In a surprising move, the Oakdale City Council voted 4-0, with Katherine Morgan unavailable to attend, to release City Manager Steve Hallam during a closed session special noontime meeting on Monday, April 25. Earlier this month, Oakdale Deputy Director of Public Works and Airport Manager David Myers was placed on paid administrative leave pending a hearing date, leaving his employment with the city in question.
Hallam, who came to Oakdale from Turlock in 2001 as the community development director, has been Oakdale’s city manager since 2006.
Mayor Pat Paul said in a prepared statement that Hallam’s release was not for cause, but that “a new city council is simply seeking a new direction for the city at this time.”
Hallam’s evaluation was often the focus of the city council closed session agendas over the past few months.
“It’s a new council,” said Paul when contacted by phone on Monday. “Steve has served us well, but we have new ideas.”
A source within the city, on the condition of anonymity, said that part of the decision to release Hallam centered on increased lawsuit costs, poor leadership, and what was termed Hallam’s “elevated salary.”
“I have no ill will and wish Steve lots of luck,” said Oakdale City Councilman Jason Howard. “What it came down to was the council is headed down a different path and I don’t think he was the right fit for Oakdale.”
Mayor Paul said she would like to see the city’s search for a new city manager done without a hiring firm due to budget concerns and believes Oakdale can find another city manager at a salary below Hallam’s $155,000 per year pay. Paul did not know how long the process would take if handled by the city internally.
“There are plenty of qualified people out there who would like to work for this city,” said Paul. “Oakdale will be a wonderful opportunity for them.”
When contacted, Councilman Mike Brennan deferred comments to the mayor’s prepared release. Councilwoman Katherine Morgan was not available for the meeting or comments due to a family emergency.
The reason for Deputy Public Works Director David Myers’ leave is not specified. Myers has been the deputy director of public works for the last seven years, coming to Oakdale from Stanislaus County.
City officials confirmed Myers was placed on leave earlier this month but would not provide any specifics about the case citing that it was a pending personnel matter and out of respect for Myers’ privacy. The cause of the leave was not for any criminal related conduct and there has not been the need for an investigation regarding the pending issue.
Sources familiar with the matter said that the reason for the administrative leave was not for one particular task or issue of Myers’ conduct or performance.
“Appointment of Skelly Hearing Officer” was listed on the April 18 city council agenda as a closed session item. Officials would not confirm if the item was in relation to the Myers’ case.
A Skelly hearing, derived from a 1975 California Supreme Court decision (Skelly), is one of the protections offered to public employees. As a public employee, Myers, unlike Hallam who served “at will,” is entitled to a hearing when a public employer is going to impose discipline that can jeopardize an employee’s employment, future pay, or advancement. According to the Skelly decision, the employee is entitled to a written notice of proposed disciplinary action, the effective date of the action, the reasons for the disciplinary action, the specific policy or rule violated, and a statement advising the employee of the right to respond orally or in writing.
The public works department has recently come into focus for a variety of financial issues including allowing a well to go inoperative for years, a six-figure employee lawsuit settlement, inability to recover costs for private sewer line repairs, and airport mismanagement. (See related story.)
It is unknown if any of these issues were related to Myers’ leave status.
Acting Fire Chief Mike Botto will be taking over day-to-day duties as Oakdale’s city manager on an interim basis until a new city manager is appointed. Public Works Director Joe Leach now assumes the duties that were performed by Myers including managing the Oakdale Municipal Airport.