Following a contentious Newport Beach City Council special meeting Monday, the search for a new city manager has narrowed down to the final two, apparently eliminating a candidate whose name was leaked late last week.
Council interviewed seven people, from the 72 applications received, on July 23. They decided to conduct follow-up interviews with three, which the city originally announced would be held on Aug. 13. A few days later, at 4 p.m. on Friday, the city shared a message announcing that the date had changed to Monday at 9 a.m. in Council Chambers at NB Civic Center.
At some point before the weekend, rumors were circulating that one of the finalists was Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson. Critics were calling Nelson a “political” choice without the appropriate experience for the job.
Nelson terms out as OC Supervisor at the end of 2018. He also recently ran for congress in District 39 earlier this year, but came in fifth in the primary election. Nelson also filed papers to run for Superior Court judge in 2016, but backed out before the deadline to submit candidacy statements.
Although Nelson’s name was not confirmed and it was only speculation last week, Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield somewhat corroborated the claim when he explained the reasoning for the Monday morning meeting date change. It was required when candidates’ names became publicly known, Duffield said.
“In due respect for them, their futures and their business and their jobs, we don’t want to wait two more weeks. Now that it’s out we’d like to get this over with sooner, for that reason,” Duffield said.
More than 50 people attended the meeting, with 17 passionately speaking during public comment. Remarks from the audience ranged from questioning the sudden move and the seemingly rushed process of finding a new city manager to urging the Council to hire someone who is appropriately qualified and has experience.
Several speakers pointed out that the Council members were elected to represent the residents and now is the time to prove that they do. Many also mentioned that the November election can’t come soon enough.
Duffield often had to remind the crowd not to applaud.
As Council adjourned to closed session the crowd broke out in chant, echoing a comment made by many speakers: “Vote them out.”
After closed session, City Attorney Aaron Harp read a statement authorized by Council. The report noted that the recruiting firm emphasized confidentiality during the selection process, something the Council agreed to respect.
“Excellent candidates are willing to apply if they do not have to worry that their current employers question loyalty,” Harp read from the statement. “We sincerely hope that the process has not been so compromised that the candidate refuses consideration.”
Harp pointed out that Councilman Jeff Herdman issued a public statement last week regarding the qualifications of the final three candidates.
“His statement violated the confidentiality he agreed to uphold and contained a number of inaccurate statements,” Harp said. “To set the record straight, the candidate Mr. Herdman now calls unqualified received a bare majority of four Council Member votes. Mr. Herdman cast the deciding fourth vote. Without Mr. Herdman’s support, the candidate in question would not be the subject of community speculation.”
In a newsletter on Wednesday, Herdman took the opportunity to explain his situation and deal with the accusations from colleagues, without violating the Brown Act.
It’s “flat out not true” that he released the name of one of the candidates.
In his earlier email to constituents on Saturday, Herdman said he had no idea what was going on and got an “evasive answer” as to why the meeting was moved up so suddenly.
He wrote that he believed the council majority has identified a candidate they want and are moving forward without explanation.
He urged residents to attend Monday’s meeting and step up to the microphone to “encourage the council to select the best qualified candidate.” He did not name any of the applicants in his email.
In Wednesday’s newsletter, Herdman explained that he did support the individual in question as a finalist, but did so without knowing much about him, other than what he had read on his resume.
“He did an outstanding job in the interview and moved to the top as one of my three most qualified candidates,” Herdman wrote.
After the name was leaked, which Herdman again emphasizes it was not by him, he received emails and heard comments from people encouraging him not so consider this particular candidate. ko
“I even did some fact checking myself and concluded that this individual was no longer a viable candidate. I had a responsibility to the community to do this,” Herdman wrote in the recent newsletter. “This left me with two very qualified candidates from which to select; candidates I was very comfortable with as finalists.”
Herdman reiterated that he has not broken any confidentiality agreements or the Brown Act
“I have simply explained my situation, and provided you with the facts,” he concluded.
Public speakers on Monday had a lot to say about the situation.
City Council candidate Roy Englebrecht and longtime resident summarized a lot of the other comments.
Englebrecht, who is running in district 4, currently represented by Kevin Muldoon, said the treatment of current City Manager Dave Kiff over the last six months is “outrageous.”
“You have embarrassed our city and you have cheated our residents,” Englebrecht said. “You were elected by the people and for the people and I think you have missed that mark.”
The entire process of searching for a replacement, including the last-minute meeting move, “smacks of Richard Daley Chicago-style politics from the 1960s,” he said.
“For the life of me, I cannot understand why this Council could not have tabled this hire until after the November 6 election?” Englebrecht said. “I’ll answer my own question: it’s because of the egos of the majority of this Council. You should leave your egos at the door and not bring them to the podium.”
Englebrecht urged one Council member to have the “moxie” to make a motion to table the hire, and another to second and have at least four to follow the wishes of the residents.
“If not, I hope the residents of Newport Beach vote out the majority of this Council because you do not deserve to serve this community,” Englebrecht said.
After public comments, Herdman made a motion to table the selection of a new city manager until after the November election. The audience cheered and yelled out “Second,” calling out councilwoman Diane Dixon specifically to second the motion. But no second came and the motion died.
City watchdog Jim Mosher commented that the process has been surrounded by “unnecessary secrecy.”
If the names are already out, they should introduce the applicants to the public, as other cities have done, so residents can comment and the Council can then make a better decision.
Longtime Dover Shores resident Sorrell Wayne called the Council’s actions “disgraceful” on how they treated Kiff.
“You have a blatant political agenda and it’s time the citizens of Newport Beach recognize and do something about it,” Wayne said. “Shame on you.”
Former Mayor Nancy Gardner said people disagreed while she was on Council as well, that’s part of the job.
“But I wasn’t in a position where people had such doubts, where there was a suspicion that the public’s business was not being done in public,” Gardner said. “I just hope that when this is all over, whenever you make whatever decision you make, that you would think about why this is happening, this sense of distrust.”
Former Mayor Keith Curry noted after the meeting that putting a political candidate in the final three shows total disregard for citizens’ request to hire somebody who has similar values, ethics, experience, and ability as Kiff, Curry commented.
“I think the public outrage that was expressed here reflects the [residents’] contempt with the City Council,” Curry said.