PIEDMONT —- There are many ways Sara Lillevand has been preparing for this moment, even if she didn’t necessarily know it until recently.
The newly minted city administrator grew up in Piedmont, and, after serving in several sports- and health-related capacities for several years, almost five years ago became the city’s recreation supervisor. Those experiences have afforded a view both from outside of city government and, for the past few years, within its very center.
“It’s given me a unique perspective,” said Lillevand, 51, whose contract was formally approved Monday night by the City Council. “I went to elementary and middle school here, grew up in the Piedmont Recreation District, then went away for awhile. I think all that experience is really important.”
Working in Piedmont government has also given local leaders a perspective on Lillevand.
“Community knowledge can be learned. What can’t really be learned are the people skills, diplomacy, instinct for the implications of community dynamics, adaptability, and leadership,” said outgoing City Administrator Paul Benoit. “Sara has all of those qualities and, to her advantage, she had opportunity to exhibit them in her work as the recreation director.”
Lillevand will take over for Benoit, who is set to retire at the end of the month after five years as Piedmont’s top manager. He announced his plans in February, and the city sought applicants for the post. Forty-three people applied.
As part of the city’s senior management team, Lillevand put her stamp on the city’s recreation department, including helping manage the Hampton Park renovation project and leading the new pickleball trial programs at three sites in town.
She also was privy to Piedmont’s challenges, in her department and others, and the discussions about how to best meet them.
“We’re a small city with a small staff, and everyone’s connected and tuned in to most things going on in our city,” Lillevand said. “I’m aware of the primary challenges of each (city) department. “It’s a really wonderful team and Paul (Benoit’s) done a great job.”
Mayor Robert McBain said Lillevand’s local knowledge is a definite plus, and also praised her leadership.
“She knows how to build a team and get people to work together. She works to improve everyone. At the same time, she knows it’s about achieving good outcomes. It’s a special talent and very hard to find.”Piedmont Mayor Bob McBain
Lillevand put her stamp on the city’s recreation department, including helping lead the Hampton Park renovation project, and leading the way to make the new pickleball trial programs at three sites in town a reality.
A graduate of Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, Lillevand has served as director of athletics at Cal State East Bay in Hayward, and also was head women’s basketball coach there and an instructor of kinesiology, the study of the mechanics of body movement. She also worked at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford as a physical therapist.
Lillevand is well aware of the challenges the city faces, many of them economic, as laid out in the June 3 passage of the city’s 2019-2020 budget.
In May, Benoit said the city faces significant financial pressures in the next few years, including $25 million in CalPERS pension unfunded liability, extensive sidewalk repairs and major work for almost every city-owned building or facility, including the community pool.
McBain said Lillevand is up to the task. “Importantly, she understands the city’s financial structure and knows how we have been managing our resources for the past few years. She recognizes the discipline and diligence required to maintain the city’s financial strength. She also appreciates both the challenges and opportunities in the near future as the city looks to update and improve an aged infrastructure.”
Lillevand said she hopes Piedmont residents will continue to help the city meet these kinds of challenges. The locals, she said, are civic-minded, smart and engaged. “They don’t just talk about things, they put in the work,” she said. “I know they will continue to do this, and that it is up to us to tap into that knowledge and energy.”
Lillevand will earn a base salary of $225,000 a year, plus benefits, a transportation allowance and a “technology” allowance covering computers, internet and the like.
Lillevand lives in Piedmont with her wife Maryann Tucker and their four children, two of whom recently graduated from high school. All four attended Beach Elementary School and Piedmont Middle School.
“We’ve really benefited from this remarkable community,” Lillevand said.
Reach Sam Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org.