Top Stories of 2012: No. 9—Change At The Top

After an exhaustive search, Rancho Santa Margarita chose a young woman to replace an old veteran in the city's most important position.

Rancho Santa Margarita may have been spoiled by Steve Hayman, who served as the city manager for nearly seven years. He announced his retirement in September, 2011, effective Dec. 30, but the City Council—very choosy about making the right choice—didn't pull the trigger on hiring his replacement until May, 2012.

Hayman continued as the interim city manager until the transition of authority in mid-year.

In Hayman, 60, who essentially served as the city's chief executive officer to the council's board of directors, the city had a man with 36 years of experience in city administration. 

Instead of bringing in someone with a similar background to fill Hayman's shoes, the council chose someone wearing heels.

Jennifer Malkowski Cervantez took over the corner office of City Hall on July 9. She was smart and bright and had an answer for everything in the series of interviews that completely eliminated the first batch of candidates delivered by a headhunter.

Cervantez was also young—at 39, she was older than only one councilman, Jesse Petrilla.

She held the No. 2 position in La Habra since 2002, and if she wasn't a cutting edge choice, she certainly fit the demographic: married, two kids under 10, with a strong background in community engagement and experience in economic development.

She also has the potential to be the kind of stabilizing force that Hayman was; in a city that's only 13 years old, Hayman was the longest-serving city manager. Cervantez is positioned to serve 20 years or more before reaching Hayman's age.

"I think she's a rising star," Mayor Tony Beall said.

Yet the greatest endorsement may have come from Hayman himself, who had known Cervantez for several years: "Jennifer will be a great asset for the City, and in my humble opinion, a perfect pick by the City Council."


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