Newport Harbor was once again the focus of a speech from Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield this week, but the recent controversy over the early retirement of the Newport Beach city manager is what made waves during the meeting.
At Thursday’s board meeting of the Corona del Mar Residents’ Association, Duffield delivered a State of the City address that centered around the harbor.
He pointed out a new economic impact report by Beacon Economics that declared Newport Harbor’s financial significance is far more than the $351 million reported by Newport Beach and Company two years ago. The number is closer to $1 billion, he said, noting that the harbor effect on business and real estate “spreads out” to Costa Mesa and other nearby areas.
But at 23 minutes into his remarks, former mayor Keith Curry inquired about a different kind of impact that has haunted City Council since March: Why was City Manager Dave Kiff’s retirement moved from April 2019 to August of this year?
Kiff and the Council made headlines recently when the well-regarded city manager’s early retirement was announced. Some reports claim that several Council members pressured Kiff into departing before his contract is up next year, a concern many residents have raised at numerous Council meeting, along with an outpouring of support for Kiff.
Despite the public opposition, Council voted 7-0 on April 10 to amend Kiff’s employment agreement to end on Aug. 31. On April 24, Council selected Roberts Consulting Group as the company tasked with finding potential candidates for Kiff’s replacement.
On Thursday, Duffield alluded that Kiff was previously hinting at retirement and that Council was ready to move on.
According to Duffield, about a year ago, during a regular Monday meeting that he and Councilman Scott Peotter have had with Kiff over the last three and a half years, Kiff said “out of the blue” that he and his partner sought to do more traveling “while they were still young.”
“We didn’t think anything of it at the time,” Duffield recalled. “He mentioned it. He said, ‘Just get ready, because we really are getting on and we want to enjoy life.’ Then we got down the road and we are where we are today.”
Months later, Duffield said that when he asked if Kiff was still interested in retiring early, he said he didn’t know.
“We asked him, ‘Could you please just tell us what your future is with us? Because we have an election coming and on and on and on…’ He came back and said, ‘I would be willing and want to get this thing going,’” Duffield added. “That’s all I know about it.”
Duffield maintains that reports of Peotter, Councilman Kevin Muldoon, Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill, and himself scheming behind the scenes to get Kiff out were unfounded.
“He never mentioned that he was unhappy to us,” Duffield seemed to lament. “I wish he would have been honest about it, but he chose not to communicate like that. I can’t speak for why he did what he did.”
When Curry asked about the $200,000 payment to Kiff, as part of the deal to retire early, Duffield said he could not confirm the numbers and that it was negotiated by the city attorney and Kiff’s attorney.
Joy Brenner, president of the CdM Residents’ Association and a City Council candidate, asked if Kiff will be on hand to advise the new city manager, both Duffield and O’Neill, who was also present at the meeting, agreed that he would.
“There’s no reason to lose any of that expertise,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill implied that Kiff may also assist in the selection of the next city manager.
“I don’t see why he wouldn’t,” he said.
Duffield added that in one or two years, Kiff may become a consultant to the city in regard to ongoing noise and pollution issues with John Wayne Airport.
“We want that to be very clear that he’s not abandoning the airport…He really put his heart and soul into it…that’s a fabulous resource that we don’t want to lose,” Duffield said.
When resident and government watchdog Jim Mosher asked if the public would be involved in the recruitment and selection process any further than the current online survey, O’Neill said that it may not be possible. Potential city manager candidates, who are currently employed by other cities, do not want their names known publicly.
He would welcome input from local community groups on the process, O’Neill added, but that as of now, he was unsure how to involve the public and maintain confidentiality with the applicants.
“That’s why we hired a recruiting firm to help us out,” O’Neill said.
May 18 is the last day for residents to weigh in on the selection of a new city manager via an online survey at newportbeachca.gov/communitysurvey