City Sings Jalili's Praises

By Jorge Casuso

They came to praise him, poke fun at him, even sing to him.

Nearly 200 of Santa Monica's leaders and policy makers gathered at the carousel on the pier Thursday evening to bid farewell to City Manager John Jalili, who will retire next week from a post he has held since 1984.

It was a moving tribute for the former University of Oklahoma engineering student, who stumbled into a love of urban planning and eventually helped steer the California beach city far from his native Iran into an international destination and entertainment Mecca known for its public wealth and cutting-edge policies.

"I will always be grateful," Jalili told the crowd. "Never forget what a great treasure you have in this community, and work hard to preserve it."

There were letters from President Clinton (a frequent Santa Monica visitor), and California Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, who praised Jalili for the city's progressive stance on the environment, public transit, telecommunications and urban revitalization. There were letters from Congressman Henry Waxman and members of the Los Angeles City Council.

"You taught me a lot... and we pulled off some impressive joint ventures," wrote Los Angeles Councilwoman Ruth Galanter. "I admire your ability to stay sane in extremely trying conditions."

And there were jokes and a humorous proclamation declaring Nov. 11 John Jalili Day.

"Whereas John Jalili has provided sublime leadership, which has made Santa Monica the finest city in the nation, yet he refuses to live here," proclaimed Councilman Ken Genser, and his words were followed by other mock pronouncements from the other six council members.

There were presentations and gifts from the Child Care Task Force and the Recreation and Parks Commission, and software and a digital camera from staff in the hopes retirement will make the City Manager - who only reads email -- more computer savvy.

There are a "tremendous number of faces that go way back, way, way back," said assistant city manager Susan McCarthy, who will assume the top post, as she looked into a crowd that numbered department heads, former department heads and even their predecessors.

And then, when the speeches were ended, Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl and Betty Macias, who coordinates the city's youth services, broke into song.

"You've been a public servant for 25 years," they sang, "sat through meetings that bored you to tears..."

"These are the most talented people I have ever seen in any city I have ever worked," said Jalili.

And he wasn't just talking about the singing.