In an effort to move past factional divides, the Tracy City Council on Tuesday adopted a San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury recommendation that will require a four-fifths vote for the council to fire the city manager or city attorney.
The grand jury report, released back in June, stated in part that the council’s interactions with upper-level city staff members in 2017 and 2018 “created an unstable work environment” at City Hall. The report noted that then-City Manager Troy Brown was released on a 3-2 vote in September 2017, followed by the abrupt departure of Assistant City Manager Stephanie Garrabrant-Sierra three weeks later.
The firing of the police chief, Larry Esquivel, in August 2018 continued the pattern of city leaders departing under contentious circumstances, leading the grand jury to report that Esquivel’s departure was also the result of “power politics” on the council.
The city manager and city attorney are the only two city employees hired directly by the City Council, and the grand jury stated that that those positions “should be shielded from power politics and shifting alliances by requiring a supermajority vote for their termination.”
Though the council agreed unanimously to amend its policy for firing the city manager and city attorney, there was still disagreement.
Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Young, Councilwoman Rhodesia Ransom and Councilman Dan Arriola advocated the supermajority policy.
Young said that requiring four votes would ensure that the council was firing someone for a legitimate reason.
“In such high-level positions of our city, city manager and city attorney, it should lean more toward cause,” Young said. “Three can possibly be politicized, and four would make it lean more towards that way, for transparency and for stability.”
Ransom added that an effort to seek consensus would require a simple majority of the council to convince at least one more council member that the decision was necessary.
“If in fact there is in fact a need to remove a city manager or city attorney, that should be clear. It shouldn’t be ambiguous. It should be something that we can all get on board with,” Ransom said. “If there is a true issue, it would cause a fourth person to be shown what that issue is.”
Councilwoman Veronica Vargas said she was skeptical of the motivations that led to the grand jury’s recommendation in the first place, and she suspected that fellow council members discussed information from closed sessions with grand jury members during the investigation.
“I’m not opposed to this concept. I am opposed and I’m just not OK with the manner in which I am forced to do this,” she said. “The grand jury was used as a weapon to advance some people’s political views and is a misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
Mayor Robert Rickman spoke in favor of keeping the city policy unchanged, stating that the council’s actions were inherently political.
“Politics plays both ways. Politics plays when you keep someone and politics about getting rid of someone,” he said. “Keeping somebody because you’re friends with them is just as political as getting rid of somebody. Don’t kid yourself.”