No luck of the Irish for city manager as Antioch Council unanimously places him on administrative leave in St. Patrick’s Day vote

Antioch City Manager Con Johnson was in attendance for the announcement by City Attorney Smith that by a unanimous council vote he had been placed on administrative leave during a special city council closed session Friday morning, March 17, 2023. Video screenshot.

Appoints Community Development Director Forrest Ebbs as acting CM

Con Johnson attends meeting; Thorpe holds press conference to issue statement, doesn’t invite local media, again

By Allen D. Payton

Antioch City Manager Cornelius “Con” Johnson was placed on administrative leave on a 5-0 council vote Friday, March 17, 2023.

The Antioch City Council held a special closed session meeting Friday morning to discuss City Manager Con Johnson’s fate. There were no public comments prior to them adjourning from open session. But before leaving the Council Chambers, Mayor Lamar Thorpe asked the department heads to be on stand-by on the 3rd Floor to be available should they be called into the meeting in the Manager’s Conference Room.

The council discussed two items on the agenda including a public employee performance evaluation of the city manager and possible action. The second item was discussion and possible vote to appoint an acting city manager. The meeting was held to correct the council’s action on Tuesday night, March 14, when they placed Johnson on administrative leave, immediately, because the matter was not agendized properly. The item for that closed session meeting only mentioned potential litigation.

Friday’s meeting began at 10:00 a.m. and the council members returned to public session at 11:00 a.m. with Johnson in attendance. City Attorney Thomas L. Smith reported out that the city council on motion by Councilmember Barbanica and seconded by Councilmember Ogorchock the council voted to place the city manager on administrative leave. It passed 5-0.

The council action follows two recent actions by Johnson in which he fired former City Engineer and Public Works Director John Samuelson in December, which is believed to have been a wrongful termination in violation of the City’s MOU with management staff, and what might have caused the City to face “anticipated litigation, significant exposure to litigation”, as described for Tuesday’s closed session agenda item. Johnson also fired the City’s former public information officer, Rolando Bonilla, following a firestorm with Police Chief Steve Ford and the Antioch Police Officers Association, over a press release including comments about his officers that Ford said he never made. Yet, Bonilla claims Johnson authorized that press release.

During his report out of the Friday closed session, Smith then said, “on the second item on motion by Barbanica and seconded by Mayor Pro Tem Torres-Walker the motion was to appoint Forrest Ebbs acting city manager.” It passed on a 5-0 vote.

Ebbs is currently the director of the City’s Community Development Department.

Following roll call and a vote to adjourn, Thorpe ended the meeting at 11:03 a.m.

The mayor then spoke to the media during a press conference following the meeting to issue a statement in front of a podium that was already set up in the foyer between the council chambers and city hall prior to the closed session. Unfortunately, the Herald was not informed ahead of time that was going to occur and was not in attendance.

Barbanica said he was also not aware of the planned press conference being held after the closed session meeting until he saw the podium when he arrived for the meeting and asked city staff about it. The District 2 Councilman said they told him it was for after the meeting. Barbanica did not stay for the press conference and could not provide details of what Thorpe shared.

Asked if Johnson attended the closed session, after consulting with the city attorney, Barbanica responded, “as with most city council closed sessions the city manager and city attorney would be present. Also, it would not be uncommon for an employee being evaluated by the council to be present during the evaluation. However, if the council was considering any personnel action the employee would not be present for that deliberation or vote.”

Thorpe livestreamed the press conference on his official Facebook page and introduced Ebbs and his background. The mayor, joined by all the City’s department heads and District 3 Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock, who was the only other council member in attendance. Please see the follow up article for details on the press conference.

the attachments to this post:

ACC031723 with Johnson in attendance

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