Sean Joyce received a one-way ticket back into retirement following a brief goodbye ceremony Wednesday morning in the courtyard at South Pasadena City Hall.
Joyce was resting comfortably, enjoying the life of leisure before contacted last fall by the city’s former city clerk, Sally Kilby, seeking his interest in becoming the town’s city manager on an interim basis, replacing Stephanie DeWolfe whom the City Council voted unanimously Sept. 11 to separate.
Joyce was hired during a mid-day special meeting 12 days later, agreeing to stay on board until a permanent city manager was named to replace DeWolfe. He came on the heels of the resignation last August of South Pasadena Councilmember Dr. Marina Khubesrian, tangled in a mess for creating fake email accounts, and entered the scene in the days ahead of the announced November retirement of Police Chief Joe Ortiz.
The interim city manager entered the scene in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when there were major concerns for police reform, k-rails shouldered Mission Street in town prompting a public outcry, the city’s finance director was on an indefinite family leave, and the city’s financial audit, long overdue since 2018, had not been completed. In a word, Joyce, returning for a second time in his career to manage the city, stepped into a mess – a hot one indeed.
Now he departs, recognized for his achievement of squarely putting the city back on solid footing with the recent hiring of Armine Chaparyan, who takes over the city manager role, and Brian Solinsky, a 27-year veteran of the South Pasadena Police Department, retained as its chief. Solinsky served as acting chief following the departure of Ortiz.
Chaparyan has 15 years of local government experience, coming over from San Gabriel where she served as the assistant city manager. She earned the city’s top administrative post following two rounds of interviews by the City Council and a favorable response during virtual community forum.
As part of Wednesday’s farewell, former South Pasadena Mayor Bob Joe, who was in office last fall when Joyce was brought in, served as emcee and thanked him for his eight months of service and returning to city government for a second time. Joyce, whose official last day on the job comes next Thursday, previously held the post from November 1994 through July 2004.
“Sean, we want to show our appreciation (to) you coming back to South Pasadena to be the interim city manager,” said Joe. “You brought the city back, going in the right direction. And we saw how much you truly care for our city.”
Following his remarks, Joe told Joyce and a small gathering “I brought a few friends,” including Ed Donnelly and Yuki Cutcheon, both instrumental in helping pass the Yes on Measure U campaign in the November 2020 election, authorizing an extension of South Pasadena’s utility users tax to fund city services, including public safety, paramedic services and library services.
“A year ago the city faced a global pandemic, an economic crisis, a financial department that seemed to be in chaos, and a number of problems that seemed insurmountable,” said Donnelly. “We were fortunate enough to have Sean come back and right the ship, having level-headed, steady-handed leadership. He turned the city around, which seemed unimaginable. Working with him to support the Measure U ballot last fall ensured success. We are glad he was here, but sorry to see him go. We are very, very thankful for the work that he did, and making sure we’re on the right foot.”
Cutcheon thanked Joyce for his willingness to come back, adding “there was some chaos,” adding “it was a little messy. He was enjoying his retirement life and we asked him to come back and support our city at a time when we really needed someone to provide leadership and strength and steady our city (and) the residents. Not only did he support this measure, but he was pivotal in making sure that it passed. Sean is so willing to be there for the City of South Pasadena and continues to love this place. On behalf of the residents, we really appreciate you for coming back.”
She also thanked Joyce for his support of the city’s diversity, recognizing that a large segment of the community is highly involved in action of local government, paying tribute saying: “It was amazing.”
Kilby was unable to attend the event, but through Joe, passed along a message to Joyce, who she worked with during her time serving as the city clerk from 2000 to 2013. “When we talked months ago about you taking the challenge of serving in the city at a difficult time, I knew you were up to the challenge. Time has gone too fast. Sean, you have exceeded all expectations. Those of us who knew you during your time here are proud of what you have accomplished for South Pasadena. The community is thankful.”
Ending the ceremony, Los Angeles Dodger representatives Mark Langill and Terry Kiser, the teams historian and former member of the grounds crew, respectively, and longtime South Pasadena residents, were introduced. They presented Joyce, a baseball fan going way back, with a book, ‘All for One‘, highlighting the Dodgers’ 2021 run to the World Series Championship. It was signed by Dodger announcer Joe Davis and Kiser. He was also presented with a 1977 Baseball Hall of Fame induction program autographed by the team’s manager at the time Tommy Lasorda, who passed away last January.
Acknowledging all the accolades, Joyce, like the Dodgers, said he had a “great team to work with” at the City of South Pasadena as he makes his departure. “Like any manager, you get credit, you get blamed, and that’s the way it goes. I have great fondness for this city. I’m not sure I would have done this for any other city. I genuinely love this city. It has been so much fun seeing so many familiar faces. Thank you for taking part of your day to come out here. Thank you all, I appreciate it.”
Laughter was heard after Joyce told the group he was married in 1988, the same year the Dodgers won a World Series title, only to hear Langill quickly quip: “You hit a home run,” meaning Joyce was fortunate. Joyce quickly responded, “I did, she got hit by a pitch,” joking his wife, Veronica, may have not, having him in her life.
His first time around as South Pasadena’s city manager, a 10-year run, came after he’d previously held the same position for six years in Sierra Madre. For 14 years, following his departure from South Pasadena, Joyce was city manager for the City of Irvine, from which he retired in 2017. He later owned his own consulting firm for two years before becoming the West Coast regional director at Alliance Resource Consulting, a public sector executive recruiting firm.
Joyce, who worked out of his Orange County home much of his time at the helm of overseeing the everyday workings of South Pasadena due to the pandemic, can relax again, perhaps reflecting on his latest assignment, knowing most of the city residents gave him an A-plus rating.
“I’ve never failed to feel appreciated by the residents,” said Joyce following the ceremony. “Wow, it’s a big, big takeaway. That’s amazing. I have lifelong friends I’ve made here. And I’ve met new friends here that work here. And so I have a great fondness for South Pasadena. For Sally Kilby calling me, for example, that was out of a friendship that came from working together back then. So I’ll always be connected, because I have friendships that are great.”