council on Jan. 21 but didn’t officially start until Feb. 3, a little over one month before the city and others across the world declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Navigating the pandemic without having to layoff or furlough city staff and helping the city stay fiscally sound is what Rutikanga cited as both of the biggest accomplishments and challenges of her tenure.
The city also declared states of emergency in response to a
Black Lives Matter protest on June 3, 2020, which resulted in the council enacting a one-night curfew for the first time in recent memory, and the Washington Fire on Aug. 26 that burned 19 structures and threatened the historic downtown area.
Other strides the city has made in the past two years that Rutikanga said isn’t as visible to the public include improving efficiency through technological upgrades, which included implementing a new agenda management system, a new online municipal code system, and updating the city’s financial system that hasn’t been updated since 1990.
Rutikanga also noted a new contract approved by the council on Monday with the Sonora Police Officers’ Union, which hadn’t struck a new deal with the city since 2016.
“I will say that it has been possibly the best learning environment in the course of my career in government,” she said. It’s good to know that in these types of disasters, we have a good working relationship amongst staff here in the city, but it has been a very fast-paced and learn-on-thejob atmosphere these past two years.”
The council gave direction to city staff on how it would like to proceed with appointing a new city administrator, though Rutikanga said she couldn’t provide further details because it was discussed in closed session.
Rutikanga said she would impart on her successor that although the three-square-mile city with a population of under 5,000 and annual budget of about $7 million is relatively smaller than other jurisdictions, it doesn’t mean less responsibility.
“Maybe a smaller focus, but the same amount of mandate and requirements we have to follow,” she said. “There’s a lot of expectations required of a city administrator and department heads alike.”
One of Rutikanga’s last major tasks over the next couple months will be negotiating a contract with the Chicken Ranch Rancheria of Me-wuk Indians of California on staffing for a new fire station, which she hopes to help hammer out before she departs.
Hawkins said in a phone interview on Tuesday that he was unable to attend because he wasn’t feeling well, but he’s happy for Rutikanga that she will be moving onto “bigger and better things.”
“I’m very thankful for the job she’s done for us,” he said. “I think she’s done an excellent job at balancing all the things our state is trying to put on our little city and keeping businesses open.”