CLAYTON, CA (June 16, 2023) — Bret Prebula, 40, comes to Clayton with a sound background in management and finance from the city of Benicia, where he was most recently assistant city manager. He is a confident, accomplished senior executive with both the hard and soft skills to lead a city out of chaos.
He had a pretty good idea of what was in store for him when he accepted the job as Clayton’s seventh city manager since Gary Napper retired in 2019 after 18 years. Since then, the city has gone through six city managers, five finance directors and at least that many planning directors.
“With this kind of inconsistent leadership, it’s lucky the organization didn’t seize up completely,” Prebula said.
“Could you imagine if a $6 million company had seven CEOs and five finance directors in four years? They’d go bankrupt,” he said. And that’s what has happened in Clayton.
“Structurally from an operating standpoint and culturally from a community engagement standpoint, we went bankrupt,” he added. “It’s no one’s fault that is here on staff. They are doing a yeoman’s job – way too much for too little. It’s just not sustainable long-term.”
Relief for his stressed-out staff is on the way with the addition of an executive assistant and a finance director Prebula has worked with previously.
Looking for common ground
But the rest is not so easy. A bitterly divided community, a City Council at war with the Clayton Business & Community Association (CBCA), prehistoric technology, a citizenry with high service level expectations and a budget that won’t balance make every day a four-Alka Seltzer day.
In tackling the budget woes, his plan is to slow down, temper any more immediate reductions and identify the inefficiencies. Instead of asking the council to dig deeper and cut more, he wants to use some of the city’s healthy reserves to close the gap and give the staff breathing room to see what and where changes are needed.
“Cutting more right now is like blindly swinging the machete,” he said.
Turning to the thornier issues of healing a divided community, Prebula wants the council and community working with “a sense of collegiality and grace.”
“We have to find a semblance of commonality,” he said. “That’s where we’re stuck – everyone has to be right. If nothing happens, it means we’re moving backward.”
He sees Clayton as a community caught between the past and the future.
“It’s going to take a lot of conversations to identify the kind of community Clayton wants to be,” he said.
Will it mean a tax increase in the future? Probably, he said, but only after “we know what we are willing to pay ourselves to maintain this quality of life.”
Technology and green upgrades
As he grapples with these issues, Prebula turns an optimistic eye toward the future. “There are some exciting things happening in the next few months.”
He’s looking at new technology systems, a facelift for the city’s website and getting city functions online. “The cost of technology is so cheap relative to the payoff,” he said.
The city has applied for a 1% federal loan to finance a contract with Climatec for efficiency upgrades to the city’s infrastructure. All five city councilmembers support the $2 million plan, which will include more solar panels, smarter water use in parks and open spaces and a critically needed electric vehicle charging station at the library.
Prebula also wants to see a rebirth of community policing and some succession planning in the Police Department, as well as more compensation. Clayton is the lowest paying department in the county – 30%-50% below median.
Prebula is a Bay Area native raised in Vallejo, where he attended St. Patrick-Saint Vincent Catholic High School and holds an MBA from the University of Phoenix.
He currently lives in Benicia with his wife Jaclyn and daughter, Emersen, 10, both competition equestriennes.
Join the new city manager for coffee June 28, 8:30 a.m. at Sip’n Sweet, 6200 Center St., Clayton. Send questions and comments to Bretp@claytonca.gov.