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The city managers residency requirements
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Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
The dictionary defines “farce” as “a ridiculous situation in which everything goes wrong or becomes a sham.” Is there a more fitting word to describe the twists and turns and creative manipulations of the city residency law regarding City Manager Steve Pinkerton? Sunday (Oct. 18), the Bulletin’s bold, front-page headline proclaimed, “Council violated Manteca law.” Despite the assertion that there isn’t any contract violation because the contract isn’t technically specific, stating only that, “employee shall establish his residence in the city of Manteca during his term of employment,” it is clear that a municipal ordinance, in effect at that time, required the city manager” to establish residence within Manteca’s city limits within 180 days of starting the job.” In addition, flyers advertising the position made mention of the requirement for an accepted applicant to move to Manteca if hired. In his defense, Pinkerton claimed (and was backed by the Mayor) that during an April 2008 interview “he made it clear there were personal issues that would prevent him from moving to Manteca for a number of years unless the situation was resolved.” So what did the city council, obviously impressed with Pinkerton, do? On Nov. 17, 2008, the council changed the ordinance wording from the 180 days requirement to “within a reasonable time.” Now, ordinances and policies that one council crafts and supports are legally fair game for future councils to revisit, revise or even completely abolish. The problem I have with this concerns the timing and manner in which this current council enacted its changes. The council had to be aware of the city residency ordinance, since the residency requirement was outlined in the flyers seeking city manager candidates. So, in April 2008, when they felt Mr. Pinkerton had the best qualifications for the job but knew that he could not relocate to Manteca for “a number of years,” how did our council respond? They waited until the last few weeks before the 180 days expired to deal with this issue by revising the ordinance.

Dennis Wyatt’s conjecture was that in June 2008 the city council either “forgot a loose end due to possible political ramifications or brazenly ignored a Manteca ordinance despite City Attorney John Brinton signing off on Pinkerton’s contract.” Either way, that is an obvious embarrassment for city officials. Dropping the ball, ignoring the ordinance, or shoddy contract research do not excuse such a poor performance of civic duty. I am also critical of the ordinance’s wording change. Can the words, “within a reasonable time,” be any more vague or result in any less accountably? That word change makes a mockery of the ordinance by essentially rendering it meaningless. Fortunately, our city manager wasn’t promised “a reasonable salary.” Just think of the ensuing complications or numerous interpretations that would encourage.

Seriously, I’m disappointed that our council acted in such a less-than-forthright manner. There are two views about the city manager’s required residency in Manteca. One argument stresses that a city manager, charged with the responsibility of recommending policy decisions to the city council, would be more sensitive to the repercussions of his actions and advise if he actually lived within the community that these policies affect. Working in Manteca and possibly eating at local restaurants is not the same, the theory goes, as living here, buying groceries and gas, paying property taxes, sewer, water, and utility bills, and dealing with the same safety issues his fellow Manteca citizens face. The other position counters that a city manager can be effective and responsive, regardless of his city of residence. A good case could be made for either side. So, if the city council believed, back in April or June 2008, that Pinkerton was the best candidate, despite his inability to live in Manteca, why didn’t the council, at that time, simply and openly change the ordinance to, “residency in the City of Manteca is no longer a requirement for the position of city manager and shall be deleted from the job description”? That’s clear and to the point. If the council avoided such action because they feared political fall-out then they demonstrated a profound lack of political courage and backbone that our city representatives should display. Although having a city manager who resides in Manteca does have distinct and definite advantages, I don’t really care whether he lives here or not. What I do care about is having rules bent for a favored few or ordinances conveniently ignored, then amended to be essentially unenforceable.

On Monday (Oct. 20) the Bulletin publicized the latest development which makes this situation even more of a fiasco. It turns out that the city’s residency law violates the California constitution. Apparently, for the last 6 years there has been a state government code that “makes it illegal for local jurisdictions to make a requirement that any local government employee...reside within the boundaries of the agency or district.” So the city’s legal counsel signed off on Pinkerton’s June 2008 contract and the Nov. 2008 ordinance amendment not realizing that the requirement wasn’t in compliance within state laws. That little “oops” reflects badly both on the city’s legal representation and the city council.  A state law affecting local jurisdictions is changed 6 years ago and our city officials remained blissfully ignorant of this fact until our local “rabble-rousers” (those who refused to play the city’s game) started the chain reaction that brought this issue to light. A playwright really couldn’t have created a better farce. But it’s not actually funny for Manteca’s citizens.
Karen Pearsall
October 20, 2009