Antioch Council places city manager on administrative leave, mayor calls special Friday meeting to “correct this action”

Councilmembers Barbanica, Wilson and Ogorchock made the decision during closesd session Tuesday night, March 14, 2023. Video screenshot

Thorpe claims council members were “procedurally wrong”

Torres-Walker says council needs to have nationwide search for new city manager, assistant city manager ; APOA President issues statement in support of police chief

By Allen D. Payton

Cornelius “Con” Johnson.

The Antioch City Council placed City Manager Cornelius “Con” Johnson on administrative leave, immediately it was reported by City Attorney Thomas L. Smith following the closed session meeting, Tuesday night. He said the council met to discuss one case of “anticipated litigation, significant exposure to litigation”. The vote was 3-0 on a motion by District 2 Councilman Mike Barbanica, seconded by District 3 Councilman Lori Ogorchock and passed with the vote of District 4 Councilwoman Monica Wilson. (See beginning of council meeting video)

Johnson was absent from the meeting because he was ill according to Barbanica, who also left shortly after the beginning of the regular meeting due to having a medical procedure earlier in the day.

Both Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker and Mayor Lamar Thorpe were absent from the closed session. Without explanation for her absence, she later apologized for being late, having arrived just as the regular meeting was beginning. Thorpe, who was traveling back from a transportation conference in Washington, D.C. and his flight was delayed, also apologized for his tardiness. At the end of the meeting he said, “I ran out of the plane” with a laugh. He arrived about 7:55 p.m. wearing a hoody.

Wilson, the council’s longest serving member, led the meeting until Thorpe arrived, because Torres-Walker, whose responsibility it was, said she hadn’t been feeling well. Wilson pointed out the fact that it was an all-woman council during Women’s History Month

Regarding Johnson being placed on paid leave Thorpe said, “I know that some changes occurred, today at closed session. I do trust my colleagues in whatever action that they took, and I’ll try to support as best as possible, and I’ll get caught up on what’s going on. Change happens. You have to embrace it and massage it and try to get the best possible outcome.”

The City’s Human Resources Director Ana Cortez will serve as the acting city manager in Johnson’s absence until the council can appoint an interim city manager. She fulfilled that role last week when Johnson appointed her to it while he was out on bereavement leave.

Because it is a personnel matter neither the council members nor city staff can provide any details. However, and although Johnson is still in his position, during Tuesday’s meeting Torres-Walker twice called for a nationwide search for a new city manager as well as a new assistant city manager.

Speculation by Antioch residents in comments on social media were that the council’s action was related to the recent firestorm between Police Chief Steve Ford, the City’s former PIO, Rolando Bonilla and his issuing a press release with comments by the chief taking a swipe at his own officers which he never made. As previously reported Bonilla claims Johnson authorized the press release. The PIO’s contract was later terminated by Johnson. (See related articles here and here)

APOA President Issues Statement

Antioch Police Officers Association President Rick Hoffman issued the following statement about the matter Tuesday night out of concern that Ford may be the city council’s next target for termination: “While the dismissal of the CM (city manager) comes as a surprise to us, our main concern is whether council has any intention of replacing Chief Ford. We want the council to know that we fully support Chief Ford and his vision for the department.”

Thorpe Says Council Action “Procedurally Wrong”, Calls Special Meeting Friday to Correct It, Possibly Hire Interim City Manager

In a post on his official Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon, Thorpe issued the following statement about the matter: “At the Tuesday, March 15, 2023, City Council Meeting, the City Manager was placed on paid administrative leave. Vice Mayor (Mayor Pro Tem) Tamisha Torres-Walker and I were not present for the vote as my flight from Washington, DC was delayed for several hours.

I know my colleagues intended to proceed in the best interest of the City of Antioch and within their authority. However, while they may have believed their actions were correct, legally they were procedurally wrong.

In an effort to allow the Council to express its will, I’ll be calling a special meeting for Friday, March 17, 2023, at 10:00 am to correct this action and, if needed, potentially appoint an Acting City Manager.

To that end, I want to assure Antioch residents, city employees, and partners that the City remains focused on our top priority of increasing our overall quality of life and ensuring public safety.”

Barbanica responded to Thorpe’s claims saying, “We had the city attorney in the room, who attends all meetings, and he made the announcement at the end. It’s unfortunate the mayor wasn’t at the meeting. If there was anything procedurally incorrect that needs clarifying, I’m willing to consider it. But I think all of us on council need to focus on during the right thing for the city.”

“I believe that the council, when presented with certain information, has a duty to act,” he added. “If it’s a matter of the item not being agendized properly the mayor needs to remember he sets the agenda as he has reminded the public time and time again.”

City Attorney Smith and Thorpe were then sent via email the mayor’s announcement, copying the other council members and City Clerk Ellie Householder, asking them what the procedural error was and if it’s the fact the agenda item didn’t mention a possible discipline of a public employee. In addition, they were asked who decided on that terminology for the agenda item and who normally decides on the terminology used for closed session agenda items.

Please check back later for any updates to this report.


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ACC mtg 03-14-23 Thorpe Torres-Walker absent

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