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Kaiser resigns as Portola city manager

Carolyn Carter
Staff Writer
9/20/2013
 

Ian Kaiser’s two-month stint as Portola city manager is over.

Three days after being fined and sanctioned by the City Council, Kaiser turned in his letter of resignation Friday afternoon, Sept. 13.

“It is just the right thing to do right now for myself and my family,” Kaiser said.

Kaiser, who said he took the job with the goal of improving the way the city operates, quickly fell out of favor with the City Council and staff.

City workers said Kaiser created a working environment that made them fearful of losing their jobs. Council members said Kaiser broke personnel rules that justified disciplinary measures.

The discipline was announced Sept. 10, after a five-hour closed session.

The council voted to cut Kaiser’s $75,000 salary by $20,000 and ordered him to hire a management coach within 30 days.

Kaiser initially agreed to the sanctions. Following the closed meeting he said, “The work environment is going to be tough, but I’m willing to try.”

But he soon changed his mind.

“The recent events by the Mayor and City Council has reached a culminating point that no reasonable person can be expected to endure,” Kaiser wrote in his resignation letter. “And (it) is directly causing me unneeded distress and adverse effects to my health.”

After Kaiser hand-delivered the letter to City Hall, Mayor John Larrieu made copies for the council members.

Larrieu said City Public Works Superintendent Todd Roberts would be interim city manager until a permanent manager is hired.

“This is not a pleasant thing,” Larrieu said regarding the events of the past week. “It’s been very traumatic. We (City Council) were all taking this very seriously.

“We just have to deal with it,” he continued. “We’ve got a great staff. I’m not concerned with how the city will operate.”

It was a long night at City Hall on Sept. 10. The City Council finally opened the doors of City Hall at 1 a.m. and announced its decision regarding Kaiser.

City Attorney Steve Gross read, on behalf of the City Council, that in a 3-2 vote Kaiser would remain on staff as the city manager.

Kaiser, who was hired as city manager July 1, was put on administrative leave Sept. 5 due to a list of personnel-related accusations against him.

The council discussed and addressed the personnel issues at a special meeting Sept. 5. In a 4-1 vote, council members determined Kaiser should be placed on administrative leave until the concerns could be addressed Sept. 10.

The Sept. 10 meeting offered a chance for the council to hear a list of five allegations against Kaiser, including testimony from those involved.

Kaiser had the choice of having the meeting be either open or closed. On Saturday, Sept. 7, Kaiser informed the city attorney that he would like to hold it in open session.

At the meeting Sept. 10, City Hall was bursting with more than 60 people ready to hear the charges against Kaiser. But an hour before the meeting, Kaiser requested it be closed.

Public members spoke for about an hour before the session was closed. Many people expressed their support of Kaiser, and others expressed their concern for the community as a whole.

Kaiser’s wife, Devora, spoke on his behalf, saying, “I know my husband. I know he is fallible, but he has a good heart.”

Kaiser also spoke in public comment. He quoted Scripture and said the reason he wanted to close the session was because he didn’t want to hurt staff, and he didn’t want to hurt himself.

One by one, five city staff members walked into the closed room and addressed their concerns to the council and to Kaiser.

Roberts entered first. He was followed by accounting technician Becky Pearson, City Planner Karen Downs, and utility technicians Kellie Pato and Kim Beever.

A handful of community members stayed until the end of the meeting to hear the City Council’s verdict.

Gross announced that with a motion approved by Council Members Juliana Mark, Phil Oels and Michelle Gault, Kaiser would remain on staff for the city with a pay cut.

The council reported that it cleared Kaiser of four of the five charges because of insufficient evidence. But the fifth item on the list resulted in the disciplinary action.

The council reported Kaiser would remain on administrative leave until he hired a management coach approved by the council.

Gross announced there would be no retaliation toward staff for testifying against Kaiser, and that any incidents of retaliation will result in immediate termination.

After hearing the council’s decision, city staff gathered quietly in the back room with looks of despair on their faces, while tired council members and citizens filed out.

“This has been the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make,” said Council Member Gault. “We didn’t anticipate these problems.”

Because the issues were personnel matters they were not available to the public. However, the city staff members all agreed they wished the meeting had remained open.

“We were shocked that he had changed his mind and made it closed session,” a staff member said. “We were happy that the public was going to see both sides.”

“I wish he had left it in open session so that the public could’ve heard the whole story,” said Council Member Pat Morton, who voted against the motion to keep Kaiser.

Kaiser said he has no plans to leave the area. But he said he had no choice but to step down as city manager.

Kaiser stated in his resignation letter: “It is important that the record reflect that my resignation is, unequivocally, an action that I have been forced to take — that this is specifically and explicitly not a voluntary action; one that I, outright, have no choice, but, to do so.”

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