The Anaheim City Council’s agenda for Tuesday might have been shaken up because of some confusion about exactly when resigning City Manager Bob Wingenroth is stepping down and ceding control of the city’s bureaucracy to a department head.
When Wingenroth first announced his resignation earlier this month, a city news release stated it would be effective June 7.
But last week Wingenroth sent an email to city officials indicating that he had departed and left Marcie Edwards, general manager of public utilities, at the helm, according to Mayor Tom Tait.
Yet by the end of the week, Wingenroth was still city manager.
“I just left City Hall, and he was there. I don’t know exactly what his status is,” Tait said when asked last week. Tait said that despite Wingenroth’s memo, the city manager will likely “stay until the next meeting.”
At one point last week, when it seemed as if Wingenroth might be out the door, the agenda included a vote on the highly controversial $158-million subsidy for two local hoteliers.
Wingenroth had opposed the subsidy when it was first proposed, arguing in a staff report that the deal set an unsustainable precedent. Under the original proposal, the developer would keep 80 percent of the four-star hotels’ room tax revenue for 15 years with the other 20 percent dedicated to resort district bonds.
Nonetheless, the council majority passed the subsidy in January 2012, with Tait and then-Councilwoman Lorri Galloway voting no. The subsidy vote was the first visible crack in what has become a deeply divided council.
Then in December after nearly a year of controversy, an Orange County Superior Court judge voided the subsidy vote, saying it violated the state’s open meetings law, known as the Ralph M. Brown Act.
Since the court decision, the council majority, led by Councilwoman Kris Murray, has been clear in its intent to bring the subsidy back up for a revote. There has been talk about changing the terms of the deal, though not by much, and City Hall observers have wondered aloud whether Wingenroth would again recommend against the subsidy.
For a while last week, it seemed the council majority may have had a chance to appoint an interim city manager who would back the subsidy. But by Monday it was clear that Wingenroth would remain for at least another month or so.
City spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz wrote in an email to Voice of OC that the intent of the memo was to inform city officials that Edwards would be assisting in the leadership transition.
“Bob felt it in the best interest of the organization to quickly identify an executive leader to allow for a smooth transition period,” Ruiz wrote.
“Bob’s resignation date remains effective June 7. Between now and that date, Marcie will support the City Manager’s Office, Bob and his City Manager responsibilities while maintaining her current role as [Anaheim Public Utilities general manager.]”
At some point late last week, the subsidy item was taken off the agenda. The episode was confusing enough to trip up one local media organization. On Sunday, The Orange County Register mistakenly reported that council members would have an opportunity Tuesday to reject the subsidy in a critical editorial piece.
Wingenroth has been praised for his bright and compassionate personality, but on the other side of this gentle nature is a man frazzled by controversy. He becomes visibly uncomfortable when questioned about tough issues at City Hall.
Yet Wingenroth has never publicly confirmed that the council acrimony prompted his resignation. A city news release cites as his reason wanting to move to Arizona to be closer to his extended family.
But it is clear that the city’s toxic political climate has affected the city’s staff.
“People don’t like to be on the seventh floor” of City Hall, where the city manager’s and council members’ offices are located, said former Councilwoman Lorri Galloway in a previous interview. “People can feel the tension. You can cut it with a knife.
“It is absolutely terrible, and this city manager could not deal with it.”