Santa Ana Suspends Efforts to Hire New City Manager

Thursday, July 28, 2011 | Santa Ana has temporarily suspended efforts to hire a new city manager, possibly through the end of the year, Voice of OC has confirmed.

At least three members of the City Council — Michele Martinez, Vincent Sarmiento and Sal Tinajero — said they were unaware as of Wednesday morning that a decision had been made to call off the search.

"No one called me and said the search has been suspended," Tinajero said.

Martinez and Sarmiento said they recall a discussion during the most recent closed session about the possibility of suspending the hiring process, but both said a final decision was not made.

"Who authorized this? Don't you need a majority decision?" Martinez said.

Said Sarmiento: "As far as I know, we'd discussed that as an option. I don't think anything definitive has been set." But he added he doubts "there was anything sinister here."

Regan Williams, a vice president for Bob Murray & Associates, the firm hired to conduct a nationwide search for retired City Manager Dave Ream's successor, said he was told to freeze all recruitment efforts until the end of the year.

"They've suspended the process, so we're not doing anything," Williams said.

The only council member interviewed who acknowledged knowing about the suspension was Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez. She said, however, that "suspension" is the wrong description. She described it as a temporary break in the process while the city deals with other issues, but she would not elaborate.

"We have a lot of homework we have to do," Alvarez told a Voice of OC reporter Tuesday night. She added that the city needs stability and that "we have a great city manager right now."

Paul Walters, who is also Santa Ana's police chief, is interim city manager, appointed in the weeks before Ream's retirement in May.

Official confirmation of the suspension came from Santa Ana Police Sgt. Jose Gonzalez, who has recently been installed as the city's public information officer.

Gonzalez said the council's decision, made in closed session, allows the council to focus on the city budget. "What they're trying to do is to allow the city to somewhat stabilize. Then they can resume the search for the city manager," Gonzalez said.

Although Walters told the Orange County Register in May that he wanted to remain police chief after a new city manager is hired, he backtracked during an interview Wednesday afternoon. He said he couldn't comment on whether he wants to be permanent city manager or whether he has applied for the position.

Walters said the order to stop recruitment went directly from the City Council to Kathie Gonzalez, executive director of personnel services. "The council told her what to do. It's strictly between her and the City Council. I'm not involved at all," Walters said.

Word of the suspension came late Tuesday, the same day that Voice of OC published a story delving into some of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering in the search for a new city manager and a successor to City Attorney Joe Fletcher.

It has long been assumed by many in Santa Ana that Pulido controls all major decision-making in the city. But both Martinez and Councilman David Benavides said recently that other council members have asserted themselves and that Pulido will not be able to handpick a new city manager or city attorney.

"It's not Miguel's decision anymore," Martinez said.

Pulido and Benavides did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

The hiring suspension also follows the leak of the name of one city attorney finalist: Maribel Medina, general counsel for the San Francisco Unified School District. The job has been offered to two finalists.

Sources close to City Hall said the leak was orchestrated by Pulido to advance a candidate he preferred.

At 5 p.m. Thursday, the City Council is scheduled to hold a closed session on the top floor of City Hall to discuss the appointment of a new city attorney.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Martinez and Benavides are scheduled to conduct a forum at the Southwest Senior Center to hear public comments on the qualities they should be seeking in a city manager.

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