The city of Pasadena will lose 100 years of institutional knowledge in the coming months.
City Manager Steve Mermell, Police Chief John Perez and Assistant City Manager Julie Gutierrez have all given notice they will retire.
Mermell and Gutierrez have worked for the city for 32 years each. Perez has 36 years with the Police Department. and their knowledge of policy, events and city history won’t be easy to replace.
“Leaving the city of Pasadena is bittersweet because I feel as if I’ve been here my whole life,” Gutierrez said. “I first worked for the city as a 14-year-old intern in the old CETA program. I am proud to have risen through the ranks and served for the past 16 years as Assistant City Manager.
“While I’ve enjoyed working with many dedicated employees here at the city, after 30-plus years I feel this is time for me to retire. My last day in the office is Nov. 18.”
Gutierrez’s career highlights include implementation of the original Pasadena ARTS buses; the City Hall restoration project; implementation of the Gold Line stations in Pasadena; successful passage of several ballot measures that secured much-needed revenue for the General Fund; and securing legislation to end the 710 freeway extension into Pasadena.
Despite the recent past, police chiefs and city managers have been hired from areas outside Pasadena – including two police chiefs that left Santa Monica to come to Pasadena, Mermell, Gutierrez and Perez were all promoted to their positions from within the city.
“Losing Steve Mermell, Julie Gutierrez and John Perez within months of each other is certainly significant,” said Public Information Officer Lisa Derderian. “We are losing over 100 years of institutional knowledge with their retirements. They have led us through some of the most challenging times the city has faced. Their knowledge, leadership, professionalism, and love for the Pasadena community and City staff will be difficult to replace. Thankfully, the City has a talented and dedicated workforce and skilled department directors who will ensure continuity. Steve, Julie and John have reached a tremendous milestone in their careers and are each looking forward to the next chapter of their lives. All three have ensured a smooth transition, and we wish them the very best in their retirement.”
But Gutierrez’s retirement became even more complicated on Monday when City Manager Steve Mermell announced his retirement.
Gutierrez is one of two assistant city managers and would be in the conversation to serve as the interim city manager after Mermell’s exit on Dec. 2.
Now that task could fall to Assistant City Manager Nicholas Rodriguez. So far no decision has been made on the process.
“Institutional knowledge is key to running a city, just as it is in businesses and other industries,” said former Pasadena City Manager Cynthia Kurtz. “The council has a real challenge in how they are going to move forward. Probably the most difficult position to fill will be the police chief. It is not coming at an easy time with the COVID-19 pandemic and financial obligations. I think this council loves the city and they ran for the right reasons, and I am sure they are up to the task, but they have some heavy lifting to do.”
Since coming to Pasadena in 1989, Mermell has had stints in the Water and Power and Finance departments before being promoted to assistant city manager. He became the city’s top executive in 2016.
“I think Steve Mermell was really a critical asset for the city of Pasadena,” said former Mayor Terry Tornek. “I’m not sure people even appreciated how vital his contribution has been to the city. He really spent his whole professional career in Pasadena, knows how every nut and bolt fit together in the city, but also shared the values that have evolved over the years in Pasadena, and was really dedicated on a professional and personal level to the city.”
“His financial acumen was particularly valuable in these trying times. And so that will clearly be sorely missed. But his ability to be respectful of all the people of Pasadena and work with all the variety of this whole kaleidoscope of interests and points of view was really noteworthy,” Tornek said. “I was very proud to have been associated with him and relied tremendously on his judgment. And I think it’s a serious loss for the city.”
According to the Harvard Business Review, organizations spend time and resources developing knowledge and capability, but can quickly lose it as new leadership comes in.
“While some of it gets translated into procedures and policies, most of it resides in the heads, hands, and hearts of individual managers and functional experts,” one article stated. “Over time, much of this institutional knowledge moves away as people take on new jobs, relocate, or retire. Knowledge also degrades when a new senior executive or CEO introduces a different agenda that doesn’t build on earlier knowledge or contradicts what was done previously.”
Former Pasadena police lieutenant Phlunte Riddle said she believes Perez possesses a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge, but she also pointed out that the Police Department’s leadership team also has years of experience in Pasadena.
Deputy Chief Cheryl Moody, a likely candidate to serve as interim chief, has 27 years of experience with the department.
Perez became a police cadet after graduating from West Covina High School in 1984. He was sworn in by then-Chief James Robenson in 1987. Since that time, he worked just about every detail in the department to include Patrol, SWAT, gang enforcement, undercover narcotics, internal affairs, even community relations.
Perez saw the department change after the 1992 Los Angeles riots to include the Community Policing Plan for the Department throughout the 1990s.
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Perez designed the counter-terrorism unit, responsible for the safety and security of all New Year’s operations and special events. During this time, he also pursued higher education, earning a master’s degree in behavioral science and later a doctorate in public administration.
“There is some institutional knowledge that is lost,” Riddle said. “However the leadership team has more than 100 years of institutional knowledge also. You can’t necessarily teach someone what John knows in a short amount of time, but there are others who also have that institutional knowledge. Leadership styles change from chief to chief, but the organization has been built to withstand a leadership change.”