Santa Ana Council Will Again Discuss Firing City Manager

The Santa Ana City Council will Tuesday evening again to discuss behind closed doors the firing of City Manager Paul Walters and who might be appointed his interim replacement.

The meeting comes a week after the council voted 6-1 to terminate Walters' contract. A 30-day clock for Walters’ ouster has yet to start, however, because the council hasn't approved a public resolution that according to the city charter must specifically state the reasons for his dismissal.

There has been much confusion in recent days about 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.

One option that the contract provides would be for Walters to assume his former position as police chief. Walters' lawyer, Wendell 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 enumerated under Walters’ contract. He can also choose a one-year severance package — essentially a lump sum of $265,000 — or 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 keep current interim Chief Carlos Rojas. If that is the case, Walters could use the provision as leverage to negotiate a larger cash payout.

The police chief is also a civil service position, meaning that Walters can’t be fired without cause, Phillips said.

Phillips said the city imposed a deadline of Jan. 24 for Walters to submit a plan for his resignation before the council met in a special closed session.

However, that special meeting occurred with no action, even though Walters did not make an offer, Phillips said.

“We got hit with an ultimatum: 'We want to have an answer from you, and by God if we don’t have it by 5 o’clock, we’re going to move,' ” Phillips said. “Something must have given them pause.”

City Hall observers believe Walters is being pushed out as part of a campaign by the council majority to undercut Pulido’s influence over the city bureaucracy. The council majority views Walters as too close to the 10-term mayor.

Phillips said that under the city charter, Walters can also receive a public hearing on his firing, something that many community members have demanded. The city charter reads 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.”

After the hearing, the council can again decide to terminate Walters, according to the charter.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek.

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