Santa Ana city officials are near a deal regarding the ouster of City Manager Paul Walters, said City Attorney Sonia Carvalho Tuesday night after a special closed door council meeting, potentially ending a week of uncertainty over the controversial firing of the city’s top bureaucrat.
Carvalho said that negotiations between Walters and City Council members, who in a 6-1 vote decided to terminate Walters, are “on a positive track” and that city officials are close to “coming to mutual terms on an agreement.”
City officials will have more to report Wednesday, Carvalho said.
Walters said after the meeting that the two sides have reached a “tentative agreement.” He and Carvalho declined to elaborate.
City Hall observers believe Walters is being pushed out as part of a campaign by the council majority to undercut longtime Mayor Miguel Pulido’s influence over the city bureaucracy.
The council majority views Walters as too close to the 10-term mayor. Pulido was the lone vote against the decision to begin the termination process.
There has been much confusion in recent days regarding exactly how Walters will be removed from his position. As of late last week, council members were still in the early phases of negotiating the contract termination, according to Councilman David Benavides.
A 30-day clock for Walters’ ouster has yet to start because the council hasn't approved a public resolution that according to the city charter must specifically state the reasons for his termination.
According to Walters’ attorney, Wendell Phillips, the city manager is also entitled to a public hearing explaining the firing. Many residents have demanded such a hearing.
The city charter specifies that Walters “may reply in writing and any member of the City Council may request a public hearing, which, if requested, shall be held not earlier than twenty (20) days nor later than thirty (30) days after the filing of such request.”
By brokering a deal before the city charter provisions come into play, Walters and City Council members can avert having to make public explanation for the firing.
One option that the city manager’s contract provides is for Walters to return to his previous job, police chief. Phillips described that as an “excellent solution.”
“I hope they find a way for Paul Walters to stay involved in the city of Santa Ana,” Phillips said.
The provision is one of three options in Walters’ contract. He can also choose a one-year severance package — essentially a lump-sum payout of $265,000 — or he can receive three years and eight months of city-paid military service retirement credit.
The provision that allows him to return to being police chief is key, because it could be a bargaining chip if council members want to retain the interim chief, Carlos Rojas.
If that is the case, Walters could use the provision as leverage to negotiate a larger cash payout.
The council majority has taken a stand against Walters assuming his old police chief position, according to sources close to the situation.