It appears Miranda Lutzow is getting ready to sue the City of Manteca.
The former city manager who unexpectedly resigned Feb. 26 and moved back to Canada has filed a claim against the city.
If someone wants to sue a municipality in California they must initially submit a claim. Once the governing body rejects a claim the litigant can then seek relief through the court system.
The City Council on Tuesday met in a closed session.
When the council went to the closed session Councilman Dave Breitenbucher recused himself without elaborating.
Once the four remaining council members concluded discussing potential exposure to litigation behind closed doors as they legally can in California, they came back into open session. The vote was 4-0 to reject the claim. The vote to do so included Mayor Cantu as well as council members Gary Singh, Charlie Halford, and Jose Nuño.
That vote has set the stage to allow Lutzow to sue the city apparently in connection with her employment for 16½ months as city manager.
When Lutzow resigned there was no severance payments such as the city forked out with the previous two city managers who departed ways with the city — Elena Reyes and Tim Ogden. Between the two previous city managers, the city issued final combined checks in excess of $400,000.
When Lutzow departed she had completed just over 10 months of her three-year contract. If you combined the time she was acting and interim she will have served 16½ months in the city manager’s post. Manteca, with Lutzow’s departure, had gone through three city managers in 4 years and 5 months.
*Reyes started in August 2016 and was put on paid administrative leave four months later. She was dismissed seven months after she was hired. Greg Showerman, who was community development director when Reyes was put on administrative leave, served as acting city manager and then interim city manager until Ogden was hired.
*Ogden was hired in 2017. After being placed on administrative leave in September 2019, Ogden and the council agreed to mutually part ways in December 2019, some 2½ years after he was hired. Lutzow, who was the human resources director at the time, served as acting city manager from mid-September 2019 until January 2020 when she was made interim city manager.
*Lutzow served eight months as either acting or interim city manager until April 2021 when she was hired as city manager on a three year contract.
Manteca is now on its fourth person carrying the city manager title since January 2019. After Ogden and Lutzow, Assistant City Manager Lisa Blackmon was appointed acting city manager after Lutzow’s departure, and last month Michael Harden was appointed interim city manager after Blackmon indicated she was accepting an assistant city manager’s job in Waco, Texas, in June.
Harden will be interim city manager until the council hires a permanent city manager.
Clean sweep of senior
Lutzow was the architect of the senior management overhaul that has effectively replaced every department head since mid-September of 2019 when she stepped into the role as acting city manager.
The last remaining department head that was in place — former Fire Chief Kyle Shipherd — departed from city employment on Feb. 1.
The only department head back in September of 2019 who is still on the city’s employ is current Assistant City Manager Lisa Blackmon. She was the city clerk. But when she leaves in June that means all permanent department heads in Manteca will have had less than a year with the city.
Lutzow did more than just replace department heads as they either retired, opted to go elsewhere or “mutually agreed to part ways” — a euphemism for being forced out.
She also led a reorganization that included adding departments. That ranged from creating an engineering department to keep more work in-house and to turn around public works projects quicker to elevating information and technology to department status instead of having it under the wings of the human resources director.
Lutzow also oversaw the creation of Manteca’s in-house legal department in the city’s 103-year history after the retirement of John Brinton as the contract city attorney. L. David Nefouse’s first day on the job was Feb. 1.
There also were a number of mid-management and other positons that were created in March 2020. Many weren’t filled, however, due to the pandemic emergency. Positons that were filled included adding a deputy city manager.
The city is currently searching for a permanent police chief although that search has been suspended until the permanent city manager is on board. They have yet to start the search for permanent department heads for fire, finance, as well as recreation and community services.
Lutzow drew criticism for many of her moves.
The personnel changes she made were based on her own judgment. City managers are hired to oversee the day-to-day operations and to carry out policies and goals of elected leaders acting in the majority. The only city personnel hired and fired directly by the city council is the city manager and city attorney.
That said the management structural changes and their funding must be approved by elected officials.
The council clearly did not disapprove of her handling of the removal and hiring of department heads as the majority on a 4-1 vote in April 2020 gave her a three-year contract as city manager by ending her interim status.
The only dissension was Councilman Breitenbucher. He had been openly critical of some of her decisions and pushed for an open recruitment process for the city manager’s job stressing he did not believe Lutzow had enough experience.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com