Anaheim City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to appoint Chris Zapata as the new city manager, ending a more than year-long leadership transition where three top executive roles were filled by temporary replacements.
Zapata, who will begin working for Anaheim August 6, was the city manager of San Leandro until he left July 10 with a $350,000 severance deal. While city manager, Zapata was accused of sexual harassment by the leader of a local nonprofit, but a four-month investigation by a lawyer hired by the city determined the accusations weren’t credible.
Mayor Tom Tait, the only member of the council to comment on the appointment, said the council took the allegations against Zapata seriously and waited until San Leandro’s investigation was complete before hiring him.
“It would be unfair to not give a job to someone …we thought was the best candidate because of an allegation that an investigation found not to be true,” said Tait. “We are looking forward to Chris Zapata joining us…we all know this is a very, very important decision.”
Tait also thanked Acting City Manager Linda Andal, who will return to her duties as city clerk, for serving in the role during the search process.
Zapata has 36 years of experience in the public sector. Prior to San Leandro, Zapata was the city manager of National City, in San Diego County, for eight years and at two Arizona cities, Eloy and Superior. He was also deputy city manager in Glendale, Arizona.
In San Leandro, he oversaw the relocation of a 216-bed Kaiser Permanente hospital from a neighboring city and a public-private partnership to build the 52-acre Monarch Bay Shoreline, a development which will begin construction next year. In Arizona, he also worked on developing the University of Phoenix stadium, according to city staff.
The city council, led by Tait, forced former City Manager Paul Emery to resign last July, citing differences in vision between Emery and the current city council majority. In April, the council also appointed a new city attorney, Robert Fabela, after firing the last city attorney – the father of a then-city councilman Jordan Brandman’s aide and campaign manager — after less than a month on the job.
Last month, the council also appointed a new police chief, former UCI chief Jorge Cisneros, after the negotiated departure of former Chief Raul Quezada.
Zapata will have a $291,000 annual salary and receive a $9,000 stipend for moving costs and $12,000 relocation stipend, money meant to offset the cost of relocating from Northern California while he searches for a permanent home, said city spokesman Mike Lyster. Zapata intends to live in Anaheim.
The allegations of sexual misconduct against Zapata were made by Rose Padilla Johnson, the chief executive officer of the Davis Street Family Resource Center in San Leandro. Johnson accused Zapata of inappropriate behavior including romantic invitations, comments about her appearance and gifts of music mix tapes with overtly sexual lyrics. She also alleged Zapata suggested she engage in a romantic relationship in exchange for facilitating a $1.5 million city loan to her nonprofit.
Zapata strongly denied the accusations, and after a four-month investigation cleared him of misconduct, was reinstated by the City Council.
He left the Alameda County city this month. A San Leandro city official said Zapata was not asked by the city council to leave.
According to Lyster, after legal fees, his accrued vacation time and taxes are subtracted, Zapata will donate the rest of his $350,000 severance to San Leandro-based nonprofits.
While city manager of National City, Zapata, the mayor of National City and others were named in a lawsuit by an African American city finance employee, Alison Hunter.
Hunter accused then-mayor Nick Inzunza of removing non-Hispanic employees from their roles to replace them with Hispanic employees. She claimed Zapata and other employees engaged in race, age and sex-based retaliation and discrimination against her, and cited instances where Zapata allegedly retaliated against her and made inappropriate remarks about her marital status.
The city ultimately settled the case for $99,500, but continued to deny all of the allegations brought by Hunter.
Robert Williams, a former Anaheim city council candidate who currently is running for Mayor, was the only public speaker to criticize Zapata’s appointment.
“When you have a shadow living over you, as this gentleman does, do we really want that in our city?” Williams said. “I think it would really behoove the city to either delay the appointment of a city manager or look into reopening the process.”
Contact Thy Vo at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.