Special council meeting called for Friday afternoon to appoint Con Johnson permanent Antioch city manager

Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe during a press conference at City Hall on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. Video screenshot

Barbanica, Ogorchock all four other council candidates want to wait until after the election and let the new council decide

Antioch Police Officers Association issues supportive statement of interim police chief during contract negotiations

Interim Antioch City Managvr Cornelius “Con” Johnson. Source: Mayor Lamar Thorpe’s Facebook page.

By Allen D. Payton

It was announced by Mayor Lamar Thorpe on Monday that a special Antioch City Council meeting will be held this Friday, to hire Con Johnson as the permanent city manager and Dr. Steve Ford as permanent chief of police, less than 90 days before the November election. Today, Thursday, the agenda was released showing a closed session meeting will be held tomorrow, Friday, Aug. 26 at 4:30 p.m. when most Antioch residents are still at work. It does not include the hiring of a permanent police chief only for a “PUBLIC EMPLOYEE APPOINTMENT pursuant to Government Code section 54957: Title: City Manager”. The meeting agenda does not include the name of the candidate nor a copy of the contract for the public to review and provide input prior to the council’s closed session. (See related articles here, here and here)

All of it is not sitting well with two council members and all four other challengers in this year’s city council races.

Asked on April 27 if the council would start the hiring process for a permanent police chief, this year or wait until the end of the year, Mayor Lamar Thorpe stated, “no, we’ve started that process.” But that is not true according to at least two other council members.

Interim Antioch Police Chief Dr. Steve Ford. Source: APD

Both Mayor Pro Tem Mike Barbanica and District 3 Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock said they knew nothing about the mayor’s announcement before it was made, and that the council has yet to vote on a process for hiring a permanent city manager or police chief. The council in the past hasn’t hired the police chief, who is a department head and is usually hired by the city manager. But the current council majority has made it clear they want to be the ones to decide. Attempts to reach Districts 1 and 4 Councilwomen Tamisha Torres-Walker and Monica Wilson asking if they were aware of the announcement were unsuccessful.

Asked when the council had voted on the appointment process for a permanent city manager or chief of police Ogorchock responded, “no, we have not voted on this, it has not come before council.”

Asked about the appointment on Friday’s agenda she responded, “number one the mayor doesn’t have the power to appoint. I don’t know what’s going to be discussed in closed session. There needs to be a process. We do need to discuss our options in hiring a new city manager. The council gets the final say not the mayor.”

Asked if the decision should wait until after the election for the new council to choose a new city manager, Ogorchock said, “It’s in a very long process. If we started the process, now, number one you have to hire the consultant if we’re not going to hire from within and that is a process in itself. It would actually, possibly be the new council that would make the decision.”

“I believe the new council should be choosing the new city manager because it’s their employee,” she added.

In response to a comment that any decisions shouldn’t be made until after the election and a new council is seated, Barbanica replied, “100% agree it should be after the election.”

In response to Thorpe’s announcement, the Antioch Police Officers Association, whose members’ contract was on Tuesday night’s council meeting agenda for approval, issued the following statement on Monday:

“As is customary when a change of leadership occurs within the Antioch Police Officer’s Association, the new president (Sergeant Rick Hoffman) and Vice President (Corporal Loren Bledsoe) met with the mayor and other city leaders to discuss the state of the police department and city going forward. The APOA leaders spoke with the mayor about various topics including transparency, reform, ongoing training and interim Chief Ford. The APOA has had the pleasure of working with interim Chief Ford and appreciate his vision and his leadership. The APOA has enjoyed great working relationships with our Chiefs through the years, most recently with Chief Tammany Brooks, Interim Chief Morefield and now Interim Chief Ford.

Should there be a process to fill our department’s permanent Chief position, the APOA will support and respect the process and will be prepared to have a good working relationship with the Chief who is ultimately selected. Should interim Chief Ford be selected to fill the permanent Chief position, we will fully support him and will be eager to continue the work we have started together.

APOA President Rick Hoffman”

Council Candidates Oppose Making Hiring Decision, Now

Former Antioch Councilwoman and District 1 candidate, Joy Motts said she was shocked that the mayor is pushing this without a public process.

“Even if you have your mind made up there should at least be a public process for transparency,” she said. “I think they should wait until after the election, absolutely. This is the most critical hire in the city. To not allow other applicants or the existing assistant city manager to apply is just wrong. Antioch deserves the best and the brightest. Mr. Johnson may be that person, but the residents of Antioch will never know because the council didn’t do their due diligence.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this happen like this,” Motts continued. “Have you ever seen another city that didn’t bring in a list of competent candidates for council to review? And what would have been wrong with doing that? I don’t get it.”

“If you look up the requirements of a city manager, you’re really at the highest, management, public works, engineering. To not even allow Assistant City Manager Rosanna Bayon Moore to apply is not right,” the once and now candidate for District 1 council member stated. “Lamar said at Ron’s (Bernal) retirement party, this is why we approved the hiring of an assistant city manager, so we would have someone to take Ron’s place.”

I was on council when we hired Rosanna. Ron needed help and we needed a succession plan. Lamar said that’s why we hired her and then he doesn’t even give her the chance.”

“She’s been there for three years and proven herself. Rosanna should have been allowed to apply and others, too.”

Former Antioch School Board president, Diane Gibson-Gray who is also running in District 1 said, “I think it’s something that should wait until after the council is seated following the election. What’s the rush? I know Con has a one-year contract. So, I don’t understand the urgency. It’s politics.”

“I believe a city manager hiring process should include allowing applicants from inside the city and outside the city so that the best candidate is hired,” she added.

District 4 Council candidates Shawn Pickett and Sandra White are also opposed to the hiring of both city officials, now.

“It lacks transparency with the process,” Pickett said. “Was that process known to the public and other council members? Did you write down any notes about their performance? Still, nobody knows. It lacks a clear and transparent process. No one knows the process.”

“You can’t use a criminal investigation led by the DA’s office and the FBI as your basis for hiring a city manager and police chief. Is it all behind closed doors? You can’t expect transparency if you’re not going to be transparent as the mayor. You can’t hold the police department accountable if you’re not holding yourself accountable,” the retired Richmond police lieutenant said.

Asked what his thoughts are about it happening now before the election, Pickett responded, “what’s the rush? It’s only three or four months before the election takes place. A new council might not agree with his selection.”

“It does a serious disservice to Con Johnson and Steve Ford,” the council candidate continued. “I would want a process that is clearly outlined. I would like to have participated in that openly.”

“Did you get input from the other council members? The fact that he (Thorpe) didn’t shows a lack of transparency,” Pickett continued. “Where is your effort to make the police department better. They failed to lead. Defunding and reform and reimagine are all trick words. How about expanding? How about a regulatory unit? You’re bringing all these cannabis businesses to town. That’s making Antioch PD better. All these reform bombs aren’t doing a thing. You can pay these cops a million dollars but if they’re not feeling appreciated, then they’re not going to want to come to work. That’s with any job.”

“It seems like everything they do is short sighted, not based on fact,” he added.

Asked if the council should wait until after the next election to hire a permanent city manager and police chief Pickett responded, “what are we trying to accomplish at the city manager position and the police chief’s position? The blank area is that expectation. If we want to find the best person for the city and have public input, then you do a nationwide search.”

“If you have council members who haven’t been informed or the public, then it’s not fair or a transparent process,” he continued. “Did you ask the community their expectations and have a survey online?”

“Should they wait? I would say yes. Because they should have a transparent process. Always err on the side of transparency. I don’t see that happening in any decision being made,” Pickett added.

When reached for comment about Thursday’s meeting, White said, “The hiring of a city manager should be open to the public. Legally they have a right to do it. Also, legally the new council, if the city manager, is not good, they can fire him.”

“Speaking from my professional experience I want to know what’s in the contract, what have they built in his offer, is there a parachute compensation? If he is prematurely let go, based on poor performance then is he out the severance? We need to know that,” she stated. “I need to know if we’re stuck with him or not. That makes a big difference. There’s generally a probationary period. Is that in the contract?”

“My position on this is the decision should be made after the election closes and it should be open to the public,” White added.

Asked for her thoughts on holding the meeting at 4:30 p.m. White responded, “The meeting should be held so that every working citizen can have the opportunity to attend the meeting if they choose to do so.”

“They need to have better transparency,” she added.

Questions for Thorpe, Wilson, Torres-Walker and City Attorney

Questions were sent shortly after 5:00 p.m. Thursday to Thorpe, Wilson, Torres-Walker and City Attorney Thomas Smith.

Thorpe was asked, “are you planning on taking a vote in closed session tomorrow to hire a permanent city manager? Or are you expecting the council to discuss beginning the hiring process? If it’s the former, shouldn’t the agenda include a copy of the contract for the public to review and give input on before the council takes a vote? Also, shouldn’t it be the next council after the election that chooses who they are going to work with for the next two to four years? Why are you again holding an afternoon meeting on such an important matter when most residents who commute out of the city to work aren’t able to attend and give the council their input before you hold the closed session?”

About Motts’ comments on the current assistant city manager, Thorpe was also asked, “Is that true? If so, will you consider Rosanna Bayon Moore for the position of city manager?”

Smith was asked, “does the candidate’s name and contract have to be provided to and the vote taken in public?”

Wilson and Walker were asked, “shouldn’t the decision to hire a permanent city manager wait until after the election?”

No responses were received by 7:45 p.m. Please check back later for any updates to this report.

A special council meeting will follow at 5:00 p.m. in which the items not dealt with during this past Tuesday’s regular council meeting will be addressed. See complete agenda for both the closed session and special meetings, here: 082622.pdf (antiochca.gov)

the attachments to this post:

Dr Steve Ford APD

Thorpe press conf 082222

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