Tom Butt
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  The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight
July 25, 2019

In an unlikely collaboration of the strangest of bedfellows, the “Gang of Four” who fired Carlos Martinez turned out to be actually the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. As East Bay Express journalist John Geluardi wrote in “Richmond City Council Haplessly Fires City Manager,” “The four councilmembers who voted to cancel Martinez’s contract apparently had not thought through their action because they did not have an interim city manager ready to take over, and the one person who they put forward to be acting city manager, Community Services Director Rochelle Polk, refused the position when she found out about it Wednesday morning.”

City Council member Jael Myrick called the action “hasty … in an irresponsible way,” and “the unions’ demand to fire Martinez ‘so abruptly’ was ‘unreasonable.’”

The termination came to a head in a closed session beginning at about 10:30 PM, following the July 23 City Council meeting, where the City Council voted 4-3 to terminate City Manager Carlos Martinez. Voting in favor were City Council members Bates, Martinez, Willis and Johnson (the “Gang of Four”). Opposed were Butt, Choi and Myrick. The same motion included appointing Community Services Director Rochelle Polk as acting city manager.

Apparently, no one had notified Rochelle Polk beforehand that she was being considered or asked her if she would accept the position. She declined, leaving the city in perhaps a situation never before experienced, without a designated city manager, acting, interim or assistant. So, on the morning of July 24, the City of Richmond woke up to find itself both rudderless and powerless. City employees are still wandering around with glazed eyes wondering who is in charge, who is going to sign critical documents, and who is making decisions.

Although I was tempted, after the termination, to let those who abandoned ship to fend for themselves, I acted quickly to set a special city council meeting for 10:00 AM, July 27, to address the issue of an interim city manager. How long the process of finding a new city manager will take is unknown, but it is likely to be measured in months. To complicate matters, the City Council is now on its annual August break and is not scheduled to meet again until September 10. The timing of this unfortunate action could not have been worse. Former City Manager Bill Lindsay announced his retirement on March 5, 2018. Some six months later, City Manager Carlos Martinez of East Pao Alto was chosen to succeed Lindsay but could not actually take office until October of 2018. The entire process of recruiting and installing a new city manager took almost eight months.

The obvious question, of course, is why was City Manager Carlos Martinez fired?  I cannot relate details of the discussions that took place in closed session, but I can share my perceptions of what precipitated the termination.

First of all, let’s look at the positon of city manager as defined by the Charter, Article IV, Sec 1:

Sec. 1. (Amended at election April 14, 1953) City Manager. (a) The City Manager shall be chosen by the Council solely on the basis of his executive and administrative qualifications with special reference to his actual experience in, or his knowledge of, accepted practice in respect to the duties of his office as hereinafter set forth. At the time of his appointment, he need not be a resident of the City or State, but during his tenure of office he shall reside within the City.
(b) The City Manager shall be the chief executive officer and the head of the administrative branch of the City Government. He shall be responsible to the Council for the proper administration of all affairs of the City and to that end, subject to the personnel provisions of this Charter, he shall have power and shall be required to:
(1) Appoint and, when necessary for the good of the service, remove all department heads and employees of the City except as otherwise provided by the provisions pertaining to Personnel Administration of this Charter and except as he may authorize the head of a department to appoint and remove subordinates in such department;
(2) Prepare the budget annually and submit it to the Council and be responsible for its administration after adoption;
(3) Prepare and submit to the Council as of the end of the fiscal year a complete report on the finances and administrative activities of the City for the preceding year;
(4) Keep the Council advised of the financial condition and future needs of the City and make such recommendations as may seem to him desirable;
(5) Perform such other duties as may be prescribed by this Charter or required of him by the Council, not inconsistent with this Charter.

At the heart of the job description are administration, management, finance and budget. There is nothing in there about making unions happy, being accessible, delivering only good news, pandering to council members, being an astute politician or warm fuzzies. The Charter sticks to the business of running a City with a budget now in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

At the end of the day, however, the city manager has to be able to count to four, and the reality is that at least some council members expect the city manager to be a renaissance person, making everyone happy (particularly unions and city council members), showing up at every neighborhood and civic event, meeting with anyone any time and magically delivering, year after year, good bond ratings, budget surpluses and raises for everyone,

The root of the termination action, as you might guess, is the same as the root of all evil -- money. Two city employee unions, SEIU Local 1021 and IFPTE Local 21 are without contracts, and negotiations are ongoing (At least they were before the city manager was terminated). Both unions want a raise of around 4% or more to address recent increases in the Consumer Price Index, a fair request if the city had the money. The City has offered 1%, and that was what was reflected in the budget adopted by the City Council just a month ago. The City simply does not have the money for a larger increase at this time. No city council member suggested, publicly at least, that we build additional raises into the budget or suggested where that money would come from. Not their problem.

The other two main unions, police and fire, are not up for contract renewal, but they have “me too” clauses in their current contracts that allow them to share any raises given to other bargaining units.

Even though the City Council, including the Gang of Four, adopted the budget, the unions blamed the city manager, not the city council, for not delivering the requested raises. And city councilmembers piled on, blaming the city manager for not “working with the unions” to find the money. Instead of focusing on the real problems, which are revenue and expenses, union members complained to councilmembers that the city manager was not “listening” to them, not “working with them,” not “communicating,” not being “transparent,” hiding information, lying, ignoring their grievances, showing a lack of leadership and much more.

Instead of focusing on money, city councilmembers, needing to sacrifice someone other than themselves, began to attack the city manager like a pack of feral pit bulls, determined to throw him under the bus and destroy him.

There are some other sideshows that contributed to the union discontent. In late 2018, a management audit of the Police Department was made public, finding, “…problems in the Richmond Police Department’s management, including a lack of vision, widespread low morale and poor communication from the top.” The discontent of the Richmond Police Officers Association has only gotten worse since then, and they blame Martinez for not terminating Chief Allwyn Brown. To make matters worse, Police Chief Brown is about to wed Finance Director Belinda Warner, raising both questions and persistent rumors about conflicts of interest and inappropriate influence. At one point, according to various sources, Warner was approving credit card charges by Brown that were contrary to City regulations and authorizations. When queried about this, City Manager Martinez replied that he was now reviewing the chief’s expenditures personally, and the Finance Department was no longer in the loop, thus removing the potential conflict of interest. But this was not enough.

In the budget drafting process, City Manager Carlos Martinez did what city managers typically do, challenged his department heads to come up with expenditure plans that matched anticipated revenues. When they stalled out at about a $2- $3 million shortfall, Martinez proposed something that at any other time would have drawn union applause -- reorganizing the city staff while cutting positions at the very top. Cutting at the top has been a union mantra as long as I can remember. His rationale was that he could cut relatively few high-paying positions to save a lot of money while preserving all the lower paying positions where the work of fixing streets, mowing weeds and walking beats actually gets done.

Instead, he was met with a fusillade of opposition from all unions, including those representing top management, as well as the city council, banding together to preserve the status quo. Picked out for special criticism was the proposed elimination of Human Resources Director Lisa Stephenson, a union favorite because of her reputation – right or wrong -- for taking special care of union members. City Manager Martinez eventually backed off and found some creative ways to barely balance the budget without layoffs.

During, and even after the budget process, rumors of misrepresentations and conspiracies by the city manager were rife. For example:

  • Urban myth No. 1 : The City manager is moving revenue into reserves instead of using it for raises. This is not true. Even as recently as July 23, Ben Therriault of the Richmond Police Officers Association wrote on Facebook: “The reserve is going to be above 15%.”  That is not true. Our reserves are about 7%.
  • Urban myth No. 2: There are many positions in the budget that remain unfilled, providing a cash pool from which raises could be funded. This is not true. At any given time, the city has unfilled positions due to retirements and resignations. These are typically critical union positions such as police officers, firefighters, librarians and groundskeepers that, if left unfilled, would result in diminished service for residents. Recruitment is ongoing, and the positions are expected to be filled. There is no extra money here. When the city manager proposed to actually eliminate high-paying top-level positions, he was met with a buzz saw of opposition.
  • Urban myth No 3: HR Director Lisa Stephens was fired. Recently Human Resources Director Lisa Stephenson was placed on paid administrative leave pending review of a personal matter that remains confidential due to legal personnel requirements. The measures were taken in accordance with advice from legal counsel to protect Ms. Stephenson, but the unions turned this instead into evidence of a conspiracy orchestrated by the city manager to terminate Ms. Stephenson. There is still widespread belief among City employees (and until recently by city councilmembers) that Stephenson was terminated, which is not true.
  • Urban myth No. 4: The city manager delayed release of the CAFR to stymie the unions’ ability to engage effectively in the budget process. When the unions were dragging their feet on engaging in the budget process, they blamed it on failure of the city manager to provide the most recent (2017-2018) CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The report, as explained by the city manager, was delayed because the Richmond Housing Authority component was delayed. The unions accused the city manager of delaying the CAFR as a conspiracy to keep them in the dark. The reality is that the 2017-2018 CAFR is history and offers very little usable information or insight into the compilation of a budget for 2019-20.

Probably as serious as the tangible complains were complaints about City Manager Martinez’ interpersonal skills. He was not as open and accessible as people had become used to with 13 years of Bill Lindsay. In short, Martinez’ sin was simply not being Bill Lindsay, who was perceived as eminently accessible with the superb social skills of an experienced bartender. Employees could spill their guts to Lindsay, who simply listened and sympathized, often giving up nothing but making the employee feel satisfied and vindicated.

And add to this toxic soup the normal mix of jealousies, perceived slights and vindictiveness that can be found in any organization with over 700 employees.

The Gang of Four.

Melvin Willis and Eduardo Martinez didn’t surprise me. As Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) stalwarts, they both have a long history of pandering to SEIU Local 1021, which is so close to the RPA that the union has a seat on the RPA Steering Committee and helps pay the rent for the RPA office. They also share a perception that the City is a jobs program rather than a source of critical services to residents. Significant organizational changes, or God forbid, eliminating a position are anathema to them.  They are convinced that the unions know more than the city manager about how to staff and run a city, and if they had their way, the city would be an employee-run coop with the city manager as simply a puppet on a string to do the unions’ bidding. They have a history of using their political power to attempt to bypass the city manager and micromanage staffing decisions. They have been particularly obsessed with the fire marshal and fire inspector positions for years, being part of an RPA effort to determine what positions are created, who is hired and how employees are compensated. When they don’t get their way on any trivial matter, firing the city manager is an appealing antidote without consequences to these two council members.

Willis is particularly susceptible to rumor and innuendo, citing in the East Bay Times article, “The only thing that I kept on hearing was chaos, chaos, chaos within City Hall and within the ranks and a lack of faith in the city manager’s leadership.” (Translation – the unions are pissed about not getting a raise, and it’s the city manager’s fault).

You could not find a person more philosophically opposite from Melvin Willis and Eduardo Martinez than Nat Bates, except maybe Donald Trump. So why did Bates throw in with the Gang of Four? Nat Bates, coming from a totally different direction than Martinez and Willis, was not a total surprise. What they share is a general suspicion and dislike of city managers. Both Bates and Martinez voted to terminate Bill Lindsay in 2015 by electing not to renew his contract, not over some compelling performance or public policy issues, but instead over one or two trivial instances of disagreement with Lindsay. Lindsay’s contract renewal squeaked by on a 4-3 vote but could have easily gone the other direction. Bates never met a city manager he liked. He joined me in terminating Floyd Johnson in the 1990s, voted to terminate Bill Lindsay in 2015 and joined the Gang of Four to terminate Carlos Martinez. Bates has always pandered to the Richmond Police Officers Association (RPOA) and IAFF Local 188 (firefighters), going back even to the Darrell Reese era. The RPOA’s obsession with getting rid of Police Chief Allwyn Brown and the city manager’s inaction on the management audit of the Police Department was probably the tipping point for him.

But the biggest surprise was Demnlus Johnson, III, who seems to have been totally consumed by all the union complaints and unsubstantiated rumors. I spent a lot of time with Johnson in the 2018 campaign, and I was impressed. He seemed to have bright future. I endorsed him and celebrated his victory. But the Johnson I saw during the city manager debates was a completely different person – in fact unrecognizable. He has lately grown increasingly angry, emotional, impulsive and irrational. Like Martinez and Willis, he seems to have swallowed the union-generated rumors and fake news hook, line and sinker.

As the youngest and least experienced City Council member, I think he under-appreciated the chaos and consequences he was about to unleash by firing the city manager on the eve of a six-week recess without a viable transition plan. Johnson told me and at least one other City Council member previously that he had no plans to fire the city manager, then he turned around and did just that.

I get it that the City Council majority had issues with the city manager, but instead of collecting facts, conducting a formal performance review, suggesting course corrections that aligned with a City Council consensus and providing an opportunity for change, they nurtured grudges, traded in unsubstantiated rumors, listened exclusively to unions, attacked and maligned the city manager, and summarily and impulsively fired him without a Plan B. What they did to Carlos Martinez was unfair, unethical, ill-advised and extremely risky.

The termination will cost the City at least $350,000 in severance pay and doom the future of the City to months of uncertainty, endangering our bond ratings and raising questions for potential businesses and developers who value stability. It could actually cost us millions of dollars.

The really good potential future city manager prospects will now view Richmond with skepticism and suspicion as the City Council appears to desire a city run by unions with the city manager as simply a figurehead. We may not be able to even attract a good city manager after this fiasco.

Richmond city manager fired after less than a year
Council members made the decision in closed session Tuesday

By Ali Tadayon | | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: July 24, 2019 at 7:01 am | UPDATED: July 25, 2019 at 5:00 am

RICHMOND — After less than a year on the job, Richmond city manager Carlos Martinez was fired Tuesday.

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt confirmed that City Council members voted in closed session around 10:30 p.m. to end Martinez’s contract, effective immediately. The council’s decision obliges union leaders who have called for the city manager’s termination over the past few months, accusing him of unfair labor practices.
Richmond city manager Carlos Martinez, formerly of East Palo Alto, was let go Tuesday after less than a year on the job. (Courtesy of East Palo Alto) 

“The labor relations in the city have come to a collapse,” said Detective Ben Therriault, head of the Richmond Police Officers Association, at the July 16 City Council meeting. “For the past 10 months, labor has been worse than it has been in the past 10 years.”

Martinez, in an interview Wednesday, said he “accepts and respects” the city council’s decision, and was grateful for his short tenure as city manager. He wouldn’t speak to the allegations of unfair labor practices.

“(The City Council) has many tough decisions to make, and this is one of them,” Martinez said. “They deemed it to be the right one; I happened to disagree with it. But I do respect it, and I know it was a difficult one to make.”
Under the terms of Martinez’s five-year contract, he was an “at will” employee who could be terminated with or without cause at any time by a City Council majority vote. Since he was involuntarily terminated, he will be paid a lump-some severance package of a year’s salary — $260,000 — per the contract.

Union leaders lambasted Martinez during the recent budget process, when he identified a $7.6 million shortfall in fiscal year 2019-20, and identified 12 positions to be cut in order to make up for it. Martinez said they were upper management positions, not rank and file.

After meeting with department heads and finding other ways to trim the budget, the projected deficit was reduced to $3.3 million. The city ended up adopting a budget that did not require layoffs.

Council members Nathaniel Bates, Melvin Willis, Eduardo Martinez, and Demnlus Johnson voted in favor of terminating the city manager, while Butt, Ben Choi and Jael Myrick voted against it, Butt said in an interview.

Community Services Director Rochelle Polk was appointed to act as interim city manager, but declined. As of now, the city has no acting city manager, and the mayor has called a special City Council meeting Saturday morning to appoint someone, Butt’s chief of staff Alex Knox said.

“I think the council made a hasty decision in an irresponsible way,” Myrick said in an interview Wednesday morning.

Myrick said the unions’ demand to fire Martinez “so abruptly” was “unreasonable,” and that he would have been open to putting Martinez on a probationary period instead and making a vetted determination later on as to whether to terminate him.

Though the decision will have its consequences, Myrick said he is confident that city leadership will keep things stable.
Willis, in an interview Wednesday, said the decision to terminate Martinez was an “uncomfortable” one, but felt it necessary to maintain city workers’ morale.

“The only thing that I kept on hearing was chaos, chaos, chaos within City Hall and within the ranks and a lack of faith in the city manager’s leadership,” Willis said.

Martinez previously worked as city manager in East Palo Alto, and was chosen in August 2018 to replace outgoing city manager Bill Lindsay, and started Nov. 1.

Richmond council votes to terminate city manager

July 24, 2019
Carlos Martinez, (photo by Mike Kinney)

By Mike Kinney

Richmond City Council voted to terminate City Manager Carlos Martinez at Tuesday’s council meeting.

In a 4-3 vote during closed session, Councilmembers Eduardo Martinez, Demnlus Johnson III, Nat Bates and Melvin Willis voted in favor of terminating Martinez. Mayor Tom Butt and Councilmembers Ben Choi and Jael Myrick voted to retain him.

As a result of the vote, Rochelle Polk, the Community Services Director, was named Interim City Manager. She has declined the position, Mayor Tom Butt’s office reported, prompting the mayor to call for a special meeting.

Martinez, former City Manager of East Palo Alto, was selected as Richmond’s city manager in October 2018.

He quickly fell out of favor with the leadership of Richmond’s unions, which accused him of unfair labor practices and which formed a coalition calling for his ouster.  Last month, union leaders held a rally outside City Hall accusing the City Manager of misrepresenting the city’s budget deficit, and for calling for layoffs of top managers after union leaders requested their first cost of living adjustment in four years.

At the time, Martinez told council that he was considering laying off department heads as part of a reorganization recommended by an independent auditor. Martinez called the proposed reorganization an effort to streamline operations and strengthen the city’s financial position in the face of expected budget deficits in the coming years, due in large part to rising employee pension costs.

Leaders and members of the city’s multiple unions, including those representing general employees as well as police and fire personnel, publicly spoke in favor of terminating Martinez prior to council’s vote Tuesday, citing mismanagement and a lack of communication by the city manager.

“The coalition of labor, the working people of our city, have come to the decision that we can no longer move forward in our present management situation,” said Ben Therriault, president of the Richmond Police Officers Association.

According to Don Gosney, a city insider who runs Radio Free Richmond, Martinez will receive a severance package with one year’s salary and benefits. His five-year contract included $260,000 in annual salary and about $358,000 in total compensation.

At the council meeting, Martinez did not make a statement about the council’s decision to terminate. We’ve reached out for comment.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original story states that Rochelle Polk was named Interim City Manager. The story has been changed to reflect updated information that Polk has declined the position.

Richmond City Council Haplessly Fires City Manager

Thursday, July 25, 2019, East Bay Express

By John Geluardi

Carlos Martinez

  • Carlos Martinez

Without much ceremony, the Richmond City Council canceled City Manager Carlos Martinez’s contract Tuesday night less than a year after hiring him.

The narrow, 4 to 3-vote took place during closed session and had the feel of spontaneous palace coup. The four councilmembers who voted to cancel Martinez’s contract apparently had not thought through their action because they did not have a interim city manager ready to takeover and the one person who they put forward to be acting city manager, Community Services Director Rochelle Polk, refused the position when she found out about it Wednesday morning.

Martinez’s firing leaves open what is perhaps the city’s most important critical position in terms of making decisions on the variety of critical issues that a mid-sized city faces on a daily basis. There are immediate prospects to fill the temporary and permanent position.

Mayor Tom Butt has called for a special meeting Saturday to make a plan for filling the job, but it is uncertain if he will be to get the required four councilmembers to put schedule the meeting. One councilmember observed that the offhanded firing makes the city look unstable and mercurial, two characteristics that will make it more difficult to find a qualified replacement.

Councilmembers Demnlus Johnson, Nat Bates, Eduardo Martinez, and Melvin Willis voted to fire Martinez. Mayor Tom Butt and councilmembers Jael Myrick, and Ben Choi voted to retain him.

“It took us eight months to find Carlos Martinez and now we have no acting city manager no plan for recruiting a new one and we have pay Martinez, $350,000, money we don’t have,” Butt said. “And we’re going to have to start the recruitment process all over again.

The firing was driven by the city’s five unions, which were angry with Martinez over negotiations and alleged labor law violations. In the past two or three weeks, union leaders put heavy pressure on councilmembers to oust the city manager. But Martinez was facing a $7 million budget deficit, which he inherited. The city council passed a budget earlier this month, which was described as “balanced,” though some city employees call that term a bit “magical.”

Martinez did not do himself any favors with his public relations style, which amounted to no public relations at all. During his nine months in Richmond, he did not give one media interview nor did he make his case to the public about the difficult decisions that had to be made in order balance the budget. His total lack of public profile helped, in part, to make him appear vulnerable to union pressure.

None of the four councilmembers who voted to fire Martinez returned calls from the East Bay Express.