Antioch Council agrees to conditionally hire interim city manager on split vote if he passes background check

Would have full authority of permanent city manager to hire and fire department heads including policchief; City staff won’t say what would cause him to fail background check

Cornelious “Con” Johnson. Source: Mayor Lamar Thorpe’s Facebook page.

By Allen Payton

Publisher’s Note: Apologies for the late publishing of this article until now. I thought it already has been.

During their meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, the Antioch City Council voted to conditionally hire Cornelius “Con” Johnson as interim city manager. (See related articles here and here)

“This is a conditional appointment based on a successful background check,” said Administrative Services Director Nickie Mastay. “Upon hiring of the interim city manager, the council will begin the process for recruiting a city manager.”

Three members of the public opposed the hiring of Johnson including Sal Sbranti and one other advocating for the hiring of Assistant City Manager Rosanna Bayon Moore, instead. Two were in support of hiring Johnson.

“I truly believe Cornelius Johnson will serve the City of Antioch very well,” said Deborah Hicks. “He has very good leadership skills. He has very high standards. I am fortunate enough to sit around him and his company and others at Starbucks…and he’s a very knowledgeable man. I think I speak on behalf of quite a few of them. He is one of Antioch’s finest.”

“I also support him as the interim city manager,” said Leslie May. “I did review his credentials. Hopefully, he will be appointed as the permanent city manager. It’s the same kind of comment. People don’t want change. It can’t be business as usual in Antioch. We just can’t allow the public and use their biases to tell us who to select and who not to select. I feel good about supporting this young man.”

Barbanica, Ogorchock Want to Wait

“If we move forward, we are supposed to come up with a salary…oh and a start date,” said Mayor Lamar Thorpe.

“What I am going to say is he is someone I consider a friend. I do believe he wants better for this community,” said District 2 Councilman Mike Barbanica. “But my concern with this is, number one we have an assistant city manager…It is my opinion she should have been brought up into the position of interim city manager. I do believe this is premature. I’m not saying that when this is done, Mr. Johnson won’t be the choice.”

“Yes, there have been some questions…some serious questions and I don’t think it’s fair to the candidate or to the City,” Barbanica continued. “We need to take a step back from this and consider other candidates. We rushed into this. This is not the way this is supposed to go.”

“I too want to share my appreciation for Mr. Johnson,” said District 3 Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock. “I don’t feel like his qualifications align with the city manager, at this time. I agree 110% with Councilman Barbanica and we should put this on hold, at this time.”

District 1 Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker spoke next saying, “So, I don’t live in a bubble. I get all the commentary and comments, as well. I hear that, like, I hear from people that he will do a really good job. And it’s an interim city manager to get him over the top. Is this the limited background in law enforcement. I think we can all have concerns about close relationship with people, with campaign donations. But if we look around this city people have hired their brother or sister. If Mr. Johnson can move us forward…

“I don’t know if we attack the qualifications of people if they’re not people of color,” she added.

“I hear everyone out there. How wonderful it is to have a community member step up…and get us through this transition period,” said Mayor Pro Tem and District 4 Councilwoman Monica Wilson. “I’ve been impressed with his background. I definitely believe that Mr. Johnson would do a really good job.”

“I think we’re supposed to determine three things, now. What term of contract. I think we discussed one year. I think we’re starting at Step 1,” Mayor Lamar Thorpe said.

“That would be 10% above the assistant city manager, $20,137,” Mastay said. “We will do the background check and get started as soon as possible.”

Council Debates Authority of Interim City Manager

Ogorchock pointd out that the council had discussed limiting the authority of the interim city manager.

“I no longer agree to those terms,” Thorpe responded. “Whether interim city manager or city manager they should retain the full power.”

Ogorchock then said, “You brought something up that was discussed in closed session. I thought that would be after.”

“It’s contingent on those things,” Thorpe said.

“That’s not the motion,” Ogorchock responded. “It was also discussed limiting the hiring of department heads.”

“I am not supporting that, and I said that, here in hearing your comments and some of Councilman Barbanica’s comments, tonight,” Thorpe responded.

All this will be contingent on a background

“I don’t like the inference that there’s something else, here,” Barbanica said. “I’m concerned about my district and this city.”

“Attorney Smith, can I talk about closed session?” he then asked. “In the contract is it in here about hiring the next police chief?”

“That’s not part of the motion,” Smith said.

“So, that means he could,” Ogorchock stated.

“I know I brought up concerns about an interim hiring a police chief,” Torres-Walker said. “I want it to be a more public process….and I did raise concerns around that. And about hiring department heads. After further reflecting there haven’t been limitations in the past. If he can wield his authority appropriately then we should give Mr. Johnson the opportunity.”

The motion to appoint Cornelius Johnson with a proposed start date, following a successful background check passed on a 3-2 motion with Barbanica and Ogorchock voting no.

Questions for City Staff Go Unanswered

Mastay and City Attorney Smith were asked who would be handling the background check and what would cause a candidate to not pass one. They were asked if lying on a resume is grounds for failing. Neither responded. However, according to council members, Mastay is conducting Johnson’s background check. No answer, yet on the other questions.

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