The Santa Ana City Council on Tuesday will continue with its evaluation of City Manager Paul Walters, and could decide on his dismissal.
By RON GONZALES / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
SANTA ANA – The City Council in closed session on Tuesday will continue its performance evaluation of City Manager Paul M. Walters on Tuesday, as well as his potential dismissal.
The matter was placed on the agenda by four members of the council. It would take five votes, under the city charter, to fire Walters, who was appointed in June.
“My gut tells me there will be a resolution,” said Councilman Sal Tinajero, the mayor pro tem. “I don’t think the City Council wants to belabor this with so many things coming before us. This is something that we have to resolve this week.”
Streams of supporters of Walters, who had been the city’s longtime police chief, have appeared before the council at its last two sessions. The first, a special closed session on the chief’s performance, was called two days after Christmas.
Placing the issue on Tuesday’s agenda were Tinajero and fellow council members David Benavides, Michele Martinez and Vincent F. Sarmiento.A potential ally is Councilman Roman A. Reyna, who recently said he is evaluating what he’s heard and with the other four is part of a bloc dubbed “Santa Ana spring.” Councilwoman Angelica Amezcua, acknowledging the concerns of her colleagues, declined to comment.
With several major issues facing the city in coming weeks, timing will be a concern with either keeping Walters on-board, or parting ways. Among those are the budget process, negotiations with the Service Employees International Union and the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, potential settlement with Downtown Inc. over the fate of the property-based improvement district – known as the PBID – and resolution of a dispute with the state Department of Finance, which has demanded that the city fork over $54 million that Santa Ana contends it must use for low- and moderate-income housing.
“That’s even more of a reason to have a conversation and see if change needs to be made,” Tinajero said.
Mayor Miguel Pulido said Walters wants to stay on the job, and to lose him now would be detrimental to the city.
“To fire him at this time is a grave mistake,” Pulido said. “I am going to do what I can to support the city manager and hopefully get my colleagues to have a change of heart, and to see the virtue in his work…This is absolutely the time for strong experienced leadership, and that is what Paul offers. I hope everyone understands that and acts responsibly.”
Both Tinajero and Benavides said it’s too early to say whether the city and Walters will be parting ways.
“The intent is to continue the review, but to have every option open,” Benavides said. “We want to make sure that the right people are in the right positions, so that as we look at the future of the city, and specifically the future of the city manager, that we have an aligned vision, and there’s discussion around that.”
In connection with their vision of the city and its governance, the four-member council members have repeatedly cited the same issue – communication between staff and the council.
“Some staff in particular only do the work of the mayor, and that’s been the culture of the city,” said Tinajero. Pulido has been mayor for 18 years, and worked for years alongside Walters’ predecessor, David Ream, and other top officials.
“Those people worked together as a team for a long time to the detriment of wonderful projects that could have served the city,” Tinajero said. For example, streets were improved, but only after the new council majority came into office after the 2006 election, he contended.
“When it comes to Pulido, for him it’s a power struggle,” Tinajero said. “He’s holding on to anything he can possibly hold onto. He needs to get out of the way. As long as he gets in the way, and staff allows him to get in the way of progress, then we’ll have issues. So those are the issues we’ll be discussing.”
Tinajero also cited the PBID as an area where the council didn’t get a clear picture from staff.
“The PBID was not a bad idea. I’ve never been opposed to having the PBID, but the bad idea was the way it was implemented,” he said, “and was because staff didn’t give us all the information, the true pros and cons, and now we’re left having to fix problems. I don’t want to go through that again.”
On the council agenda are an ordinance that would dismantle the PBID, which relied on property assessments, and revive a business improvement district that relied on business license surcharges for marketing and other efforts aimed at boosting downtown business.
A lingering concern for some council members is that Walters was appointed without completion of a national search.
“I personally thought a search would be the best option,” Benavides said. Pulido and former councilwoman Claudia Alvarez, he said, contended the search should be suspended and then canceled. “They were able to convince enough of members of the council to do that. So that’s what we did.”
In connection with the dispute with the Department of Finance, which came on the heels of the statewide dismantling of redevelopment agencies, Walters said he met with state officials on Wednesday and was notified the next day that the city could expect changes in the state’s position.
Whatever the council decides, the city’s elected leaders say they can expect a strong reaction. Benavides said he’s heard from both sides on the future of the city manager.
“I’m putting a lot of thought into it,” he said. “I’ve been talking to the city manager, and thinking through the future of the city…It’s not going to be easy.”
The City Council meeting begins 5:45 p.m. on Tuesday in the chamber at 22 Civic Center Plaza. Call 714-647-6520.
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