The Santa Ana City Council is still committed to conducting a national search to replace longtime retired City Manager Dave Ream, Councilman Sal Tinajero said Wednesday.
Tinajero’s comments come after months of rumors at City Hall that council members would install interim City Manager Paul Walters, who is also police chief, permanently as the city’s top bureaucrat.
The appointment of a new city manager appeared on Monday’s council meeting agenda, giving new fuel to those rumors, but Mayor Miguel Pulido wanted only to get an update on the council’s desire, Tinajero said.
“It was brought up by Miguel [Pulido]. He put it on the agenda, and I think he just wanted to see where everybody was at. I can’t speak to where everyone was at, but in a nutshell, we wanted to get through this budget issue and the game plan, the goal, is to do a search,” Tinajero said.
If Walters is eventually appointed, insiders say, it would show that Pulido still firmly controls the city’s political dynamics.
Both Pulido and Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez back Walters, say sources close to City Hall. But other council members, including Tinajero, Michele Martinez and David Benavides, have made it clear they want to vet a pool of candidates.
Those council members pushed for a national search to replace Ream, who retired last year after 32 years of service. But the search was suspended twice to focus on moving the city through its ongoing budget crisis, council members had said.
Meanwhile, the city has yet to appoint a new city attorney more than a year after former City Attorney Joe Fletcher left the city’s employ.
After they finish their work plugging a projected $30-million budget deficit going into next fiscal year, they will refocus on hiring a city attorney, council members said.
“Hopefully we’re getting very close to doing that, and I think we can revisit the city attorney position then,” said Councilman Vincent Sarmiento.
Last year, the council extended an offer to its preferred candidate — Maribel Medina, general counsel for the San Francisco Unified School District — whose name was leaked to Art Pedroza’s New Santa Ana blog.
Sources close to City Hall have said that the release of Medina’s name was orchestrated by Pulido to undermine the hiring process after it didn’t go his way. Pedroza said that the name leak came from “a Miguel guy.”
Medina dropped out after her name was released.
Councilman Sal Tinajero said that for now, interim City Attorney Joe Straka is doing a good job.
“We actually think he’s [Straka] held his own pretty well,” Tinajero said. “He hasn’t put us in jeopardy. He hasn’t led us the wrong way.”
— ADAM ELMAHREK