By DENNIS WYATT
In an unprecedented move, Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu has called a meeting of city department heads and mid-management today to assure the city’s 400 plus employees not to worry about the fact City Manager Tim Ogden is on paid administrative.
Ogden was put on administrative leave Wednesday by the Manteca City Council. They then appointed Human Resources Director Miranda Lutzow — who has been on the municipal payroll for right around a month and hasn’t passed the 90-day mark that is usually typical for a new employee’s probation period — as the acting city manager until such time the council’s issue with Ogden is resolved.
Cantu on Saturday confirmed he had called for the meeting via-email. The mayor emphasized the purpose was to inform key personnel of what is going on as much as he legally can and to assure them it will not disrupt day-to-day city business.
In regards to Ogden, he noted there are two personnel issues. One is his annual evaluation the council started behind closed doors in February. Cantu noted after the process got underway it was suspended for six months. Ogden’s evaluation resumed two weeks ago. It was also the subject of nearly a 6 hour closed door council session on Tuesday. The council resumed the evaluation on Wednesday when Cantu said another issue came into play that prompted the council to place Ogden on paid administrative leave without pay until it could be sorted out.
That issue evolves around what may have been a procedural misstep in handling an issue involving Finance Director Jeri Tejeda who is on administrative leave as well. Cantu did not share what the nature of the issue with Tejeda involves but two sources close to the situation indicated it was an issue brought up by a finance department employee.
Vice Mayor Dave Breitenbucher Saturday said he will be in the meeting.
Councilwoman Debby Moorhead on Sunday said the council behind closed doors on Wednesday appointed Cantu and Breitenbucher as a 2-by-2 council committee to work with the acting city manager until the situation with Ogden is resolved. Moorhead said she learned by email of today’s meeting where only two council members — Cantu and Breitenbucher — are expected to be in attendance.
Moorhead anticipates the action of appointing the committee consisting of the two highest ranking council members — the mayor and vice mayor —will be formalized as an agenda item at an upcoming public meeting.
This is the first time going back at least 34 years that a meeting of department heads and mid-management has been called by a Manteca mayor. Former mayors Jack Snyder, Carlon Perry, Willie Weatherford, and Steve DeBrum said they didn’t call a similar meetings. Retired city department heads when the late Frank Warren and the late Bill Perry served as mayors confirmed there were no such meetings during the tenure of either mayor.
There was also no similar meeting called by a mayor to explain what was going on less than three years ago when then city manager Elena Reyes was placed on administrative leave and ultimately terminated by the council. The same was true back in the 1990s when then city manager Dave Jinkens was placed on administrative leave and ultimately fired as well.
Snyder noted when former City Manager Dick Jones back in the late 1990s abruptly vacated the position, the council for several days appointed him to essentially serve as acting city manager while the issue of who would run the day-to-day operations of the city was sorted out.
Cantu made it clear he was hopeful that the evaluation process that he stressed was a separate issue than the procedural question that arose with the handling of the finance director’s paid administrative leave would obtain an understanding that would allow the city to move forward in the manner directed by the council.
The current council in the past nine months has now placed almost a third of the senior management team that includes department heads and contract employees on paid administrative leave. Besides Ogden and Tejeda, Joe Kriskovich was placed in administrative leave as well. Kriskovich was eventually replaced as Human Resources Director by Lutzow who is now doing double duty as acting city manager.