Antioch Council supports department reorg, postpones council secretaries decision, opposes own pay raise

Antioch Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker explains to Mayor Lamar Thorpe and the other council members why she wouldn’t support a pay raise during the special city council meeting on Friday the 13th of January 2023. Video screenshot.

Approves declaration of emergency, continuing remote meeting participation

Mayor wants a secretary, not an intern like Torres-Walker wants because “they leave”

Thorpe interrupts several public comments

Barbanica posts video explaining his absence accuses mayor of “manipulating agendas”

By Allen D. Payton

Friday the 13th turned out to be unlucky for Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe as the majority of the city council members, sans District 2 Councilman Mike Barbanica, would not support him getting a part-time secretary, yet, nor a pay raise. During the special afternoon meeting – the first of 2023 – called to replace Tuesday’s regular meeting Thorpe chose not to attend, on the regular agenda the council supported reorganizing the Public Works and Community Development departments and creating a new Engineering Department, plus a separate position of City Engineer who would lead it. But they accomplished little else but discussions on other items that have to be brought back later for actual decisions. The council accomplished more by voting for all of the Consent Calendar items including approving a declaration of emergency due to the storms and continuing the practice of allowing remote participation via Zoom for members of the council, city commissions and committees.

The council also approved spending up to $120,000 more for the city’s homeless consultant and a short-term lease at the Nick Rodriguez Center for Meals on Wheels Diablo Region which suffered fire damage at their Walnut Creek headquarters. In addition, the council approved spending $549,384 more for the Maintenance Services Agreement with Bay Alarm Company, for a total amount of $1,447,844, to expand Access Control, Intrusion and Video Monitoring at various City of Antioch facilities.

Thorpe Gets Combative

While leading the meeting, Thorpe became combative several times, both with District 3 Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock and with members of the public who spoke on various agenda items, especially one who called in and spoke on two items. But rather than breaking out a huge knife while wearing a ski mask as the villain did in the Friday the 13th movies, Thorpe merely used his gavel and interrupted the members of the public telling them that they were off subject. Because it was a special meeting a general public comments section wasn’t required at either the beginning or end of the agenda, is it is during regular council meetings.

Consent Calendar

During the Consent Calendar all but two items were approved unanimously. But Ogorchock pulled Item H which continued to allow attendance at council and city commission and committee meetings via Zoom.

“If this had happened in December, we wouldn’t have had to cancel Tuesday’s meeting,” Thorpe said.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with the meeting,” Ogorchock responded.

“Yes. It did,” Thorpe shot back.

“No. It didn’t,” Ogorchock retorted.

“You were here after you said you weren’t going to be here because you weren’t feeling well, like Councilman Barbanica,” Thorpe attempted to explain. But that was refuted on Tuesday by both Ogorchock and Barbanica. (See related article)

The item then passed 3-1-1 with Ogorchock voting against continuing the practice started due to COVID-19. Questions have arisen about the need since the city no longer requires social distancing or wearing masks at council meetings. But as cover, the council is using the governor’s COVID-19 State of Emergency which doesn’t expire until the end of February.

Ogorchock also pulled Item I regarding the Emergency Declaration. According to the staff report, on January 12, 2023, City Manager Con Johnson, in his capacity as Director of Emergency Services proclaimed a local emergency associated with the State Declared Severe Winter Storms, locally identified as the 2023 January Winter Storm Event. The City Council was required to ratify the proclamation so that the local emergency can continue in force and effect. It also declares the intent of the City Council to review the need for continuing the local emergency declaration at least once every 60 days until termination.

“We’re having a proclamation for an emergency services but we don’t have an EOC (Emergency Operations Center),” Ogorchock stated. “So, I think we need to bring it back for discussion.”

The current council majority voted against funding for the EOC twice in the past few years, when they were reallocating excess revenues.

“Just to clarify for the public, we do have an EOC,” Thorpe retorted.

Emergency Operations Center Using Antiquated, Failing Technology

Yet, according to Antioch Police Lt. John Fortner who serves as the city’s Office of Emergency Services Coordinator, the city’s EOC is sub-par and the technology used needs to be replaced.

“Our EOC is our Community Room” (inside the police department),” he stated. “All the technology is so old and antiquated. It needs to be updated. The projectors are failing. The additional funding was to bring it up to date so it would be on par with the technology that other cities are using, particularly the county and the state. That’s what keeps us safe.”

“We have an ordinance that we have a Disaster Council and identifies who’s on that council and who staffs the EOC in a disaster. So, there’s a structure that comes into play when there’s a disaster…to keep the community safe,” he continued. “It’s also spelled out in our new, robust Emergency Operations Plan that was ratified by council a year, year-and-a-half ago. We do have a Disaster Council in place and that’s supported by the Emergency Operations Center, which is a place to do all these things, for city government and disaster workers to come together and make decisions for the city during a disaster.”

“The EOC can be run very simply,” Fortner continued. “But in today’s world, people have iPads, cell phones, collaborative video screens helping everyone communicate on a faster level. If we want a center to perform at a par, at a standard that’s acceptable that every other city operates on, then it needs to be updated.”

The item declaring the local emergency passed on a 4-0-1 vote.

Supports Reorganizing Departments, Separating Positions of Public Works Director/City Engineer

Under Item 4 the council moved forward reorganization of the Public Works and Community Development Departments and removing the City Engineer portion of the current position of Public Works Director/City Engineer and creating a new department and department head.

“We’ve realized that position…there’s a lot of job duties that position has to perform,” Human Resources Director Ana Cortez explained as the reason. She said it would allow the Public Works Director to focus on that part of the current job and the City Engineer to focus on engineering.”

Dr. Jeffrey Klingler was the first to speak during public comments on the item saying, “There are no staff reports for this agenda. Why? I can’t answer. What I can say this agenda item and most of the agenda is going through a suspicious process.”

The staff report included only two pages for the agenda item but no details about the proposed restructuring. Dept Reorganization ACC Spcl Mtg 011323

“I want to ask you to keep your comment to this specific subject,” Thorpe interjected.

“The point I was trying to make is that the public doesn’t have enough information…to comment on the reorganization,” Klingler continued. “What is the motivation? Here we’re meeting at a very inconvenient time for the public to comment. I would encourage you to further this agenda item for more information to go out to the public. Then let’s have a discussion with everyone involved.”

Resident Leslie May spoke next saying, “I wanted to thank John Samuelson for the work you’ve performed for both the Public Works Director and City Engineer. That was two jobs in one.”

“This isn’t about John Samuelson,” Thorpe interjected. Samuelson was fired by Johnson on Dec. 27. (See related article)

“From what I understand, this is two positions,” she continued. “It’s too much work. I do support having two separate positions. It gives the person the chance to directing those employees under that department and the city engineer focusing on what those employees do.”

Melissa Case said, “I echo the concerns of Leslie May. I’m concerned because James Donlon has been a problem and John Samuelson was working on that.”

“Ms. Case, I’m going to ask you to stop. This isn’t about John Samuelson,” Thorpe again interjected.

“I want the council…to make a priority of this…we have to cross James Donlon, like we did, today and it’s putting people’s lives in danger, like my 16-year-old son,” she concluded.

“This has been announced since last…Thursday,” Thorpe said about the agenda directing his comments to Dr. Klinger. “Why you didn’t receive the staff report, we have the staff report.”

District 4 Councilwoman Monica Wilson then asked, “In the past weren’t these positions separated? Then we brought them together?”

“Yes,” Cortez responded. “At times we’ve had different department heads with the title of City Engineer… the Community Development Director. We don’t have a job description for the City Engineer.”

“This is just a discussion at this point. You have to come back with costs,” Wilson stated.

Ogorchock then asked, “I know it was separated once before. Why did it come back together?”

“It was during when we were short staffed,” Cortez said. “The community director carried it because he was licensed.”

“I’m open to this and want more information regarding costs and responsibilities and who would be under each,” Ogorchock said.

“What is the next step?” Thorpe asked.

“The next step in the process is to meet with staff…the engineering department, the different areas it’s going to affect,” Cortez responded.

“The goal, here is to establish a responsibility for each position,” said City Manager Con Johnson.

“We do have an interim public works director and that’s Scott Bunting,” Thorpe stated. “He’s been here for quite a long time. So, the projects that are prioritized will continue being prioritized.”

“We have an assistant city engineer. So, he will be doing that for now,” Thorpe shared.

City staff will return with the details for a vote on the reorganization at a future council meeting.

Former Longtime Antioch Public Works Director/City Engineer Says It’s Unnecessary

When asked about his experience as Antioch’s Public Works Director/City Engineer, Stan Davis who held both positions for 30 years said, “Every new city manager wants to change things up. I went through seven city managers. They changed the department composition a couple of times. We really don’t need two with how small a staff the City of Antioch has.”

“The water treatment plant and maintenance services for your street work needs engineering, unless you have a licensed engineer in charge of maintenance,” he continued. “There really is no reason to separate out engineering completely. Engineering is involved in every other operational aspect: parks, streets, storm drainage, water and city buildings. All the city’s physical facilities fall under engineering at some point.”

“Building inspection which started out under Public Works wound up under Community Development,” Davis shared. “No matter how you do it everybody needs to work together. When you start creating more departments, you’re creating more department heads. I don’t really see a need for separating them.”

Doesn’t Approve Council Pay Raise

The council then discussed increasing their compensation by $252.21 per month to $1,852.25 or about 16%. “The last time there was an increase was January 1st of 2021,” City Attorney Thomas L. Smith explained. “State law would allow an increase…January 1st, 2025 after the next election.”

“So, you guys want a raise. Maybe I can talk about your past performance,” said a Mr. Walker who called in during public comments. “The mayor has made a lot of bad decisions, lately. He doesn’t know how to handle money.” He started to make more negative comments about Thorpe when the mayor asked City Clerk Ellie Householder to end the phone call.

“I am to determine if you have a need for a salary increase,” the man said.

Thorpe then directed Householder to cut him off.

“You can’t do that, sir. That’s a violation of the Brown Act,” the man continued before Householder ended the phone call.

During council discussion of the item Wilson said, “I understand why we’re bringing this back for discussion. But it needs to be discussed by our state legislators as it has to be fixed at the state level.”

Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker was not in support of a pay raise.

“I didn’t agree with the last raise the council gave before I was elected,” she said. “We can have this conversation…but I would like the public to know, not now or sometime in the future will I support this.”

“Per our ordinance this is something we’re to review annually,” Thorpe explained. “I am for increasing salaries. It’s not a volunteer opportunity. This is important work we do on behalf of the community. We’ve had our discussion. Is everyone clear?”

Council Secretaries Decision Postponed

On the matter of hiring part-time secretaries for the mayor and council members resident Leslie May said during public comments, “I believe that if a council member works a full-time job somewhere else and has underage children or a senior, they take care of then I believe they’re entitled to have someone to help the council members.”

“The stipend council members get for the amount of work they do is comparing apples and oranges,” she continued.

“Whichever council members are asking for…a little bit of help, then I am for these part time secretaries for those who are asking for it,” May stated. “If the others don’t want them then they don’t need one.”

“I’m not really for or against it. I just have some concerns,” Melissa Case said. “Three of the people up there always take the time to answer me and I appreciate them. There are some city positions that aren’t filled, right now. Why are we filling assistants when we have other city staff positions that need to be filled?”

“Will my district council member, when she gets an assistant, answer my emails?” she asked. “Because she doesn’t, now.” She was referring to District 4 Councilwoman Wilson.

Resident Edgar Martinez said he wanted the positions to be internships instead of assistants. “What are they going to get paid?” he asked.

“I think we have a local college. I think we could give students an opportunity…to get a foot in the door,” he continued. “I just kind of question is it feasible long term. I feel like we should look at these positions as intern positions.”

Mr. Walker spoke again by phone. “I’m back. I guess I have to ask the broken man with the gavel.”

“You’re asking for a female assistant,” he continued and then referred to Thorpe’s sexual harassment of two female staff members at his former job.

“Alright. That’s it,” the mayor said and had the man’s comments cut off.

Torres-Walker then said, “I come from a city that has offices and shares assistants (referring to Richmond which is a charter city. Antioch is a general law city). They don’t have to meet outside. This was my idea. We’re not keeping up with the growing city. Council members need assistants to answer those phone calls, respond to emails. Some assistance is needed. After having several hours conversations with community members…we came to the conclusion, this probably isn’t the right direction to go in. The right direction would be internships.”

“We have the infrastructure in place, already,” she continued. “I’m not prepared to support this tonight or in the future. But I would support a public policy internship program.”

“I will say, so that the public knows, the part-time secretary salaries range from $15,000 to $21,667. These are internship numbers,” Thorpe said. “The working title, you can do whatever you want with. Everything you said you can do, here. It doesn’t have to be a secretary. I’m the only one up here who has had interns. The frustrating part is they leave. My interns helped with the Chinese apology. They set that up. The frustrating thing is they leave. We train these people up. I wish there was more of a year with them. When I started the Homelessness Task Force it was internships behind that. I’m still for this. You can shape it however you want. I am asking, as the mayor, I do need a ton of support. There have been times when I appreciate Rosanna (Assistant City Manager Bayon-Moore). I just don’t think it’s the assistant city manager’s job to go buy candles for the 9-11 event.”

Attorney Smith said, “There is a legal difference in the rights of the individual” between a secretary and an intern.

“I don’t have a problem with it being 12- to 24 months. I don’t have a problem with it being a new one every year,” Torres-Walker responded.

“If you want to do that for a combination for District 1, I’m happy to support that,” Thorpe said. “I don’t want an intern because I’ve done that. I’m asking for a little more long-term support. Councilmember Wilson and Councilmember Torres-Walker are really engaged.”

“I’ve had an intern help me with environmental issues,” Wilson said. “If we have interns, they need to have stipends. I’m for having the conversation about this.”

“So, I hear what the two of you are saying,” Thorpe stated.

“Any age group,” Torres-Walker added. “I think anyone interested in public policy.”

Thorpe then continued to prod the council to approve a secretary at least for him. But Torres-Walker wouldn’t during Friday’s meeting.

“I’m saying I’m not prepared to support any of them, tonight,” she responded.

“OK. We’ll bring it back,” the mayor relented.

Ogorchock then said, “I’m in agreement with bringing it back.”

“So, we’re all in agreement,” Thorpe said.

Council Committee Assignments

The council then postponed appointing members to various city and regional committees after Ogorchock asked that the decision wait until Barbanica is in attendance.

Torres-Walker said, “I’m fine leaving it the way it is. I think we want to wait for Councilman Barbanica.”

The item then was postponed on 4-0-1 vote.

Edgar Martinez was the only member of the public to speak on the item saying, “One of the things I noticed last year, when I didn’t hear too much about reporting out from committees. I continue to hear in some cases, ‘my committee didn’t get to meet.’ I hear more about some committees versus others. I looked at the website to see if the committees. I’m hoping this year that there could be more reports out. These committees are here for a reason.”

“I hear your point. It’s not that people aren’t participating,” Thorpe explained. “The Association of Bay Area Governments meets once a year. Some meet once a year. So, some people will have more to say. Most of our council members participate in their meetings. Then there are committees that are subcommittees of this council. We’re volunteering our time. We don’t get paid for those meetings. We get paid for these.”

Barbanica Didn’t Attend Meeting Due to Business Commitments

In a YouTube video posted on his official Facebook page Friday afternoon, Barbanica explained why he would not be attending the special Friday afternoon council meeting.

“Two hours after clearly, I told the city I would be there in person, the mayor cancelled the meeting when he had no authority to do so,” he said about Tuesday’s meeting.

“I took my business which I was going to do on Tuesday, and I moved it to later in the week,” he shared. “I’m not going to put off people a second time. Tonight, I have an appointment scheduled to house a veteran.”

“Manipulating agendas based on who shows up and who doesn’t show up,” he stated. “I disagree with doing business like this…and I will certainly not support it.”

“I have business commitments tonight. This is not the first time this has occurred. I support our scheduled meetings. There are times for special meetings. But this is not one of them,” Barbanica concluded.


the attachments to this post:

Dept Reorganization ACC Spcl Mtg 011323

Torres-Walker Thorpe ACC 011323

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