Antioch Council to vote on appointing retired SF Police lieutenant as interim city manager Tuesday

Member of mayor’s Transition Advisory Team

Decision reached during closed session but not reported out

“If appointed, Johnson will become the first African-American City Manager in the history of the city of Antioch.” – Mayor Lamar Thorpe

Cornelious “Con” Johnson. Source: LinkedIn

By Allen Payton

The Antioch City Council will vote on appointing resident Cornelious “Con” Johnson, a retired San Francisco Police lieutenant, as interim city manager, Tuesday night. Current City Manager Ron Bernal is retiring at the end of the year. The council reached the decision to hire Johnson during their special closed session meeting, last Tuesday morning. But following that meeting, City Attorney Thomas Lloyd Smith said “no reportable action was taken.”  (See related article)

Johnson is a member of Mayor Lamar Thorpe’s Transition Advisory Team, assigned to work as co-chair of police reform with City Attorney Thomas Lloyd Smith. (See related article)

Johnson was also in attendance during Thorpe’s most recent press conference with Interim Police Chief Tony Morefield on Oct. 21, 2021 about the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) National Public Safety Partnership  with the Antioch Police Department. (See related article)

Johnson earned a Master of Public Administration and Bachelor of Public Administration from the University of San Francisco. He also possesses a Police Officers Standards and Training (POST) Management Certificate. Johnson’s Linkedin account only shows he is a “Law Enforcement Instructor”.

The staff report on the agenda item offers the following information about his background:

“Mr. Johnson has extensive managerial experience. He is a former San Francisco Police Captain. Some of his career accomplishments include:

  • Collaborating with various departments in creating the first African American Community Police Relations Oversight Board, San Francisco Police Department
  • Developing and implementing Cultural Awareness, Cultural Competency and Racial Bias in police training for staff.
  • Providing monthly updates to the Board of Supervisors, and Police Commission relating to San Francisco Police Department community-policing strategies and efforts.
  • Collaborating with the Department of Health, Department of Youth Services and Juvenile Hall Center developing, planning, administering, overseeing the San Francisco Police Department city-wide Violence Intervention Program with a budget of $20 million and a staff of 60 mid managers and supervisor.
  • Collaborating with criminologists to develop, implement, and manage the first of its kind gun violence reduction initiative ‘Operation Cease Fire’.”

Thorpe’s Comments

In a Friday afternoon post on his official Facebook page, Thorpe offered his comments about Johnson’s background and expected appointment, providing different information than what is in the city staff report: “Today, the City of Antioch has announced that Cornelius Johnson has been nominated to serve as Interim City Manager.

Having 17 years of managerial experience with the City and County of San Francisco, most recently as a captain in the San Francisco Police Department’s Field Operations Bureau, Johnson managed a $300 million budget and oversaw 600 staff members.

Having risen up the ranks within the San Francisco Police Department, Johnson was the architect of San Francisco’s community policing efforts having established San Francisco’s Director of Community Policing position within the police department. Throughout his career, Johnson has devoted his career to establishing strong bonds between his agencies and the residents he has served.

The City Council will vote on Johnson’s contract at their Tuesday, November 9th meeting. If appointed, Johnson will become the first African-American City Manager in the history of the city of Antioch.”

Question About Johnson’s Rank

However, according to the SF Police Department, Johnson retired as a Lieutenant III in 2016. A San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System report dated August 1, 20216 reads, “Johnson, Cornelius H 07/01/2016 Police Lieutenant III POLICE DEPARTMENT”.  He did serve as Acting Captain in 2015 according to a SFGate news report. The position of lieutenant is not part of the SFPD command staff, which includes the positions of captain and above.

According to a 2002 IndyBay.org news report, Johnson served as a member of the African-American Community Relations Board, in the role of the SFPD’s police liaison. A 2011 video shows him talking tough with high school students as part of a Scared Stiff presentation, warning them about teen pregnancy. He said, “I’ll tell my daughter straight to her face, ‘romance without any fire dance is a nuisance. Make sure this cat’s got a job’. You’re saying the State of California is going to be your baby’s daddy? You’re insane.”

Multiple attempts to reach Johnson for comment Friday evening were unsuccessful prior to publication time Saturday morning. He was also asked if he’d ever been promoted to captain.

Questions for City Attorney, Thorpe and Council Members

Questions were emailed after business hours on Friday asking about this past Tuesday’s special closed session council meeting: “If no action was taken during the closed session on Tuesday, in which the city council met with more than one candidate for interim city manager, how was it decided that Con Johnson would be the finalist for your vote during next Tuesday’s meeting? Did you, as mayor, make the choice and place his name on the agenda, Lamar? Or was it a ‘head nod’, consensus-type thing without a formal vote that occurred during closed session? Because if so, isn’t that an action that should have been reported since a consensus was reached among council members of the candidate to be voted on?”

Additional questions were asked about the items regarding the matter on next Tuesday’s meeting agenda: “If the vote is going to occur in public, what will be occurring during the closed session item “2) PUBLIC EMPLOYEE APPOINTMENT – TITLE: INTERIM CITY MANAGER. This closed session is authorized pursuant to Government Code section 54957”? The staff report reads “the cost of the Interim City Manager position will be $xxx,xxx of this amount, $xxx,xxx will be the cost to the General Fund.” How much will he be paid? Or is that one of the things that will be negotiated in closed session in item 3)?

They and Johnson were both asked for a copy of his resume to provide more information than what is in the staff report.

11/6/21 UPDATE:  An email was sent to Thorpe, Saturday morning Nov. 6, asking about the discrepancy in the information between what was in the staff report and what he posted on his Facebook page. “Which is correct? Or are they both correct and the staff report failed to include the additional information you provided?” he was asked. Thorpe responded simply, “both are correct.”

Ogorchock: Decision Reached in Closed Session

“The mayor did not make the choice,” Ogorchock said when reached for comment.

“We discussed the candidates and there was a decision made,” she added about the closed session meeting. “I don’t know why the city attorney said there was no action.”

Barbanica Wants To Hear From Public

“I’m receiving comments from the public about the appointment,” Barbanica said. “I look forward to receiving more comments before the vote Tuesday night. If people want to reach out to me that would be great. I’m going to do what is best for the city. But I really want public input.”

No responses were received from any of the others as of publication time. Please check back later for any updates to this report.

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