Miranda Lutzow has turned out to be an extremely expensive hire for the City of Manteca.
The actions of the former city manager led to the most expensive settlement with a departed city employee in Manteca’s history.
Former Fire Chief Kyle Shipherd’s lawsuit regarding a hostile employment was settled by the Manteca City Council for $499,000.
Shipherd was terminated by Lutzow 28 days before her abrupt resignation in February.
And unlike six-figure settlements with previous senior management team members terminated or who resigned under alleged duress during the 17 months Lutzow was either permanent or interim city manager, every penny of the settlement is on the back of Manteca taxpayers.
That’s because when Lutzow took various personnel actions against Shipherd it was done without consulting legal counsel — either the city’s own attorney or lawyers with the pool agency that provides municipal liability insurance.
The city Tuesday issued a statement indicating they have “taken steps to insure it will not take place again” in reference to any future city manager acting unilaterally to terminate an employee.
The money to pay Shipherd will likely come from general fund reserves at a time the council is under increasing pressure to deliver on a number of expensive projects ranging from street upgrades to effective homeless solutions that are competing for limited funding.
On Lutzow’s watch settlements with departing senior management team members and the legal cost involved have soared way past $1 million. The previous payoffs, unlike the one in on involving Shipherd, have been a mixture of city and insurance funds.
Lutzow not following what are essentially best practices when it comes to personnel and insurance coverage issues is made even more stunning given she stepped into the position of city manager from running Manteca’s Human Resources Department.
Not only did Lutzow have to be schooled in personnel issues to run the department but she also oversaw the city’s risk management and insurance coverage along with managing the city’s information and technology division.
Ironically the only remaining upper level personnel issue from the Lutzow era involving departed employees is a lawsuit she filed against the city claiming a hostile work environment.
Lutzow resigned in February catching Mayor Ben Cantu and her most staunch supporters on the council by surprise.
A month later she filed a claim against the city that is the legally required precursor for suing a public entity in California. In that claim she specifically accused Councilman Dave Breitenbucher of creating a hostile workplace.
The claim made reference to several incidents including the involvement of Breitenbucher with a personnel matter and her efforts to oversee Shipherd.
The city manager runs the city while hiring, firing and supervising department heads that are in charge of the day-to-day tasks and moving council directed projects forward.
Council members have no direct management of municipal employees except the city manager and city attorney both of which they hire and fire. Even then the only authority a council member has to assert their will is if and when a majority of the elected body acts as one.
In a lawsuit filed in San Joaquin County Superior Court Breitenbucher was not singled out as he was in the claim and the initial filing.
Breitenbucher did support making Lutzow acting city manager when the council in September 2019 put then city manager Tim Ogden on paid administrative. Ironically the other potential appointee to serve as acting city manager was the senior most member of the city’s executive management team was Shipherd who was in the chambers at the time Ogden was removed.
However when it came to making Lutzow the interim city manager and then the permanent city manager Breitenbucher was the only dissenting vote as Lutzow was supported by the Cantu, Debby Moorhead, Jose Nuño, and Gary Singh.
Charlie Halford was not on the council when Lutzow was extended contracts. He was elected in November 2020 running on a fiscal responsibility platform that pinpointed miscues Halford believed happen on Lutzow’s watch. The most egregious was Lutzow’s decision to grant municipal employees three extra days off during the holidays and her assurance it wouldn’t cost the city a dime. It ended up costing more than $200,000 in overtime given police, firefighters and other essential workers needed to have replacement workers when they took the extra days of.
The timing of the settlement is also essential.
With Toby Wells starting as city manager on Sept. 16, it clears up all remaining big personnel lawsuits except Lutzow’s. That will allow Wells not only to hire a permanent fire chief but to also start moving the city forward with a clean slate.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org