Antioch City Council does not appoint interim city manager Con Johnson to permanent position

Mayor Lamar Thorpe rubs his head during the special Friday afternoon Antioch Council meeting that he had called, while discussing his and Interim Chief Ford’s proposed police officer hiring incentives which the majority of council members didn’t support. Video screenshot.

Nor approve a police recruitment incentive program during special Friday afternoon meeting

 “What keeps good policing is leadership.” “…we’re not in a good position in the City of Antioch” – Interim Police Chief Ford, also says force down to 38 on patrol

By Allen D. Payton

Following outcry from two council members and all four other challengers in this year’s elections, the vote by the Antioch City Council to appoint interim city manager Con Johnson to the permanent position as called for by Mayor Lamar Thorpe on Monday, did not occur on Friday afternoon. (See related article)

Before they entered closed session during their 4:30 p.m. closed session on August 26, 2022, the council members heard two public comments about the matter, one vehemently against the idea and the other in support.

Resident Mark Jordan was the first to speak scathingly saying, “I cannot believe what is going on. The city council is a clown car on fire.”

“You’re going to hire a man who is absolutely unqualified and to have an unopen, non-transparent process,” he continued. “You should be appointing that person, right there,” pointing to Assistant City Manager Rosanna Bayon Moore, seated where Johnson, who was not in attendance, usually sits.

“But maybe she isn’t Black enough for you. Like Tammany Brooks wasn’t Black enough for you,” Jordan stated. “It’s unconscionable what is happening. I had dinner with Tammany Brooks and his wife in March and I asked him about what’s happening in Antioch. He said, ‘Sometimes a person will burn down an entire kingdom in order to rule over the ashes.’ That is what is happening with the mayor. He is a narcissistic, sociopath.”

“As for Con Johnson, I ran the background report,” Jordan shared. ‘You looked over the bankruptcies, the foreclosures, the judgments. That’s just what’s public record. What’s not public record is the employee complaints against him.”

“You should all be ashamed if you vote to do this. Open the process up or hire that person,” he concluded.

Ralph Hernandez spoke next, saying, “I do support him for the appointment to become the permanent city manager.”

“The city manager has been very professional, courteous. Give the guy a chance. If he doesn’t work, fire him,” he stated. “My wife and I support his permanent appointment.”

The council then entered closed session at 4:38 p.m. Less than 30 minutes later, they emerged, and City Attorney Thomas Smith said, “no reportable action” took place during the closed session.

Special Council Meeting

The council then moved on to the special meeting agenda.

Item E was pulled from the Consent Calendar and the rest of it was passed, including the Council Warrants. Those include expenditures from various city departments, including the $20,550 paid from the police department’s budget to Oakland-based Makin Moves Motorcycle Club to cover the costs for the Community Day proposed by District 1 Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker and approved by Interim Police Chief Steve Ford, according to city Finance Director Dawn Merchant. That same organization was hired to organize the city’s Juneteenth Celebration after the city withdrew the permit for the event organized for the past few years from Claryssa Wilson. In addition, it’s leader, Ronald Muhammad, an Antioch resident, contributed $500 to Thorpe’s anti-recall committee.

During the Friday afternoon meeting, the council heard a presentation by Ford about the proposed hiring incentives for police. They include $50,000 per lateral officer hired from other departments and $40-60,000 per entry level officer. The up to $60,000 may be in the form of a loan that may be applied towards the purchase of a home in the city and partially forgiven over time based on the years of service as a police officer within the city.

He spoke about current staffing saying, “technically, we have 101 sworn on staff with 115 budgeted. But we have 21 injured and three in training. We have only 38 on patrol. That give us six or seven officers per shift. We have 13 vacancies. We also have an investigation…that could further deplete our staffing.”

He spoke of the need for both public safety and officer safety.

“Brentwood and Oakley don’t have a hiring incentive for their officers,” Ford pointed out.

Only two residents spoke, and another’s letter was read during public comments.

“Too much is being offered,” said Ralph Hernandez opposing the incentive proposal. He then read comments by his wife, Norma which were submitted in time for Tuesday’s meeting, with her concerns about the incentive package, including what’s being offered to existing officers.

“I like that there’s going to be a bonus…you have to do something to get people in,” said a resident named Lynette. “My concern is you may incentivize…officers to leave. You have to be careful with the number” out of concern for how it will affect current officers in the department.”

“You don’t have any women of color but you can actually recruit them to this department,” she continued.

Regarding the home loan incentive she said, “good luck with collecting it. The reason Brentwood discontinued their home incentive program because they couldn’t get anyone to work on it.”

Council Reaches Consensus on $25,000 Incentive But Takes No Action

“This is strictly about bringing folks, here,” Mayor Lamar Thorpe stated.

“I think we need to incentivize those officers who stayed during the pandemic,” District 3 Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock stated, referring to retention. She then reiterated the fact that Brentwood discontinued their home loan incentive program, “because officers weren’t paying it back.”

“They’re going to walk away so, I’m not in favor of that,” Ogorchock added.

“The intention is to provide down payment assistance,” Thorpe responded.

Ogorchock then read from the staff report for the council item about the home incentive.

“I don’t know why that’s in there,” Thorpe stated.

“It does say ‘may’,” City Attorney Smith pointed out.

“There are other programs out there that are more palatable,” District 1 Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker said. “I was concerned how it will be paid back.”

“I don’t agree with the $40,000,” she added.

“This is a temporary proposal,” Thorpe stated, in his continued efforts to sell his and Ford’s proposal to his council colleagues.

“I, too, think the $40K is a little steep. I would be OK with $25,” District 4 Councilwoman Monica Wilson stated.

“I will continue to emphasize that the initial amount has to be significant,” Thorpe responded.

“It’s not an expense. It’s an investment,” Ford then stated. “It’s going to be very impactful no matter how this plays out. It’s a very dismal situation playing out. The investigation…is going to have a ripple effect in the organization.

“What keeps good policing is leadership,” he stated. “So, good leadership is what I’m trying to instill in this organization.”

“I understand the fiscal concerns but investing in a safe environment…” Ford continued. “As this conversation continues. If we’re really serious about public safety…we have to look at whatever money is spent is an investment not an expense.”

Barbanica asked about staffing.

“We are at 101,” Ford responded.

“Remember eight are locked up,” Thorpe stated.

“The $10,000 incentive is not going to attract young people into this profession,” Ford said.

“It’s right now, money. If we hire 10 new people, we’ll be writing a check for $600,000,” Barbanica said. “I would prefer…it has to be a higher number. Just the salary savings we have, right now. The escrow thing very much scares me. I do believe we need to do something because $10,000 isn’t working. So, I’d support something in the $25,000 range. No way we can hire that many in a year. It has to be a two-to-three-year program.”

“The police department is not the only department…” Torres-Walker pointed out. “This council approved hiring seven more code enforcement officers. We have five of 14 approved.”

“I appreciate Councilman Barbanica saying he wants us to hire the right police officers,” she continued. “We have a lot of the wrong people under investigation, paying out lawsuits, ranging from murder, civil rights violations…in this police department and under the leadership of past police chiefs. And we wouldn’t be here if there was transparency” in the department.

“If you have 115,000 people in your city and six officers…there aren’t enough officers to keep the city of Antioch safe, right now or keep the officers safe,” Ford stated.

“We have a very robust recruitment effort underway,” he shared. “It’s a very complicated process. There’s no quick fix. I understand the underlying concerns. I agree with everything I’m hearing. But I would be remiss if I didn’t say we’re not in a good position in the City of Antioch.”

“Staffing is a larger issue across the country,” Thorpe then said, referring also to teachers.

“The amount will not be the same as this,” he continued. “I heard $25,000.’

“Over what time?” Torres-Walker asked.

“Five years,” Thorpe responded.

“I’m fine with the $15 up front,” Barbanica said.

“We need to have something up front,” Ford said. “If it’s over five years, then so be it.”

“With a $25 and a $30 I’d be open…to both of those,” Torres-Walker stated.

“The one thing I’d like to see rather than writing a check for $50,000…” Barbanica then said wanting it to be over time.

“What I hear in agreement, today is a five-year incentive program,” Thorpe said in response to a question from Ogorchock about differences between the laterals versus new hires. “The $50,000 would be only for academy graduates.”

After polling the other council members, there was no consensus for a housing bonus, “so, we won’t come back with that,” Thorpe stated.

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