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Housecleaning Leaves Leadership Quandary

POSTED May 15, 2012 8:48 p.m.

Since the seating of the current city council in November of 2010, the City of Oakdale tribunal has purged or presided over the departure of nearly all of its department heads. Of the two that remain; the public works director has been given notice he will no longer be employed after July and the finance director may be in jeopardy of being gone by this July also.

“There is not a company in the world that would wipe out their department heads like this city has done,” said former Mayor Farrell Jackson. “It’s irresponsible. You suffer grave consequences. That’s what’s happening in Oakdale right now.

Consisting of interims, contractors, those in acting positions, working out of class, or just “vacant,” it’s an entirely different management team than a mere 16 months ago when Jackson was mayor.

Former City Manager Steve Hallam, who led the city since 2006, was removed by the council last April and replaced briefly by part-time Fire Chief Mike Botto, who was later replaced in July by $93 per hour Interim City Manager Greg Wellman.

Five-year Police Chief Marty West, who had his own rifts with the current council, retired this March and was replaced by Lt. Lester Jenkins, stepping in as the interim. Jenkins appointed Sgt. Keri Redd as acting lieutenant to fill his vacated management slot.

Community Development Department Director Danielle Stylos abruptly left the city in February and only a portion of her former duties are being contracted out.

With the retirements of longtime fire department employees Chief Mike Botto and Battalion Chief Rick Fields, the city has entered into a contract with Stanislaus Consolidated Fire to oversee the administrative services of the fire department.
The parks and recreation department director is filled by a supervisor working “out of class” and who is also managing the senior center and the city facilities.

The personnel department that oversees over 100 city employees and just as many volunteers is directed by a human resources analyst. Comparative cities have an HR director in the position.

“There is no institutional memory here,” said Finance Director Albert Avila whose own position and performance was suddenly called for closed council session review on Monday. “All the people who had knowledge of running the city and were resources have retired or quit.”

Earlier this month, Public Works Director Joe Leach received notice that he would no longer be employed in his $111,588 annual position after July.

Leach, who has been public works director since 2009, confirmed he received a letter from the city stating it would not be renewing the senior management memorandum of understanding and would be ending his employment with the city. A subsequent letter said his “separation from the city” would be July 20.

Avila received a similar letter stating the city did intend to review his contract and to make arrangements Wellman to discuss his employment.

“What that means for me after July, who knows?” said Leach who, according to some with the city, has not ruled out civil action against Oakdale.

“When you don’t have people with background and knowledge of the city, you don’t have people to ask questions when things go amiss,” said Jackson. “There’s no safety net of any experienced people.”

Mayor Pat Paul provides a different view, especially during budget tightening times.

“We need to put all the higher management positions on the table and see what’s actually needed or could be eliminated,” Paul said. “Take public works. I don’t know if we need a director and two engineers. Could we contract for those or what?”

Paul also said some of the positions have been held being filled pending the hiring of a full-time city manager.

“We want the new city manager to determine who he should have on his team or decide what can be contracted.” Paul said.

Typically, interim management is seen as the short-term assignment of a proven interim executive to manage a period of transition, crisis, or change within an organization. Additionally, with the contracting, there may have been no one internally who was suitable for, or available to take up, the position in question.

“You can’t be placed in a position for just three months or a year and expect to know everything,” said Jackson. “Things get missed, dropped, or overlooked.”

There are other drawbacks to cutting top personnel according to Jackson, who identified the cost of “pay-outs” associated with upper-level management contracts.

Last April Oakdale paid Hallam $77,760 in severance pay and $75,675 for his accumulated leave time when the council removed him. West and Stylos each received over $50,000 in their contract payouts when they departed earlier this year.

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