The end of the Roeder era

After 25 years as city manager, he has some regrets but focuses more on the successes of the council, community.

March 05, 2011|By Joseph Serna,
  • Allan Roeder shares a story with guests before the City Council meeting Tuesday.
Allan Roeder shares a story with guests before the City… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

COSTA MESA — They don't come more humble than Allan Roeder.

City managers typically last four to five years. Then they get canned or they move on.

City councils came and went but Roeder survived Costa Mesa's pressure cooker politics for 25 years as city manager.

And through that quarter-century until his retirement on Friday, the city manager, who had started his career at City Hall as an intern 37 years ago, never wavered. Somehow he maintained a calmness, steadiness and quiet confidence about him as the city went through cycles of boom and bust.

True to his reputation, of course, Roeder shies away from taking any of the credit.

Ask him how he lasted so long, and he'll go on about the leadership of the city councils he's worked with, his hardworking staff and the community's resilience through tough times.

What he won't say is that the pair of boots, spray-painted in bronze and standing off to the side of his office, probably had something to do with it.


In 1985, when the City Council was recruiting a new city manager to replace Fred Sorsabal, candidates were told that the council was "looking for someone who walks on water."

Roeder brought those firefighter's boots with him to the job interview.

"I don't walk on water. But I know how to wade through it," he told the panel of council members interviewing him.

The job was his.

Roeder, now 59, grew up one of six children in Garden Grove. He was a dual-athlete at Rancho Alamitos High School, competing in swimming and water polo before attending Santa Ana College.

He moved on to Cal State Fullerton, where he paid his way by working as a train conductor at Knott's Berry Farm. His bosses wanted him to start working full-time as he neared graduation.

"Gosh, you know, I haven't spent five years in college to drive trains," he said. "Not only did I decline it, but I chose to leave there. I didn't have a job or anything. Pretty much all my stuff was packed in the back of my car."

He found a room to rent at a friend's place in Costa Mesa. It was summer and Newport Beach was looking for lifeguards, so Roeder took a job there and quickly became full-time.

But he was still attracted to civil service, and in 1974 Roeder asked his college counselor about an internship available in Costa Mesa City Hall.

On paper, Roeder admitted, he was unqualified.

"They really wanted a graduate student, and I was just finishing my undergraduate work," he said.

His counselor said that he might have a chance since he lived in Costa Mesa.

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