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Manteca council wants to shift authority away from city manager


The Bulletin

The majority of the Manteca City Council wants the City Clerk to be appointed by elected councils and not the city managers that they appoint.

The direction at Tuesday’s council meeting means legal counsel will draft an ordinance to do just that for the council to consider for adoption at a future meeting.

If adopted it would undo 20 years of having the city manager appoint the city clerk. For the first 81 years Manteca existed as a city, the city clerk was directly elected by the voters.

The 4-1 vote in favor of the move initiated by Councilwoman Debby Moorhead came without any public acrimony.

“I just assumed from the get go, that you always worked for the City Council,” Moorhead said of City Clerk Lisa Blackmon.

The proposal did prompt one resident, Al Moncada, to ask the council, “Why fix something that isn’t broken?”

Councilman David Breitenbucher, the lone dissenting vote, said he saw no reason to change how the city clerk was appointed “at this time.”

“If we start moving (department heads) out from under the city manager, who is next?” Breitenbucher asked. 

Breitenbucher noted the council appoints the city manager so if there was any issue with the city clerk the council could have a conversation with the city manager.

The only two positions in the city that are currently appointed by the council are the city manager and city attorney. All other department heads are appointed by the city council. Under California law the only positions that can be elected directly by the people in a city besides the council and mayor is the city clerk and city treasurer.

Both the city clerk and city treasurer were directly elected until 1999 when municipal voters approved a ballot measure given the council the authority to decide how the positions would be filled. The council at that time conveyed the power of appointment of the city clerk to the city manager by adopting an ordinance.

Mayor Ben Cantu said he was always under the impression the city clerk answered to the council.

“I had always assumed you (Blackmon) worked for the council,” Cant added. “Joann (Tilton) did. Nell Cornell did”.

He inferred that a concern he had was to make it clear to the public that the city clerk functioned as an ombudsman of sorts when she is approached by a citizen with a concern or a problem.

“The city clerk is the first person the public comes to see when they have an issue or a question,” Cantu noted. “You (Blackmon) really are a liaison between the city hall and the public.”

Moorhead brought the issue up last month as part of her concern that she wasn’t being treated the same as other council members in terms of being able to get things on the agenda or how they were placed on the agenda. After a sit down between City Manager Tim Ogden and Moorhead that Cantu acted as sort of mediator, whatever misunderstandings existed were apparently cleared up.

Among the city clerk’s duties wide array of duties is preparing and distributing the city council agendas. 

Blackmon was asked by Councilman Jose Nano whether she had a preference either way given she was currently in the positon.

Blackmon noted she came to Manteca from Napa where she worked under a city clerk that was appointed by the council

“They each have a little uniqueness,” Blackmon said.  “They both work well.”

Breitenbucher asked the city manager for his thoughts.

After saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” Ogden said he had no problem with how the city wanted to procced.

Cantu asked Ogden whether he had an issues working with Blackmon. Ogden said he did not.

Statewide, of the 79 cities between 70,000 and 129,000 residents — Manteca has about 85,000 residents — there are 22 cities with directly elected city clerks, 35 with city manager appointed city clerks, and 22 city council appointed city clerks.

Among the eight cities that Manteca compares with in terms of staff salaries and even staffing, four cities had city clerks appointed by the city council and four by the city manager. None are directly elected. The eight cities are Lodi, Elk Grove, Stockton, Modesto, Livermore, Turlock, Tracy, and Brentwood.

If the council does decide to appoint the city clerk directly, it would likely lead to the city council meeting with Blackmon to draw up an employment contract as they do with the city manager and city attorney.