COLTON - After only three years as city manager, Rod Foster is heading to Laguna Niguel.

Foster has accepted the position as city manager of the affluent Orange County city.

Foster leaves behind a stellar track record in the working-class city of 53,000.

He is credited with successfully negotiating labor contracts with unions, securing federal funding for essential services and consolidating city departments, which brought the city's general fund reserves from a paltry $50,000 in 2009 to $2.3 million today.

"I just feel safe at this time to depart the city and be able to take on this new, challenging position in Laguna Niguel," Foster said Friday. "I'm very happy of the opportunity the city of Laguna Niguel has given me, but I'm very sad about leaving the city of Colton. It's what I call a happy-sad."

Foster's last day with Colton is March 14. The City Council will begin discussing the appointment of an interim city manager at its next meeting on Tuesday and should have a successor announced on March 5, Foster said.

Laguna Niguel City Manager Tim Casey said the city initially had 65 applicants. That number dwindled to 14, then to eight, then to three, he said.

"And Rod emerged as the clear, unanimous choice of the full City Council," Casey said.

Casey said Foster was the only candidate who requested a complete tour of the city. He mined information from the city's website and closely monitored council meetings to stay attuned to the city's goings-on.

"I personally found that impressive," said Casey, who been Laguna Niguel's city manager since its incorporation in December 1989. "I think he did his homework very well."

The Laguna Niguel City Council approved Foster's employment contract on Wednesday. It calls for an annual salary of $220,000, a 6percent increase over what Foster is making in Colton.

Foster said he will be making the move from Upland, where he resides with his family, to Laguna Niguel in the summer. He said he wants to wait until his 12-year-old son completes the school year.

Colton Councilman Frank Gonzales credited Foster with quickly reversing a fiscal trajectory that was on a course to bankruptcy.

Foster successfully negotiated concessions with the city's police union totaling $1 million, and he got firefighters to agree to concessions that saved the city more than $1 million last year.

"We were lucky to have Rod Foster working for us. He did an excellent job for the city," Gonzales.

In a city where an old guard stands close watch of local government and has doled out its fair share of criticism in years past, Foster entered Colton with an established sense of character, integrity and honesty that quickly earned him the respect and loyalty of many.

"The number one thing I'd give Rod Foster credit for was this was a guy who put his money where his mouth was," said Gary Grossich, a member of Colton First, a grassroots political and fiscal watchdog group. "He set the example. He made sacrifice. He worked for less money."

Aside from the fact that Foster was willing to work more for less, Grossich said he was especially impressed with how Foster continued improving the city's financial condition even after losing $5 million in annual revenue when the city's utility tax sunsetted in 2011.

"I give him a lot of respect for that, Grossich said. "Rod was a very effective manager and he got things done."


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