Christina Turner takes helm after Steve Rymer accepts job in Minnesota
Published in the October 25 – November 7 issue of Morgan Hill Life
Christina Turner had served as the finance director and treasurer for the City of Gilroy for 10 years when she started a new job in March 2016 as the city of Morgan Hill’s assistant city manager. Eighteen months later, she found herself sitting at the desk of Morgan Hill’s city manager and leading a team of 195 full-time employees.
A lifelong resident of Santa Clara County, the 40-year-old Turner lives in Gilroy with her husband, Lou Zulaica, a local chef, and their daughter Alison Zulaica, 15, and son Louis Zulaica, 13. They are looking to move to Morgan Hill soon, she said.
Turner took on the role of city manager Oct. 1 after her predecessor, Steve Rymer, moved last month with his wife, Helene, to Rochester, Minn., to serve as that city’s chief administrator. Working with Rymer helped Turner better understand the city’s government processes and get to know many of its team members. She reviewed every staff report while assistant city manager, helping her to understand the unique issues in managing the city. Turner knows Morgan Hill well on a personal basis, too, spending time with her children as they practiced at local baseball and soccer fields.
“Morgan Hill was always appealing to me,” she said. “It’s such a great community and so I talked to quite a few people here before coming over. I’m so happy that I did … I’m so familiar with the processes that are in place, but more importantly, the people. I have an established relationship with many people here.”
Turner brings to the job an extensive fiscal knowledge that will be useful for the city in the coming years as Morgan Hill faces some economic hurdles, said City Council Member Caitlin Jachimowicz.
“I am thrilled that Christina has accepted the position of city manager,” she said. “I think it will be a smooth transition because she shares a lot of the passion and collaborative leadership style that our former city manager, Steve Rymer, spear-headed in Morgan Hill.”
Turner continues the tradition started by Rymer of calling city employees “team members” instead of staff. It helps build the bond that all divisions are working for the common good. At a meeting for all city team members held the first week she started as city manager, she shared her vision for the community, focusing on economic development and other areas where her leadership will require important decision in guiding the city council in the coming years.
In her office in City Hall with big windows overlooking West Main Avenue, she keeps a list of the top five Morgan Hill City Council priorities on a pin board above her desk. Selected at a goal-setting meeting at the beginning of the year, they reflect the challenges of building the California High-Speed Rail through the city, infrastructure needs such as road repair, pipes and other utilities, a policy of inclusiveness to make sure all residents are respected, regional initiatives such as traffic, and improving telecommunication services.
“I truly believe this city is going in the right direction, and Steve did a great job,” she said. “A lot of my role is to just continue that momentum. We have a great culture here in the City Hall and in all our other buildings, our teammates who are offsite, as well. So, it’s really continuing that culture.”
Turner described her leadership style as empowering people and avoiding the trap of micro-managing. Her role is to be very collaborative in dealing with people, doing a lot of listening, and providing feedback to help when assistance is needed.
“My goal is to be very approachable to serve as a resource when teammates need my assistance,” she said.
Morgan Hill faces many regional initiatives. It will need to work with San Martin and Gilroy to deal with the challenges of growth, housing and transportation. Helping her deal with these is her experience working with the city of Gilroy as well as her experience going through the Leadership Gilroy program. One of her goals is to help the South Valley region better connect with the county’s other communities, especially those with economics fueled by high-tech industries. She wants to build Morgan Hill’s reputation as a business-friendly community to encourage technology companies to consider coming here and build the local job market. One way to achieve this is to emphasize to executives that their workers will enjoy a better work-life balance in the South Valley.
“We struggle to have the northern cities of Santa Clara County see us as part of Santa Clara County. They see us sometimes on the fringe,” she said. “They see Morgan Hill and Gilroy as ag land and not part of ‘Silicon Valley’ — but we are part of Silicon Valley.”
The revitalization of Morgan Hill’s downtown will help the city develop its reputation with other Silicon Valley communities, she said. The city poured millions of dollars into transforming downtown to make it more attractive with dining and social amenities. The Fourth Street parking garage helps alleviate vehicle parking issues for visitors. By the end of the year the city will open three new downtown parks, including a train-themed playground on Depot Street designed for young children.
“People love our city because of that small-town feeling,” she said. “We’re not huge and we still have the open space, but we need to balance that with the need for development.”