Fortuna names Merritt Perry as city manager

3-year contract set to be confirmed by council Thursday morning

Merritt Perry was named as Fortuna’s city manager this morning. (Mary Bullwinkle — For the Times-Standard)

Fortuna named its interim city manager Merritt Perry to the permanent post this morning.

According to the Perry’s proposed three-year employment contract, he will be paid a salary of $126,000, an increase of about $20,000 from his previous position with the city as its public works director and city engineer, according to Transparent California. The contract is set to be confirmed in a special City Council meeting Thursday.

Perry said he has worked with the city since 2014 and enjoys working there.

“I’m excited about the position,” he said. “It’s an important and really interesting job that I enjoy.”

Perry served as the interim city manager for seven months prior to his selection as the permanent city manager. He said that during the early stages of his time as interim city manager, he didn’t give much thought to applying for the position permanently.

“The more I thought about it, the more I really saw potential for me to do the position,” he said. “I wanted to make sure the city had the best person in the position they could, whether it was me or someone else.”

The position opened in April when former City Manager Mark Wheetley resigned following his sentencing in a DUI case that dated back to 2017. Fortuna Police Chief Bill Dobberstein briefly held the interim city manager position before Perry took over.

The City Council, along with a professional panel, vetted six candidates for the position. Perry was happy about the city’s choice to utilize a competitive selection process, stating that he believed it was a good way to assure the community the council selected the best person they could.

Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer was one of the panel members, along with Eureka City Manager Greg Sparks and Eureka Police Chief Steve Watson. Diemer said Perry was an impressive candidate for a few reasons.

“He had this combination of being able to demonstrate that he had successfully moved small projects and large projects forward in Fortuna,” she said. But Perry also showed “a heartfelt commitment” to the residents and businesses of Fortuna.

According to Mayor Sue Long, Perry was rated No. 1 by the council and the panel, “above and beyond” the other candidates.

“We’re all excited. It was a unanimous decision,” she said. “I’m looking forward to what the future holds here.”

Long said she is relieved to have a permanent city manager. There is a long list of things the city hopes to move forward with now that they have Perry on a more permanent basis, she said. But even during his time as interim city manager, Long said Perry has been quite effective.

“He stepped in and made a huge difference,” she said. “He’s an engineer by profession and a pro at problem-solving.”

Long said she was particularly grateful for Perry’s history with the city. Because he is a local resident who has worked in the city previously, he already has the connections necessary to be effective in his position.

Perry first began working with the city when he was a civil engineering consultant doing work with several cities in Humboldt County. He applied with the city for a position as the public works director and city engineer in 2014 and has worked for the city since then. Perry said that because of his past work, he is already familiar with the city’s infrastructure, meaning he needs no time to get up to speed. He’s looking forward to focusing his work on Fortuna, he said, rather than being spread out over several cities.

He said the public can expect him to be a city manager who is available and responsive to the public. He says he will maintain a high level of service to the community. His plans include focusing on flood control, redevelopment of the former Pacific Lumber Co. mill site, and supporting existing businesses while promoting the development of new businesses.

“I really enjoy working in the city, it’s a great place to work,” he said. “People here are solution-oriented and want to see progress made; that makes it straight-forward place to work.”

Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.

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