Manteca Police Chief Jodie Estarziau has been placed on administrative leave.
The move by Acting City Manager Miranda Lutzow Wednesday evening came hours after she terminated Public Works Director Mark Houghton.
The Manteca City Council when they meet tonight at 6 o’clock in a closed session could also decide the employment status of City Manager Tim Ogden and Finance Director Jeri Tejeda that were placed on administrative leave in September.
In an email circulated to city employees Wednesday just minutes after the workday was completed Lutzow announced the appointment of City Clerk Lisa Blackmon as assistant city manager. Blackmon will continue serving as city clerk at this time. Deputy Public Works Director Koosun Kim was named the interim director of that department. It wasn’t clear who is acting as police chief. Typically in Estarziau’s absence one of the captains steps up.
The assistant city manager’s position was in the budget adopted in June by the City Council but wasn’t filled until now.
If Ogden and Tejeda ultimately are terminated and Estarziau doesn’t return from her leave of absence that will mean the city will have departed with two thirds of its nine-member executive staff so far this year. Community Development Director Greg Showerman resigned earlier this month to take a lower level positon at the City of Modesto. Human Resources Director Joe Kristovich was released earlier this year.
That leaves city attorney John Brinton, Fire Chief Kyle Shipherd, and Parks & Recreation Director Kevin Fant.
The decision made to put Estarziau on administrative leave came after a five-page document outlining grievances and issues concerning the police chief were sent to all five council members as well as other parties earlier on Wednesday. While there was no signature attached to the document it was presented as being from Manteca Police officers.
After listing a number of concerns the document near the end noted “if approached with guaranteed confidentiality, several officers will provide statements, even her command staff will cooperate.”
Estarziau was hired as police chief in February of 2017.
Houghton has served as public works director since July of 2007. He was hired from Tuolumne County where he served as deputy director of public works.
Under city ordinances whoever is city manager hires — and fires — all city personnel. The City Council currently hires and fires two positions — the city manager and city attorney.
That said rarely do city managers either hire or fire key staff unilaterally without sounding the decision out behind closed doors or without having a clear sense of the direction that the council wants the city to head.
Lutzow, who replaced Kristovich as human resources director, was selected by the council two months ago by the council when Ogden was placed on administrative leave. Concerns had been raised about Ogden that prompted the council to order obtaining outside legal counsel for vetting. Apparently that report is done and may be presented to the council at this evening’s closed session.
The departure of Richard Silverman who opted not to run and the defeat of Mike Morowit and former mayor Steve DeBrum significantly changed the dynamics of the council after the November 2018 election.
Mayor Ben Cantu during his successful campaign for mayor last year repeatedly expressed his intention to push for personnel changes on the grounds various concerns were not being addressed. Other council members — except for David Breitenbucher — have expressed similar views that changes were needed but not as stridently as Cantu.
One of Ogden’s initiatives was to have all city department heads sign conditions of employment that made it clear they were at will employees. That is fairly standard in California cities.
The departure of department heads as at will employees would mean they would be paid for work done as well as any cash out of vacation days and sick days that may be allowed.
Ogden, however, signed a 3½ year contract from Aug. 7, 2017 to Feb. 28, 2021 that spills out he is entitled to the balance unless one of the following 10 reasons is invoked:
If he is unable to perform his duties for a period of 60 days due to a physical or mental disability as determined by a mutually agreed pon medical doctor.
Willful destruction theft, misappropriation or misuse of city property.
Intoxication on duty — whether by alcohol or non-prescription drugs.
Conviction of a felony.
Dishonesty, fraud, or misconduct in officer or securing appointment as city manager.
Violation of any conflict of ingests law or regulation.
Violation of state or federal discrimination laws concerning race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental disability, marital status, sexual orientation, sex, or age concerning either member of the general public or city employees.
Willful retaliation against any city official or employee, or member of the general public who in good faith reports, discloses, divulges, or otherwise brings to the attention of any appropriate authority and facts or information relative to actual or suspected violations of any law occurring on the job or directly related thereto.
Violation of the city’s harassment policy as determined by a judgment, admission, or criminal conviction, or any other personnel or employment rule, policy, or procedures.
If none of those thresholds are met, should the council elect to dismiss him, taxpayers will be on the hook for severance pay.
If Ogden is terminated without cause he’d be entitled to 14 months of pay or roughly $228,000 plus accrued vacation and sick leave. That means if the council parts ways with Ogden without cause taxpayers will be on hook for more than the $240,000 the previous council spent to dismiss Ogden predecessor Elena Reyes after less than seven months on the job.
If Ogden is terminated, the council buying out city manager contracts will have cost taxpayers right around $500,000 in just 32 months.
Ogden is Manteca’s fourth city manager in 12 years since Steve Pinkerton was hired in 2007. Pinkerton departed to take a similar job in Davis and now is service as Community Services District general manager in Mountain House west of Tracy. He was replaced by longtime Manteca municipal employee Karen McLaughlin who retired prior to Reyes being hired. The city only went through two city managers in the previous 20 years — David Jinkens and Bob Adams.
Due to a variety of reasons — from a multitude of challenges of running a city to political reasons — the shelf life of the average city manager isn’t all that long. A 1998 study by reaches Stumn and Corrigan placed the national average for a city manager’s tenure between seven and eight years. More recent studies, specifically involving California cities, suggest the average tenure is now closer to three to four years.
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