Morro Bay has selected a new city manager.
In an Aug. 12 press release, the city announced that David Buckingham will assume the top city government post effective Sept. 29.
Buckingham is a retired Army colonel with more than 25 years of service, according to the press release. He’ll start the position at a salary of $160,000, plus a $450-per-month car allowance and regular employee benefits.
During his time as commander of U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza, Italy, Buckingham was relieved of duty in September 2013, according to various reports in Army Times. A Sept. 9 article stated that Buckingham was relieved Sept. 6, 2013, after the U.S. Army Europe Commander “‘lost confidence’ in his ability to lead.”
The issue stemmed from a July 3 incident during which Buckingham reportedly got into an argument with a military policeman. Army Times quoted Rumi Nielson-Green as saying that “it was boorish behavior in a very public place.”
Buckingham later issued an apology, as reported in a Sept. 12 Army Times article: “I understand that military leaders must be above reproach and agree they should neither lose their tempers nor use profanity and I am truly sorry for the brief unprofessional behavior I displayed and for which I was relieved from the privilege of command.”
He was reassigned and most recently served as director of Army Environmental Programs in the Pentagon.
Asked about the incident by phone, Buckingham said he used “words that aren’t used in other circumstances” when confronting military police who hadn’t opened a gate as instructed, causing a large traffic backup. The Italian media “sensationalized” the incident, he said, and the decision to remove him was to ease the media pressure.
“I had wonderful experience in the Army,” he told New Times. “My wonderful experience continued on past that event.”
About 50 people applied for the position, and Buckingham was selected after being vetted by interim City Manager Ed Kreins, as well as interviews carried out by a group of five Morro Bay citizens and a group of city managers from Arroyo Grande, Lompoc, as well as the San Luis Obispo County administrator. Morro Bay city councilmembers conducted the final interview.
“There was an investigation, and he was cleared of any wrongdoing,” Mayor Jamie Irons said in an email, responding to questions about the Italy incident. “In the background investigation, our interim City Manager Mr. Kreins spoke with several three-star generals who were familiar with the incident and Mr. Buckingham. They explained that the incident was mishandled, and [they] had very high regard for Mr. Buckingham.”
Kreins told New Times that Buckingham’s departure from the command position in Italy was fully vetted and discussed throughout the hiring process. He said that Buckingham was “not bashful” about discussing the incident.
“To me it’s pretty awesome in terms of his background,” Kreins said. “I personally think the city is very lucky to get him.”
Buckingham said it was always his intention to take a local public service job, and he chose Morro Bay, in part, because of his love for the Central Coast after being stationed in Monterey. He said his top priorities will include the planned wastewater treatment plant and transitioning the city in a new direction with the closure of the Morro Bay Power Plant.
“I’m looking forward to serving in Morro Bay,” he said. “I am thankful for the confidence that the [City] Council’s placed in me.”
Buckingham will replace Kreins, who was hired on a temporary basis after the city finalized a separation agreement with former City Manager Andrea Lueker in December 2013.