ATWATER — The man credited for turning a new fiscal leaf in the city of Atwater will take a permanent seat at its helm, the City Council voted unanimously this month.
Atwater police chief Frank Pietro served as the city's interim manager since last August, until a recent vote by the council named him the permanent city manager.
Pietro will assume responsibilities as both full-time police chief and city manager, an undertaking he's been balancing for the last 11 months.
One of Pietro's most notable accomplishments has been balancing the budget of a city once considering bankruptcy, said Atwater Mayor Joan Faul. "In the short period of time he has been the interim city manager, he has brought the city back to having the first balanced budget in three years," Faul said. "He has done fantastic things for the city and has plans to move us forward."
Pietro doesn't take all the credit for the balanced budget, saying he couldn't have done it without the support of his team.
"It had a lot to do with the employees stepping up and giving up a lot of money to help us balance this," Pietro said. "We're not out of the woods yet. We're still watching our expenditures every single day, but we see a light at the end of the tunnel."
Councilman Larry Bergman said Pietro earned staff's respect by keeping his word, following through on promises and balancing two important jobs.
"He's wearing two of the biggest hats that anybody in the city has to wear, and he's done a tremendous job," Bergman said. "Frank has taken the lead with helping us with the financial deficit. With his guidance, I truly believe we are headed in the right direction."
Pietro said handling the two full-time jobs is possible because of a strong team, including Lt. Sam Joseph who oversees the day-to-day operations of the police station. "It's good when you have someone to count on, and we chat quite often throughout the day," Pietro said.
Joseph of the Atwater Police Department said Pietro was instrumental in passing Measure H, the sales tax measure geared toward supporting public safety in Atwater. "He has given this agency life again because everyone was really worried about losing their jobs," Joseph said. "I don't think the sales tax measure would have passed without Frank supporting it."
Despite cuts to the city's police force, Pietro approved a two-officer graffiti task force to combat a growing problem with tagging. The officers last month arrested eight individuals responsible for more than $2,500 in damages, according to Cpl. Bill Novetzke.
Fred Warchol, Atwater's planning commissioner, said the decision to name Pietro city manager was a no-brainer because of his commitment for the last 35 years.
"He's demonstrated that he can handle both jobs and is well organized and dedicated," Warchol said. "I think that Frank Pietro is the city manager we've been waiting for, for years."
Born and raised in Atwater, Pietro said the city's success is very personal to him. "People ask me all the time, why are you still there or why haven't you retired?" Pietro said. "This is my hometown; I was born here. I have a commitment to Atwater, and I always will."
Councilman Jeff Rivero said that dedication is clear in Pietro's decision to remain in Atwater. "He could have gone to other cities searching for a police chief and got paid more," Rivero said. "But instead he stayed with the city, and dedicated his life and service to this town."
Prior to being named the city's permanent manager, Pietro's salary was $119,988 under an "assistant police chief" classification.
His new salary range will be $134,000 to $171,021, according to Atwater City Clerk Jeanna Del Real.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@merced sunstar.com.