The Santa Ana City Council Monday night directed the city attorney to draft a city manager contract for Paul Walters, ending months of speculation about whether the city’s longtime police chief would be installed as top bureaucrat.
Walters has been interim city manager since Dave Ream retired a year ago. A city manager contract, scheduled to come before council next month, would effectively secure the position for Walters.
The pending appointment ends a behind-the-scenes political battle among council members over whether to resume a national search for Ream’s replacement. The search had been suspended twice, once without some council members’ knowledge, to focus on carrying the city through its historic budget crisis.
It also shows that Mayor Miguel Pulido still firmly controls the city’s political dynamics, insiders say. Pulido and Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez strongly backed Walters for the position, and for months Pulido had been courting enough votes to make the appointment.
The order to draft the contract was unanimous, according to City Attorney Sonia Carvalho.
Walters, 66, is credited with pulling the city back from the brink of a $30-million budget deficit, a factor that swayed some council members in their decision.
Walters “really went above and beyond. He passed the test with flying colors,” said Councilman Carlos Bustamante.
Said Alvarez: “I had no doubt that [Walters] would pull us out of this hole.”
Councilwoman Michele Martinez credited Walters for listening to council members regarding budget concerns. She indicated that Ream had dodged tough questions on the budget. Other council members last December had pointed at Ream for misleading them into a fiscal disaster.
“Finally, someone has been listening. So thank you, Paul,” Martinez said.
But other than those brief praises on the budget, there was little fanfare accompanying announcement.
Even with Walters’ appointment, a void still remains within the top ranks of city government. Last year, Deputy City Manager Cindy Nelson announced her retirement. In 2009, the city’s assistant city manager, Catherine Standiford, retired.
Walters said that he might be appointing two deputy city managers. Their responsibilities have yet to be specified.
The details of Walters’ contract have yet to be decided, Carvalho said, but council members will likely be cautious in signing a deal with Walters because of their experiences with Ream and Joe Fletcher, the previous city attorney.
Provisions in Ream’s contract allowed unlimited accrual of paid time off, and Ream was able to collect more than $200,000 at the end of his tenure.
Fletcher cashed out nearly $200,000 just months before that. In 2010 he was one of the highest paid city officials in the state.