Who does a city councilman call when he needs something done? Pat Ladine, the executive assistant to Modesto's city manager.
When City Councilman Dave Lopez needed to get rid of an abandoned shopping cart across the street from his house, he wasn't sure who to call. He tried Ladine. The cart was gone in "six minutes," remembers Lopez. "She has a lot more pull than I do."
Today, Ladine retires after nearly 12 years with the city.
From her sixth-floor office at 1010 10th St. — where City Council members keep offices down the hall from the city manager — Ladine has had a front-row seat to the comings and goings at City Hall, literally. Since 1998, she's worked for six city managers.
"A lot of different people, a lot of different personalities, a lot of different priorities," Ladine said.
Considered one of the most volatile positions in municipal government, city managers serve at the pleasure of city councils. They can be fired at any time with no warning. Ladine's seen that happen more than once.
Just a year and a half after she joined the city, Ed Tewes resigned under the cloud of the "gungate" controversy, when Modesto police improperly sold firearms. Next in was Paul Baxter, who served as interim city manager.
Then Modesto hired Jack Crist from Sacramento. He lasted a few years, recalled Ladine. "Then he was walked out the door," she said. "All (the council) said was they lost confidence in him. Once they lose confidence, it's just not going to work."
George Britton followed Crist. He retired on his own terms. Former Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Director Jim Niskanen filled in as acting city manager until the city hired Greg Nyhoff from Colorado Springs, Colo., in June 2008.
Here's what not to do, if you want to stick around as a city manager, says Ladine. Without naming names, she recommends: Don't push your personal agenda. Don't hide problems from the City Council. Be honest and transparent. Don't hide behind paperwork, cooped up in your office all day. Don't be too stiff.
Ladine says Nyhoff is guilty of none of those sins. She calls him an engaged, thoughtful manager.
"I think he might be a keeper, if he wants to stay," Ladine said. "His ideas and his vision are in line with the citizens and the council. His attitude is, if there's a problem, 'How can we take care of it?' "
Nyhoff is not, however, the tidiest housekeeper, Ladine said. Nyhoff "likes to operate at about 100 miles per hour," frequently writing down names, phone numbers and dates on small pieces of paper that end up scattered across his office.
Nyhoff credits Ladine with keeping a cool head in a pressure-filled environment.
"This job gets things thrown at you from every direction," Nyhoff said. "Your mood goes from quiet to anxious to demanding. She's a mature person that through six different personalities has been able to be a stabilizing factor."
Ladine has 40 years' experience as an executive assistant. Her first job was running a 300-line switchboard at IBM. In the 1990s, she worked at Apple's Cupertino headquarters. She remembers Apple as an exciting place to work, where the Pointer Sisters would helicopter in to entertain employees.
When Ladine got her job at the city, she was worried when she walked through the doors of the old city building and heard the tap-tap of a typewriter, a machine that didn't exist at Apple.
Since then, she's grown to love her job. "I'm very proud of the people who work here," Ladine said. "They do very good work. You take for granted what it takes to keep the water turned on. There's just a lot of stuff that needs to be done to keep the city going."