Santa Ana city leaders apparently reached consensus Monday on appointing an interim city manager to fill the slot left open by the firing of City Manager Paul Walters.
Council members emerged from their closed session just after 7 p.m. and announced they had reached a decision but said they couldn’t disclose the candidate’s name because they were still negotiating terms.
City Councilwoman Michele Martinez said the new interim city manager’s name would be made public in about a week.
At 8:20 p.m., council members went back into closed session for about 20 minutes, ultimately emerging with no action reported.
With the city manager’s chair left visibly empty, it was unclear at Monday’s meeting who is running the city’s bureaucracy.
Walters was fired last month in an assertion of power by the council’s new majority. City Hall observers believe Walters was pushed out as part of a campaign to undercut longtime Mayor Miguel Pulido’s influence over the city bureaucracy.
Pulido was the lone vote against the decision to begin Walters’ termination process.
Walters’ ouster came with plenty of confusion over the process and uncertainty about the terms of his departure.
Under the deal he ultimately struck with the council, Walters will retain his police commissioner title, essentially a liaison position. The specific responsibilities he will have in that role are yet to be announced.
Whoever fills his slot will face a challenging next few months as the council searches for a permanent replacement.
A report last year by a team of public and private social health consultants found that Santa Ana ranks lowest or nearly at the bottom among Orange County cities in just about every economic, community and physical health indicator. Those include poverty among children, violent crime, unemployment, crowded living conditions and park availability.
The city also faces a revenue problem, with one of the lowest general fund revenues per capita in Orange County and ongoing costs like $9 million in yearly debt payments on the police headquarters and city jail.
Over the coming weeks Santa Ana residents will have an opportunity for formulating a citywide vision for tackling these tough issues. City officials will be holding strategic planning meetings with the community for the first time in recent memory.
Martinez also publicly pledged on Monday that the city would involve residents in its search for a permanent city manager.
“We want to be transparent in that process,” said Martinez. “This is your city manager.”
Staff writer Adam Elmahrek contributed to this report.