Tabatha Miller, Fort Bragg’s City Manager since early 2018, told City Council last Friday that she will be stepping down from her role on January 22, 2022.
Miller told us she would rather “lay low” in her exit, but took the time to highlight some of the work she focused on while City Manager and express her gratitude for the citizens of Fort Bragg.
Despite the correlation, Miller told us the city’s recent bouts with Georgia Pacific, the Skunk Train, and the recent acquisition of the mill site was not a factor in her exit. She told us, “I am not sure what my plans are,” but has a handful of possibilities on her horizon.
Mayor Bernie Norvell told us he was on the Fort Bragg City Council when Tabatha was hired and “she was the clear-cut top choice.” He said she was “amazing to work with and will be missed.” He celebrated her dedication to her job putting in “countless hours of work during her time here. You could find her at her desk before the sun came up and well into the evening hours. 60 plus hours a week was not uncommon for her.”
Looking back on her stead as City Manager, Miller said one of the milestones set by the city was breaking the cycle of starting each fiscal year at a deficit. “We stopped that practice, with the exception of last year, and have been operating at a surplus.” Miller added that this upcoming fiscal year the city is projecting a $1.5 million surplus “leaving us in a very good position.”
Another highlight Miller celebrated was the hiring of The Idea Cooperative, a “place branding” agency, to promote tourism in Fort Bragg. The marketing strategy’s success was demonstrated in the city’s 25% increase in transient occupancy tax in the last fiscal year.
Reflecting on her time in office, Miller said her tenure has been punctuated by unprecedented circumstances including the COVID-19 pandemic and this year’s record-breaking drought. In recent conversations with John Smith, the city’s head of Public Works, Miller said, “The recent weather has been lovely, but it means we are not getting rain, and it is important we are thinking about these things.”
Miller also told us in her time as City Manager also marked her first time living and working in California. Her position provided her with a crash course in “how regulated it is compared to other states.” Citing the Coastal Commission as a prime example, she said this layer of bureaucracy is not standard across the United States which created a complexity to land use planning she had not navigated in the past.
Speaking to Fort Bragg residents, Miller said, “I owe a thank you and gratitude to the citizens, the businesses, and the people that are here, even all the folks that live outside the city limits are attached to Fort Bragg.”
Miller admitted “I have never lived anywhere like this. There is hardly anywhere I can go where isn’t somebody I know.” Speaking broadly, Miller characterized Fort Bragg as unique saying, “It really is the small town that some think does not exist anymore.”
She described Fort Bragg’s history as “complex and interwoven” with families that have been here many generations with roots going back 150 years. This deep sense of pride and place informed Miller’s understanding of the diverse perspectives of the city’s name change controversy which helped put into context why changing the name of the historic city was “such a big deal.”
As to her exit from the City Manager role, Mayor Norvell said, “Fort Bragg is better off with Tabatha than without but I support her choice to move on.” He assured Fort Bragg residents that the City Council was working on a replacement and will communicate with the community as details develop. In the interim, Mayor Norvell said the city’s staff is “very competent” and will “carry on with everyday business while council searches for her replacement. The community can rest assured that the city will continue moving forward.”