Santa Ana City Council Names Interim City Manager

After a brief closed session late Monday afternoon, Santa Ana City Council members announced the unanimous appointment of Kevin O'Rourke as interim city manager, another step in what has so far been a largely secretive process by a new council majority to install a permanent top executive.

Council members met in special session and announced O’Rourke’s selection but said they would finalize his contract at next week’s City Council meeting.

City Attorney Sonia Carvalho announced the decision with little fanfare, and most council members quickly departed the meeting.

However, later that night just before 10 p.m., the city issued a news release touting O'Rourke.

“We are very fortunate to have his incredible experience and familiarity with the Orange County region,” Mayor Miguel Pulido stated in the release.

The release quoted O'Rourke: "I’m excited about returning to Orange County and serving Santa Ana’s community.”

On Monday night, City Councilwoman Michele Martinez took a few moments to talk to reporters in the council chambers just after the decision was announced.

Yet Martinez was largely unable to offer specifics on the process used to select O’Rourke, such as how the candidate pool was assembled or culled.

O'Rourke, who Martinez said would immediately take the helm, comes to the city with more than 30 years in local government experience, according to an online biography. He previously served as city manager in Stanton, Buena Park and Fairfield and interim city manager in Stockton and Woodland, according to the biography.

O'Rourke's appointment comes after a council majority's power struggle with Pulido culminated in the firing of the former city manager, Paul Walters, who was seen as too close to the influential mayor.

Walters' ouster was part of what Councilman Sal Tinajero dubbed the “Santa Ana Spring,” a movement by the council majority to disperse power away from the mayor, implement greater transparency at City Hall and distribute authority among the seven-member council.

Questions remain unanswered about both O'Rourke's appointment and Walters' ouster.

O'Rourke's compensation and other contract details have yet to be decided.

Meanwhile, city officials still haven't disclosed the specifics of Walters' exit, such as the details of his severance payout.

Martinez said O'Rourke will help city officials navigate their current confrontation with Sacramento over the state's demand that the city turn over $54 million in leftover housing funds after Gov. Jerry Brown scrapped redevelopment agencies. She said O'Rourke would be leveraging his relationships across the state in that endeavor.

“The city of Santa Ana is very blessed to have Kevin,” Martinez said.

Martinez spoke highly of O'Rourke's other traits, such as fluency in Spanish, seen as vital by some residents in this heavily Latino city.

While O'Rourke is perceived to be taking the helm from Walters, according to Martinez the city has technically been administered by Police Chief Carlos Rojas since Walters' exit Feb. 1 because of a 1990s city resolution that dictates succession. Consequently, Rojas was the city's first Latino city manager.

O'Rourke will administer the city for six to nine months while officials conduct a nationwide search for Walters' replacement, Martinez said. O'Rourke will not be a candidate for permanent city manager, she added.

“Kevin understands his role. He's here to transition,” Martinez said.

City officials previously spent thousands of dollars on a nationwide search and even held a public workshop on the issue after the retirement of previous longtime City Manager Dave Ream.

Pulido and then Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez successfully maneuvered to have the search indefinitely suspended.

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