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Vallejo council to fire embattled city manager

San Francisco Chronicle--LINK  

Monday, April 27, 2009


Vallejo is ousting its seventh city manager in four years as it hurtles toward the anniversary of its bankruptcy filing.


The City Council is preparing to fire City Manager Joe Tanner 2 1/2 years after he took the helm of the beleaguered North Bay city, which in May 2008 became the largest California city to declare bankruptcy.


Details of Tanner's departure, including his severance package, will be available later this week. The City Council is expected to vote on the termination at its meeting next Tuesday and appoint an interim city manager to guide the city through its looming budget cuts and bankruptcy negotiations.


Tanner is expected to leave within the next few weeks, about six months before his contract expires.


Labor lawyers, the city attorney and City Council members are haggling over the details of his termination package.


Tanner, 61, did not return calls Monday.


Tanner's supporters said he was being unfairly pushed out for standing up to the city's public safety unions. Tanner had argued that the police and fire contracts were overly burdensome for the cash-strapped city, fought to cut employees' pay and benefits and have the contracts nullified in the bankruptcy proceedings.


A judge is expected to rule in the next few weeks whether the contracts can be voided.


"It's a vendetta. It's political retribution," Councilwoman Stephanie Gomes said. "And ultimately, whether you like Joe Tanner or not, getting rid of your city manager in the middle of the worst fiscal crisis in city history is completely irresponsible and petty."


Mayor Osby Davis could not comment on the details of Tanner's departure but said he's been unhappy with Tanner's handling of the bankruptcy proceedings and labor negotiations, and believes Tanner's salary - at $341,000 the fourth-highest among California city managers - is too high.


By comparison, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom earned $248,500 last year and Fairfield City Manager Sean Quinn made $226,000.


As the city winnowed its budget last year, Tanner offered to take a 10 percent pay cut, but the cut never went into effect, Gomes and Davis said.


Tanner has been worth the high salary, Gomes and Councilwoman Joanne Schivley said. He negotiated a land deal with Discovery Kingdom that allowed the city to put $52 million toward its redevelopment agency debt, and he took on the politically powerful public safety unions, they said.


"I don't agree with everything he's done, but you do not change generals in the middle of battle," Schivley said. "The problem is, he's made it look too easy."


One of Tanner's fiercest opponents has been the fire union, which is still in contract negotiations with the city. Fire union President Kurt Henke said he would wasn't surprised at Tanner's ouster.


"We're ambivalent, at best," he said. "As far as we're concerned, Mickey Mouse would run this city just fine."


Before coming to Vallejo in January 2006, Tanner served as city manager in Pacifica, Emeryville, Pleasant Hill and Galt (Sacramento County).


E-mail Carolyn Jones at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle