Mayor Ben Cantu intends to meet with City Manager Tim Ogden and Councilwoman Debby Moorhead today to clear up a dust up between the two.
Moorhead at Tuesday’s council meeting referenced her comments made earlier this week about feeling she was being “discriminated” against by Ogden compared to his interactions with the other members of the council who are all men by saying there “clearly has been a misunderstanding.”
The issue arose over how Moorhead’s request at a previous meeting to have staff research options on how the city clerk can be appointed — by the council or the city manager. The position has been appointed by the city manager since 2000 after the voters in a 1999 special election allowed the city clerk position to be appointed instead of directly elected by the voters.
Ogden placed the city clerk issue on the agenda Tuesday asking for guidance from the entire council to proceed with such research given it could lead to a significant policy decision. Two items that other council members asked at the last meeting to be brought back, the creation of committees regarding affordable housing and the city’s government lobbyist, were placed on Tuesday’s agenda for potential council implementation.
Ogden stressed to the Bulletin that the only reasons for the difference in how the three requests were brought back to the council was due to the scope of the issues and the fact multiple members had weighed in already on being in favor of pursuing committees but only Moorhead brought up and commented on examining how the city clerk is appointed.
The council on Tuesday unanimously voted to have staff research the city clerk appointment options without touching on Moorhead’s concern she had been treated differently.
The next item happened to be city manager comments prompting Ogden saying he wanted to bring up “the elephant in the room” in reference to Moorhead’s concerns and comments.
At that point City Attorney John Brinton intervened noting discussions about city employee performances should not be done in an open forum, in public, or in the press given labor laws and legal considerations.
Brinton emphasized that miscues in terms of how elected officials and staff interact with each other needs to be addressed “frankly before it develops into a full blown mushroom cloud.”
To illustrate the point, Brinton referenced the events that led to the 1982 recall of Mayor Trena Kelly as well as council members Bob Davis and Rick Wentworth and the subsequent fallout that lingered for close to 20 years before the political acrimony dissipated.
In that case the council at the time had moved to combine the police chief and fire chief into a public safety oversight position that resulted in Leonard Taylor being laid off. Taylor was the police chief at the time.
That triggered the circulation of a petition to restore Taylor as police chief that Brinton said was signed by 7,500 people — not all registered voters or city residents — at a time when Manteca had 26,000 residents.
Brinton recalled council members made comments publically that were quoted by four newspapers at the time — the Manteca Bulletin, the Manteca News, the Stockton Record, and the Modesto Bee — that were focused on their perceptions of Taylor’s job performance and such. That, along with the refusal of the majority of the council to reinstate Taylor, led to the successful recall.
“My fear is we are starting down that path,” Brinton said.
When another member of the council suggested they go into closed session to discuss it further, Cantu stepped up.
“Can we just sit down at Starbucks and the three of us (Ogden, Moorhead and Cantu) talk about it?” Cantu asked.
Both Ogden and Moorhead were amenable to the three sitting down to discuss things. Moorhead and Ogden both said they have been in communication since the issue first arose on Monday.
Cantu said he would call the two today and arrange a meeting for the three of them to talk things out.
At one point when a citizen in the audience, Al Moncada, kept trying to comment on the issue, Cantu repeatedly told him to be quiet.
When Moncada asserted he had a right to be heard saying it was “the people’s meeting” when Cantu said it was the council’s meeting and that Moncada had already been heard previously on other items, the mayor threatened to have him physically ejected if he didn’t quiet down.
The council allows people to comment at the start of the meeting on items not on the agenda as well as during public hearings and often on other items as well. They are subject to three minute time limits although there is no policy on how many different agenda items they can comment on.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org