A sharply divided Santa Ana City Council might decide Tuesday whether to permanently appoint interim City Manager Paul Walters as the city’s top bureaucrat, with Councilman Sal Tinajero the swing vote, according to a source close to City Hall.
Appointing a new city manager to succeed retired City Manager Dave Ream is on Tuesday night’s council agenda, and “there is a 50/50 chance” the council will announce Walters’ appointment that night, the source said.
The release of an outside atorney’s report that would answer the question of whether Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez may run for a fourth term is also slated to be discussed in closed session, according to other sources close to City Hall.
It has been rumored at City Hall since at least December that Walters, who is also the city’s longtime police chief, would be appointed. The move would demonstrate that Mayor Miguel Pulido still firmly controls the city’s political dynamics, insiders say.
According to the source, Councilwoman Michele Martinez, who had been a strong proponent of finding a new city manager through a national search, has changed her mind and joined Pulido and Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez in favor of appointing Walters.
In a previous interview, Martinez argued forcefully that handpicking appointments wouldn’t be “Miguel’s decision anymore.” But Martinez has reappraised the political landscape, particularly in light of her bid for the 69th Assembly District, and has joined Pulido’s camp, the source said.
Martinez did not return a phone call for comment.
Council members Vincent Sarmiento, David Benavides and Carlos Bustamante still favor conducting the nationwide search, the source said.
Tinajero declined to comment on the council split, saying he hadn’t yet made up his mind. Among other considerations, the fact that Walters has so far successfully steered the city through a historic budget crisis is a factor in Walters’ favor, Tinajero said.
“Is it a slap in the face to a sitting city manager to go out for a search when got you through [the crisis]?” Tinajero said.
The other consideration, Tinajero said, is that Walters has been city manager since June, and a strong relationship between Walters and the council was forged during those months.
A national search that cost the city tens of thousands of dollars was suspended twice to focus on the city’s budget crisis, council members had said. Some City Hall observers, however, suspected the suspensions were Pulido’s maneuverings to buy the time needed to line up the council behind Walters.
There are also whispers that an outside attorney’s report will confirm that council members are limited to three consecutive four-year terms by the Measure D initiative passed by voters in 2008. Alvarez, who is scheduled to complete her third term this year, has long been searching for a loophole, sources close to City Hall had said.
City officials have refused to release the report, citing attorney-client privilege. Interim City Attorney Joe Straka said the City Council could vote to release the report.
Alvarez has voiced a desire to challenge Measure D and run for a fourth term, but she has been noncommittal on that decision, the sources said.