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Mission Viejo appoints new City Manager

elaine lister

Longtime Mission Viejo employee Elaine Lister has been named the new City Manager.

Elaine’s contract was unanimously approved at last Tuesday’s Council meeting. She will take the reins from retiring City Manager Dennis Wilberg, who has provided Mission Viejo with more than 20 years of monumental service as City Manager and was recently recognized as “City Manager of the Year” by the ACC-OC. (Stay tuned for more on Dennis.)

Elaine begins her new post on July 6. She brings to the position a wealth of experience and passion for Mission Viejo. Elaine has served in a variety of positions with the City, serving as Director of Community Development for the last 11 years and overseeing the divisions of planning and development, building and safety, economic development, and code enforcement. 

“Elaine comes with a great background and a great track record,” said Mayor Trish Kelley during Tuesday's Council meeting. “This position was a very important one to the City, and I know that we are in very good hands.”

Elaine was born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Glasgow.  After moving to the United States, she completed a Master’s degree in geography and urban planning from San Diego State University. Elaine is also involved in several professional organizations, including the American Planning Association, Planning Director Association of Orange County, Association of Environmental Professionals and the American Institute of Certified Planners. 


Submitted by Cathy Schlicht on Wed, 06/05/2024 - 11:26 am


A week after Council approval, the City has finally issued its press release on the appointment of the new City Manager. There was not even an announcement that the City's top two administrators were retiring this summer.

My April public comments were about the lack of transparency with the opening of the city manager position. Ironically, the City of Laguna Beach search for a new city manager began with a press release giving the public the opportunity to provide feedback about the most important qualities potential candidates should possess.

What our Council did, a day after the April 9 council meeting, was to post a Notice for two AFTERNOON special meetings. The Mayor could have and should have informed the public about the April 11 and 12 afternoon special meetings. Instead, Trish Kelley adjourned the council meeting to April 23.

If Elaine Lister cares about transparency, then this lack of transparency is unfair to the new city manager.

But the City’s propaganda machine is now active, once again controlling the public narrative by ignoring the details of the employment contract.

Has anyone in the public read the contract?

As I stated in my April 12 public comments, without competition for the position, contract demands from the new City Manager will be excessive.

This new employment contract carries a nine-month severance package. The severance package is nullified if Elaine is terminated for misconduct as determined judicially. If the two-year contract is not renewed by the Council she will receive a severance payment for nine months salary.

Elaine has never served as a city manager. Her base salary is significantly higher than the retiring city manager who has held that position for over 20 years. The salary was not based on ability or experience, but on comparative salaries.

In addition, the Council who hire and fire the city manager position, are now contractually bound to “publicly support” Elaine Lister. What does that mean? Are our elected City Council Members subservient to the city manager, who serves at the pleasure of the council? Will the Council be afraid to question or challenge her actions in fear of violating the terms of the Contract? If true, how could the city attorney allow this Council and future council's to be placed in such a vulnerable position?

Was the Council discouraged from looking for a city manager from outside of city hall, because a new city manager just might bring a flashlight to expose and stop the back-room shenanigans occurring in City Hall? Is there liability to city administrators to go outside of the "system"?

How long will it be before the city attorney acts as the co-city manager?

It is also unfortunate for Elaine to have to start under this veil. Let's hope when she begins her term that she will pledge to bring in a new transparency and embrace open government and accountability, and with her leadership, morale in city hall will improve.

I wish Dennis Wilberg and Keith Rattay many happy, healthy and fulfilling years in retirement. And I also wish Elaine much success in this new role.

Submitted by Sharon Cody on Fri, 06/07/2024 - 7:14 am


Congratulations Elaine. The City is so blessed to have you as our next CM. I worked with you many years ago and found you to be extraordinary at your job then and as years have gone by you are even more talented and hard working today. Mission Viejo is in good hands with your leadership and I feel confident the shelter, and our K9 and feline friends will continue to be a high priority.

Thank you Council for making such a great choice. Sharon

Submitted by Kirsten Andersen on Fri, 06/07/2024 - 1:57 pm


I Also wish to congratulate Elaine.
Our city is so fortunate to have people like you working and living here in this beautiful city of Mission Viejo.
Our family have lived here since 1968. Thanks for all the qualified people who have served our City. Over the years.
Mission Viejo is world famous,. Thinking of the international sport and Olympics games we have hosted.And the residents here working with the city council to make this possible
I don’t agree with anything this Cathy schlicht has to gripe about.
Wonder where she came from, before she moved here.

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