There were tears, heartwarming speeches, and a genuine sentiment of goodwill during a ceremony at the Civic Center on Monday night to welcome Merced’s new City Manager Scott McBride and new Police Chief Steven Stanfield, as well as to bid farewell to the outgoing City Manager Stephanie Dietz.
But it was saying goodbye to Dietz — the first woman in Merced’s history to serve in the city manager role — that drew the most emotion.
The night really belonged to her.
“This has been the greatest honor,” Dietz told the room filled with friends, everyday residents and local leaders. “More than me, I hope you take from my time here, that you see the city differently. We are not just the negative things in the community that you see. We’re not just the negative Facebook comments that people use to bring us down.
“When I came to the city, Mayor Murphy was the mayor, and we were trying to figure out a way to get people to believe in an idea, in a concept, that we could be more than we are. And it’s that little spark of energy that can transform this community.
“There are problems in every corner but there’s good in every corner. And the biggest resource of this community is its people, and their resiliency.
“We could focus on, you know, the lack of sidewalks and street lights in certain communities. And they’re in south Merced and they’re in north Merced, and they’re in Central Merced. Or we could focus on the fact that if we come together we can create real and impactful change.
“And as I leave and hand the torch to Mr. McBride, I hope that spirit of community stays at the center of all of your work because it was absolutely what I tried to focus everything I did every day here in the city of Merced.
“This was not about me, was not about the council, it was about you. And putting you at the center of our work. So thank you all for entrusting me with that great honor.”
Dietz was credited with a host of accomplishments during her three years as city manager, as well as time as an assistant city manager. She guided the city through all the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with social unrest over the past few years. Her administrative team helped bring in more than $131 million in state and federal grants to the city, boosting recreational parks, affordable housing projects, homeless services and transportation projects.
She will also be remembered for her leadership on such initiatives as the revitalization of downtown, permanent supportive housing projects for struggling and/or homeless residents (including one project at 1213 V Street that is just days away from welcoming its first 100 people), building new sports complexes, creating new partnerships to improve the city’s future water resources, improvements at the airport, and the annexation of UC Merced.
“For years to come,” said Mayor Matthew Serratto, “we will be reaping the benefits of Stephanie’s leadership and so many of the decisions that she made.”
The mayor described the role of city manager as someone who has “seven bosses and 500 people working for you.”
“From the beginning, you’ve been a star,” Serratto said. “From the beginning, you walked in like you owned it.”
Councilwoman Sarah Boyle fought back tears as she paid tribute to Dietz.
“Amidst the hustle and bustle of running a city, what is not always seen, are heartfelt conversations with community members, listening to their stories, their concerns, and their concerns and their hopes for a better future,” she said. “I could always tell that our community remained at the forefront of every decision Stephanie made, and every choice was guided by a deep commitment to shared values and aspirations of our council and our community.”
With Dietz as a role model, Councilman Shane Smith said he learned “how to lead people, how to show strength and compassion in difficult times, and how to get the most out of people, and help them feel good about themselves.”