Ken Frank is Newsmaker of 2010

Longtime city manager's retirement was the top news in Laguna Beach for the year.

January 13, 2011|By Barbara Diamond,
  • Former city manager Ken Frank, stands with Mayor Toni Iseman at a recent park dedication.
Former city manager Ken Frank, stands with Mayor Toni… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

Since his 66th birthday when Ken Frank announced his retirement as city manager, he has been the talk of the town. Who would replace him? Who could replace him? How would he be replaced? His contributions to the city were lauded. His flaws — he was known to lose his temper occasionally, and he was sometimes abrupt with staff — were dissected; his skills applauded.

An intensely private man, Frank spent almost half of his life in a very visible job. For 31 years, he maneuvered the city — and some said the City Council — through good times and bad.

And there were some really bad times: the county bankruptcy, landslides, fire, the dreadful loss of lives to AIDS, state raids on local revenue to balance its own budget, and near mutinies in the police, fire and marine safety departments.

"We were lucky to have Ken Frank," former Councilman Paul Freeman said. "We haven't always agreed, but he is the best politician this city has ever had."


Through all the ups and downs, Frank publicly took the hit when things went wrong and gave the council credit when things went right. Whenever possible, he avoided the limelight and always declined to have his photograph taken. No one should be surprised that he was a skillful poker player, but his wicked sense of humor sometimes caught people unawares.

Reading his columns published last year in the Coastline Pilot on his take of the city's 10 top accomplishments during his tenure as city manager, one might be led to believe he was an observer, not a participant and certainly not a prime mover.

Frank's choice for the top achievement was the acquisition of hundreds of acres of open space, but he was rarely credited with environmental sensitivity. His support for the goats as a means to clear hillsides of flammable vegetation and for the construction of Montage Resort & Spa did not resonate with environmentalists.

However, at the last meeting at which Frank sat on the dais as city manager, Mayor Pro Tem Jane Egly said she had attended an open space dedication with him.

"It was symbolic," Egly said. "No one is better than Ken at acquiring open space for Laguna."

Praise has been heaped on Frank since he announced his retirement in April.

Former Councilwoman Kathleen Blackburn called his retirement the end of an era.

"And it makes me sad," she said.

Blackburn spearheaded the fundraising for a farewell gift for Frank, a painting by Scott Moore.

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