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Trailblazing Santa Monica Assistant City Manager to Retire  

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 21, 2017 -- After a nearly 27-year career that reached top posts at City Hall, Santa Monica Assistant City Manager Elaine Polachek is retiring, the City has announced.

A trailblazer who filled top management posts often held by men, Polachek -- who oversees the day-to-day coordination, administration and supervision of 11 departments -- said she is leaving in July.

“When I came to Santa Monica in the summer of 1984 looking for a job, it never occurred to me that I would spend my career here,” Polachek said in discussing her decision to leave, announced earlier this month at the Santa Monica Chamber’s Organization of Women Leaders International Women’s Day Breakfast.

“It has been one of the great honors of my life to serve this community,” she said. “I leave proud of what we’ve achieved together and excited for Santa Monica’s future.”

Picture of Elaine Polachek
Elaine Polachek (Picture courtesy of the City of Santa Monica)

As Assistant City Manager, Polachek's role and responsibilities have reached well beyond the scope of similar posts in many municipalities and have included working with some of Santa Monica’s key business organizations, such as the chamber, tourist groups and Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.

“The passion, precision, and compassion Elaine has shared with Santa Monica all of these years is something we are all better for,” said Mayor Ted Winterer. “Her leadership will leave an indelible mark on this community.”

Polachek started in the halls of city government at a time when it was unusual to find women in positions of authority.

Accepting an award March 10 reserved by the chamber for trailblazers, Polachek noted how many women hold positions of influence in Santa Monica today, from three of the City Council’s seven members, numerous City department heads and Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks to leaders in education and business.

“At many of the meetings I attend, women outnumber men,” she said.

But that is still not the case elsewhere, she told the audience.

“Many of us assume that Santa Monica is a microcosm of the rest of the world,” she said. “But I’ve been researching how women fair in attaining leadership roles, and unfortunately, our success is not shared as broadly throughout the private and public sectors as one might think.

"In fact," she said, "Santa Monica may be more of an outlier than the standard.”

Women in the private sector, Polachek said, continue to lose ground. But she said she was discouraged to learn in her research that leadership in the public sector is also still mostly “white, male, and over 50.”

In 1976, she said, women comprised about half of the overall municipal government workforce, but only one percent of chief administrative officer positions. In 2013, the second statistic rose to 20 percent, but dropped to 14 percent the following year.

“So, over the course of 38 years, women chief administrative officers grew from one percent to 14 percent,” she said. “Isn’t that disheartening?”

Polachek was named interim city manager in December of 2014, after City Manager Rod Gould retired in January 2015 and before the hiring of his replacement, Rick Cole, in May of the same year ("Santa Monica Council Makes In-House Selection for Interim City Manager," December 19, 2014).

She is known for her extensive knowledge of City Hall and for her steady judgment -- no matter which of many issues roils Santa Monica’s City government at any given moment.

Such was the case from 1984 to 1995, when she played a key role in restoring and redeveloping the Santa Monica Pier. The battle over development has intensified during her long tenure, as has the effort by Santa Monica to serve as a model for sustainability and green policies.

Other fights, like the City’s promise to close the municipal airport permanently, had started when she arrived and continue, in various ways, today.

Her resume also includes deputy city manager, director of Community Maintenance, and Open Space Manager with the City of Santa Monica.

Last year, Assembly Member Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) selected Polachek as the 50th Assembly District’s Woman of the Year. In 2014, she received the John H. Nail Award from the League of California Cities City Managers’ Department.

Before coming to Santa Monica, Polachek held management positions with the Province of Ontario and the City of Scottsdale, Arizona. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from UCLA and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California.

She earned $309,954 in 2015, according to payroll data posted on the site of Transparent California, and received $107,317 in benefits.

The City said it is launching a search for a successor.

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