With City Manager Paul Walters’ job hanging in the balance, a divided Santa Ana City Council Thursday spent two hours in closed session discussing his performance regarding major issues facing the city.
With a council majority leaning against Walters, Councilman Sal Tinajero said he spearheaded Thursday’s meeting so that council members could have a frank conversation with Walters to avoid “rash decisions” and to have the council work through its issues with Walters before labor negotiations begin next month.
Thursday’s meeting concluded with no reportable action, but council members will schedule another closed session next month to continue the discussion, Tinajero said.
Other than that, City Council members didn’t say anything publicly Thursday about Walters.
While the council met with Walters in a private room adjacent to the council chambers, his wife confirmed publicly to reporters what has been rumored since last month’s election: Santa Ana’s new City Council majority privately told Walters they want him out.
Mary Walters called the situation a “witch hunt” against her husband, whom she said has been emotionally hurt by council members “not being grateful.”
She was also sharply critical of the council majority, saying that with the majority in control, she fears for relatives who live in the city. “I don’t think they know what they’re doing,” she said of the council majority.
Mary Walters, like other City Hall sources, confirmed that the council majority views the city manager as too close to longtime Mayor Miguel Pulido, a perception Mary Walters said is false.
She described her husband as a fair and compassionate man who, when faced with possible layoffs, removed single mothers from the list of city employees to receive pink slips.
“They’re all ganging up on Miguel,” Mary Walters said. “There isn’t one thing that they’ve asked for that he [Paul Walters] hasn’t done.”
The council majority has for months been moving to decentralize what they say has been Pulido’s singular authority over the city bureaucracy.
Tinajero goes as far as saying that democracy in Santa Ana has for years been “dysfunctional” with Pulido at the helm and that the council is attempting to restore the council’s authority.
Walters’ appointment as city manager six months ago — the result of a yearlong effort by Pulido to gather enough council votes — came before the council majority turned and began a campaign to undercut the mayor’s influence.
The mayor’s cultivation of top bureaucrats is seen as key to his control over the levers of power at City Hall. Pulido was close to the previous city manager, Dave Ream, a dynamic that sources close to City Hall say has repeated with Walters.
About 25 people attended the public portion of the meeting, with approximately half speaking to the council to support or oppose Walters or City Attorney Sonia Carvalho, who was also on the meeting agenda for a performance evaluation.
Tinajero said, however, that the meeting focused on Walters.
Most of the speakers supported Walters and were from a group of property owners who oppose a special downtown tax. They criticized the 24-hour notice of a council meeting during a holiday week.
“I wonder how many of them [city residents] know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it?” said Herb Rose, a downtown business owner.
Walters’ supporters pointed to his more than 30 years of service with the city. He was police chief before becoming city manager. Supporters said that he understands the complexities of this city of more an 300,000 residents, a quality that they argue trumps his lack of city manager experience.
Detractors said that Walters is better suited to being police chief. The city needs a true changing of the guard and a new city manager from outside City Hall, they said.
Tinajero said during the meeting that he wanted the council majority to remember that Paul Walters pulled the city back from bankruptcy and plugged a $30-million budget hole.
Mary Walters said that at one point, Paul Walters was working day and night because the city was facing being unable to make payroll within a month — a cash flow problem that city officials, including Paul Walters, had publicly denied.