Councilman Dave Breitenbucher renewed his call Tuesday for the Manteca City Council to start its search for a city manager now instead of later.
Breitenbucher was also critical of a decision by the Interim City Manager, Miranda Lutzow, to appoint Lisa Blackmon as assistant city manager without opening the position up to applicants or requiring testing. Blackmon, the former city clerk who has been acting as assistant city manager, was appointed to the position by Lutzow within days of the council creating it.
He pointed out that the city now has its top two employees — the interim city manager and the assistant city manager — with no experience running a city except for “on the job training.”
Breitenbucher said there is a pressing need to get a permanent city manager in place so that department heads can be hired. Current vacancies include community development, city clerk, public works, finance, and human resources. Whether the police chief’s position is vacant is up in the air. Lutzow placed Police Chief Jodie Estarziau on paid administrative leave five months ago within hours of receiving an anonymous letter outlining complaints against the police chief. The bottom line for taxpayers is that based on salary and benefits they have paid Estarziau close to $100,000 for not working.
Lutzow pulled up various workers in each department that were performing other tasks to serve as acting managers.
The most problematic concern is the finance department. The acting finance director resigned last month while two more employees departed this week.
The department has yet to complete an annual audit and is supposed to be months into working on a budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. Not only is there no one at the helm that has ever overseen the development of a budget but the institutional knowledge of the various departments key to developing a spending plan has been decimated.
Neither Lutzow nor Blackmon have overseen the building of a citywide budget and definitely not one with a $45.4 million general fund and an overall budget of $181.9 million once enterprise funds such as golf, water, solid waste, and wastewater plus restricted funds are tossed in.
It is against that background that Breitenbucher believes it shows a lack of due diligence by the council as a whole to make sure they put the best people possible to oversee the city’s nearly 400 employees that provide services to 85,000 people and are responsible for a $181.9 million budget.
To do that, Breitenbucher insists the city needs to open up jobs such as the city manager to all qualified candidates.
Other council members have argued that Manteca — given experiences of other cities — isn’t likely to get a lot of candidates for the job as city manager and that if they do, they likely won’t be qualified.
Prior to being tapped as the acting city manager in mid-September, Lutzow was hired as the city in July to oversee human resources and risk management.
Lutzow was made interim city manager effective Dec. 31, 2019. The council then two months later on a 4-1 vote with Breitenbucher dissenting gave Lutzow a 12-month contract through Feb. 4, 2021 to serve as city manager for $240,204. On March 17 — five weeks after the year-long contract for her to work as interim city manager was signed — Mayor Ben Cantu had a new contract brought back before the council. The new contract dropped a reference to being interim, reduces her salary by $6,696 to $233,500, and did not have a set termination date.
The council did yank the contract from the consent calendar on March 17 after technical issues made it difficult for the public to follow council actions remotely after the public was barred due to social distancing rules due to the pandemic. It is not clear when the contract will be brought back before the council for consideration.
What is clear is that Cantu and others on the council believe Lutzow is the right person at the right time to change the direction of the city.
The move to give her permanent status was seen as a way not just to make it clear that they want her as city manager but that they wanted her to put her stamp on city hall by essentially hiring the majority of senior management without having the word “interim” hanging over head.
As one council member noted all city managers are interim given they are at will employees, but the big difference is it sends a clear message to the public, developers, and employees as well as potential department heads who are being interviewed that Lutzow is not a caretaker city manager.
The council has entrusted her to lead efforts for a major
reorganization of the city creating more departments in a bid they say to
improve the efficient delivery of services and projects they expect to save
money in the long run.
As city manager she would hire those positions when the council authorizes funding for them as well as replacing department heads that have left or been terminated after she became acting city manager.
There is no law requiring councils to open up city manager positions to invite qualified candidates to apply. It is, however, considered best practice by several organizations Lutzow is a member of when it comes to human resources and city administration.
However, it is not Lutzow that sets the parameters on how to go about finding a permanent replacement for Tim Ogden. That is a decision reserved for the majority of the council.
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