The sudden announcement of a special closed session meeting to discuss the employment of the highest ranking official in a city usually means only one thing; the person is on their way out the door and it is going to require emergency Council action to determine how and when it will happen.
A few months ago, the council unexpectedly announced that City Attorney Joseph Fletcher was leaving and that the city had decided to pay him $142,080 on top of his accrued vacation and sick time to accelerate the timing of his departure. At the time of their decision, the city council and mayor were slient as to what the payment was. They would not say whether Fletcher was fired or if he was retiring.
Last week on InsideOC with Rick Reiff Councilman Vince Sarmiento cleared the matter up when he explained to PBS SoCal’s David Nazar that the payment was essentially a Golden Handshake, to speed up Fletcher’s departure since the relationship between the Council and the City Attorney had significantly deteriorated. While it is essentially within the right of the city council to negotiate and pay compensation to city staff, it is questionable as to whether they can simply decide to award an extraordinary contract enhancement (such as a Golden Handshake) to a staff member without placing that matter on the agenda for public discussion and approval.
If, for eaxmple, the city council wished to offer an incentive for long-term employees to retire early it would be necessary to place that matter on the council agenda and discuss it publicly before voting on it. As we know, that didn’t happen.
So what of tonight’s meeting? What is at stake?
City Manager David Ream has a significantly iron-clad contract that Voice of OC’s Adam Elmahrek has reported can award him in excess of $750,000 if he is terminated without cause or his contract is not renewed. If the city council wants to be rid of Ream, it’s going to cost them. If Ream were simply willing to retire and slink off into the sunset on his own, it would only cost accrued vacation and sick pay. It would also not cause there to be a need for a “Special Closed Session Meeting” to discuss the employment of the City Manager.
It looks like tonight may be a costly night for the taxpayers of Santa Ana.
The meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:00 pm at city hall in the council conference room on the 8th floor. If you want to provide the Council any advice before they spend a huge hunk of change, we recommend you show up a little before 5 on the 8th floor.