I heard back on Thursday from the City of Santa Ana Public Information Officer, Jose Gonzalez, regarding my inquiries about the City Manager search. I would love to tell you that I got to the bottom of things and all is well but, when it comes to getting information out of the Banana Peel Republic of Santa Ana, it’s never that simple.
The first question I had was whether there was an initial expiration date for the appointment of Interim City Manager Paul Walters? At the August 1st meeting the City Attorney reported that the Council had determined that Chief Walters would hold that position at least until November 1, 2011. Usually when interim management employees are appointed, it is understood that they will hold that position until the permanent replacement is brought on board. It turns out that there was no expiration date set at the time of appointment for Chief Walters’ position as Interim City Manager. That prompts the question, why did the Council decide that they had to make a decision regarding the minimum length of his appointment? Gonzalez couldn’t answer that question because he was not present during the closed session discussion.
My next question was whether the City Manager search process was indeed on hold? And if so, when was that decision made and by whom? “The search is on hold,” Gonzalez told me. Bob Murray & Associates initiated a nation-wide search process for the next Santa Ana City Manager. The application phase of the process concluded on July 15th with 50 individual applicants including Interim City Manager Paul Walters expressing interest in the job. “During the closed session of the City Council held on July 18th, the City Council instructed the Executive Director of Personnel Services to place the process on hold,” Gonzalez said. “This was done so that the city council could focus on other priorities such as hiring the next City Attorney, and resolving budget issues.”
I asked Gonzalez why the matter had not been reported out in open session by the City Attorney. “The decision to place the search on hold was a procedural matter and not required to be reported out.” Gonzalez said.
I asked if the consultant agreement, scope of work, and timeline for the City Manager search was available. Gonzalez told me that he “did not have a copy of the agreement in his possession.” He indicated that Bob Murray & Associates had been retained to conduct the search for the City Attorney under an agreement not to exceed $25,000 and that the agreement had been expanded to include the City Manager search. Given that the City had 48 hours to respond to this request I have to presume that, since Gonzalez could not answer one way or the other, there is probably no formal written agreement regarding the City Manager search. If the City is able to locate the actual agreement, he promised to send it to me.
Gonzalez was also unable to nail down for sure whether Councilman Sal Tinajero’s statement to The OC Register’s Andrew Galvin that the search was on hold until November 1st, was a hard or soft date.
What Does It All Mean?
In short, the City has placed the search process for the next City Manager on hold for a period of time that has not been publicly disclosed in a Council meeting. The decision to place the search on hold was made during a Council discussion in closed session three days after 50 applicants expressed interest in the position. That decision was based upon circumstances (the appointment of a new City Attorney, and resolution of budget issues) that were present when the Council began the search process. There is no publically available record of the agreement between the search firm and the City that outlines the timeline or scope of work for the search.
There is no provision of the Brown Act that allows the City Council to take action to delay the previously announced search process in closed session. There are no confidentiality issues involved here and no need for secrecy to begin with. But even if the Council could demonstrate an unlikely compelling need for a private discussion to place the process on hold, there is no allowance in the law for them to cite procedural issues as a reason for nondisclosure of their actions to the public.
Again, this is one more example of a City Council with a disdain for transparency and the public’s right to know. Residents of Santa Ana should be suspicious of their city leaders when they repeatedly ignore their responsibility to be transparent in the conduct of their official responsibilities. Outrage over these failures of transparency is warranted, and the City Council owes its residents full disclosure of what is happening with the process of the search for their next City Manager and why that process was placed on hold in secret.
While anything less is unacceptable, it seems to be the norm in the Banana Peel Republic of Santa Ana.