By Mark Gutglueck
In its last business session before the changing of the guard in which three of its current members will depart in the aftermath of the 2018 election cycle, the Upland City Council as it is now composed on Monday night November 26 used its fleeting authority to elevate Assistant City Manager Jeannette Vagnozzi to the position of city manager.
Vagnozzi is now the city’s seventh city manager in the last eight years.
The terms of that promotion impose on the incoming city council, the full membership of which has yet to be determined, a requirement that Vagnozzi stay in place as city manager at least until early March 2019 and confers upon her a severance guarantee of roughly $155,500 if the future council elects to terminate her before the contract expires as of January 1, 2022.
Vagnozzi’s ascendancy comes in the context of an acrimonious relationship between the political establishment that dominated the City of Gracious Living for the last two years and at least two of the three victorious candidates in this year’s election. Those three victors, including the lone dissident from the current council’s ruling coalition who managed to capture reelection against a candidate promoted by that coalition’s backers, signify the Upland community’s dissatisfaction with the political establishment that heretofore held sway. They must now live, at least for a short while, with Vagnozzi, who often militated on the ruling coalition’s behalf.
Vagnozzi began working with Upland in the capacity of deputy city manager in 2015, when she was brought in to assist Rod Butler, who had been hired in 2014 as the full-fledged replacement for Stephen Dunn, who was given his walking papers and a one-year salary and benefits severance package after getting crosswise of then-Mayor Ray Musser and then-councilmen Brendan Brandt and Glenn Bozar. Butler took the reins from interim city manager Martin Lomeli, who had previously worked as the city manager in La Verne. Butler convinced the council to fund the assistant city manager position, and he then hired Vagnozzi, who had risen to the position of assistant to the city manager in La Verne at that time, Bob Russi, after she had been employed in that city for some 26 years, having begun as an intern and having moved through the ranks during Lomeli’s tenure there. Vagnozzi’s deputy city manager duties in Upland included serving as city clerk, administrative services director, human resources manager and risk management director. In 2016, three members of the city council – Mayor Musser, then-Councilwoman Debbie Stone and Councilman Gino Filippi – grew disenchanted with Butler and terminated him without citing cause, giving him a severance package equal to nine months salary and benefits as he headed out the door.
The council had Vagnozzi fill in for Butler as acting city manager for less than a week, and brought in the city’s former police chief, Marty Thouvenell, to serve as interim city manager and simultaneously head up a recruitment drive to find a replacement for Butler. What was originally intended to be no more than a three-month stint for Thouvenell as interim city manager prolonged itself into an 18-month assignment.
Among those contemplated as Butler’s replacement were Vagnozzi and two other department heads, Community Development Director Jeff Zwack and Finance Manager Scott Williams. Zwack’s strength was his overall command of the character of the city. The case for Williams was that he had a firm grip on the city’s financial outlook, which was bleak, given that a little more than three year’s previously an auditor’s opinion from the certified public accounting firm Mayer Hoffman and McCann had stated that there were such serious questions with regard to the city’s solvency to the point that it was on a trajectory toward being “unable to continue as a going concern.” Williams was energetically and aggressively working toward not just plugging the city’s ongoing annual budget gaps but eliminating its long-term structural deficits. These entailed thinking outside of the box, including proposals for substantial municipal reorganizations, most prominently tackling the primary cost of city operations – public safety – by shuttering both the police and fire departments and outsourcing law enforcement and firefighting/emergency medical service with external agencies such as the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department or the Ontario Police Department, the Ontario Fire Department or the San Bernardino County Fire Department. For Thouvenell, the dissolution of the Upland Police Department, with which he had spent his entire law enforcement career, was a nonstarter. Nevertheless, Vagnozzi deemed Williams a strong rival in the sweepstakes to become Upland city manager. Even before Williams’ managerial hopes could founder because of Thouvenell’s disapproval of his willingness to shutter the municipal police department, he was felled when information contained in his confidential personnel file relating to his own personal financial difficulty began making the rounds. The implication was that Vagnozzi, who as the city’s human resources director had virtually exclusive access to the personnel files of city employees, had ruthlessly used her bureaucratic position to cut Williams off at the knees. In October 2016, just a month-and-a-half after his name had been bandied about as a possible replacement for Butler, Williams was shown the door.
In the weeks and then months thereafter, however, Vagnozzi’s ascendancy to the city manager’s post never materialized, as Thouvenell had concluded that she was not suited to hold the position. Thouvenell did, however, gravitate to one of Williams’ outsourcing proposals, that pertaining to the fire department. In the November 2016 election, Mayor Musser did not seek reelection. Two of the incumbent council members, Debbie Stone and Glenn Bozar, vied against one another to replace Musser. Stone prevailed in that election. Also elected to the council that month was Janice Elliott, who moved into the council position formerly held by Bozar. Stone’s election to the mayoralty created a vacancy on the council, as she yet had two years left on the council term she had been elected to in 2014. A decision was made to fill that position with Sid Robinson, the runner-up to Elliott in the just-concluded election. At the end of November 2016, just before Elliott and Robinson assumed their places on the dais and in one of the last acts of the council that had Musser and Bozar as members, Thouvenell obtained permission to explore the option of closing out the 110-year-old Upland Municipal Fire Department and enter into an arrangement with the county to have the county fire department replace it.
Thouvenell pursued the county fire department takeover concept, and the then-newly composed council backed him in having the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission structure the annexation of Upland and neighboring San Antonio Heights into a county fire service district, whereupon all land and business owners in the city had imposed upon them a $157 per parcel annual assessment to pay for the county fire department’s operations. The city, meanwhile, eliminated the costs it had traditionally bore in operating the fire department, but agreed to have Upland return to the county 54 percent of the property taxes collected on its behalf, an amount equal at present to $7 million to $8 million annually. This created a permanent financial commitment that is to continue to grow as property values increase, with the county getting 54 percent of the city’s property taxes into perpetuity. Meanwhile, the city’s residents, and those in San Antonio Heights, found themselves having to pay twice for fire protection service that historically had been provided by the city and the county and defrayed through the collection of property taxes and local sales tax. Simultaneously, this galvanized thousands of Upland and San Antonio Heights residents, who in the final stages of the processing of the transition between the city, the county, the county fire department and the Local Agency Formation Commission, lodged thunderous protests, ultimately to no avail. As this processing marched toward completion, Councilwoman Elliott, alone among her council colleagues, sought to resist the takeover and facilitated city and San Antonio Heights residents in their efforts to stop the creation of the assessment district and the closure of the Upland Fire Department. This isolated Elliott from the rest of the council as well as from Thouvenell and virtually all of the city’s managerial and administrative staff. When she did not realign herself with their agenda, they moved to isolate her further, removing her from all of the committee assignments she held as well as those positions on regional and intergovernmental joint powers authority boards on which she represented Upland. Cast in the role of the council’s lone dissident, Elliott conformed to the mold that had been cast for her, and on virtually all issues of controversy in the city that followed, including increasing the city’s water rates, conferring upon Thouvenell throughout 2018 a year-long consultancy contract at $9,000 per month, and selling 12 percent of Upland’s historic Memorial Park to San Antonio Hospital for use as a parking structure, she voted in opposition to her four fellow and sister council members.
In December 2017, Thouvenell recommended that the city hire Bill Manis, who was then the city manager in Rosemead, as city manager. The council did so. Simultaneously, Vagnozzi was promoted from deputy city manager to assistant city manager, which entailed an $8,000 per year salary enhancement. This spring, Manis and Vagnozzi, together with City Attorney Jim Markman, complied with the council majority’s request to draw up articles of censure against Elliott. On May 29, 2018, the council voted 4-to-1, with Elliott dissenting, to censure her, effectively rebuking her for what they considered to be her contrarian attitude.
In September, Manis rather abruptly announced he would be leaving as city manager, effective November 2. On November 6, Upland voters went to the polls for the city’s municipal election held in conjunction with the mid-term national and California’s gubernatorial election. This year’s balloting in Upland was the first election conducted under a district system, ending the traditional holding of at-large elections that had been the norm since the city’s founding in 1906. Running in the city’s Second District, which consists of the city’s northeast quadrant, Elliott, who still had two years on her at-large term to which she was elected in 2016, outpolled her single challenger, Upland Planning Commissioner Yvette Walker, who was backed by all three of the other city council members, the mayor and their political supporters. As of November 28, Elliott was ahead of Walker 4,098 votes or 54.34 percent to 3,433 votes of 45.66 percent. In the city’s third district, located in Upland’s southwest quadrant, both challengers Ricky Felix and Irmalinda Osuna outdistanced incumbent Councilman Gino Filippi. Felix, the anticipated winner, as of November 28 had claim 1,483 votes or 39.45 percent. Osuna had 1,316 votes or 35.01 percent. Filippi had 960 votes or 25.54 percent. In Upland’s Fourth District, which is that quarter of the city lying to the southeast, challenger Rudy Zuniga appears to have safely outdistanced incumbent Carol Timm. Zuniga held 1,891 votes or 45.63 percent as of November 28. Timm was endorsed by 1,655 district residents, equal to 39.94 percent. In third place was burlesque dancer Tammy Rapp, with 598 votes or 14.43 percent.
Councilman Sid Robinson, a resident of the Second District, would have needed to run to remain in office. He did not do so. On December 10, the city council as it is currently composed is scheduled to meet for the last time. After the opening ceremonials to include the call to order, convocation, pledge of allegiance and presentations, a swearing-in of Felix, Zuniga and Elliott is to be performed, at which point Robinson’s, Filippi’s and Timm’s tenures in office will draw to a close. The council will then be at four-fifths strength, and the council will thereafter need to fill the vacancy created by Elliott’s move from her at-large position to her District 2 post.
In what was the last full meeting during which Robinson, Filippi and Timm held office, this week, on Monday November 26, an item to approve a contract with Vagnozzi to pay her $205,368 in salary, $86,690.97 in benefits and roughly $25,000 in add-ons came before the council.
Twenty-one members of the public, 18 of them Upland residents in addition to three current or former La Verne public officials, weighed in on the matter Monday night.
Ralph Cavallo, an Upland resident since 1971, said, “Over the last six years the external candidates we’ve hired for that position have done less than a terrific job. We now have the opportunity to hire an internal candidate who is a true Uplander. She grew up here, right on Olive Street. She clearly has the educational requirements as well as the work experience. She is more than qualified for this position. She also brings with her the knowledge of the internal workings of the city, which will greatly help the incoming city council members.”
Sharon Harden, who works in the records division of the Upland Police Department at present and has been with the city for 33 years, spoke on behalf of the Upland City Employees Association, which represents 99 of the city’s 202 employees.
“I would like to encourage the council to extend Item 14 B [Vagnozzi’s hiring] until we can have a professional recruitment firm to evaluate qualified candidates nationwide,” Harden said. “This appointment of the acting city manager to city manager did not have a recent recruitment process. Rather, it is based on a process that happened over a year ago prior to hiring Bill Manis as the city manager. Having a new process and exploring all of our options would be the responsible thing to do for our city.”
Vera Heilman, who has worked as a code enforcement officer with the city and in various other municipal assignments over the last 15 years, said, “I am here tonight to express the disappointment and frustration the city employees have with Item 14 B, the appointment of the new city manager. Without a recent recruitment process, it is irresponsible. We were informed the council does not see the need for a new recruitment process because their candidate was already vetted by a consultant prior to hiring Mr. Manis. That was then. This is now. There are other qualified candidates who have not been given the opportunity to apply. The position of the city manager is very important. This may be legal but just because it is legal does not make it right. This appointment will only fuel the anger and the discontent the Upland community and city employees are feeling with the city leadership. The timing of this agenda item is of great concern to many as well. This is the last meeting for council members Filippi and Timm. Councilwoman Timm is not even here. Councilman Robinson’s time here is expiring next month. This decision, as important as it is, should not be made by a council that is on its way out. The decision should be made by the council that is going to be working with the new city manager. Furthermore, it could be quite expensive as well. We encourage the council to put the agenda item, as it is premature, and its flaws, which are expensive consequences to the city, on hold until the full permanent council can hear them.”
Linda Biscardi, a lifelong resident of Upland, said, “Jeannette Vagnozzi is my cousin. When she was 14, her father passed away. She took on the responsibility of guiding family financial decisions. She never uses the words ‘I can’t’ or ‘I don’t know.’ She always says, ‘Let me find out.’ The more complex a problem, the more eagerly she seeks a solution. This city needs exactly what Jeannette brings to the table. She is committed to not just doing the job well, but exceptionally well.”
Jon Blickenstaff, a former mayor in La Verne, said he had known Vagnozzi for 30 years. “Jeannette began working with the City of La Verne as an intern and worked her way up to the position of deputy city manager,” said Blickenstaff. “After more than 20 years of working for the City of La Verne, Jeannette announced she had been hired by the City of Upland. Despite active efforts on the part of La Verne to have her remain in La Verne, she wasn’t swayed in her determination to serve and return to Upland. It’s my observation that all of Jeannette’s work in both La Verne and Upland has been characterized by excellence, and she is the epitome of competence, dedication, civic experience, creativity, interpersonal skills and passion. She has brought a high level of strength and stability and financial responsibility to Upland. A search far and wide is unlikely to find the proven city manager that you have here in her hometown, Jeannette Vagnozzi.”
Terri Donaldson, an Upland resident, said Vagnozzi has “vast knowledge and high qualifications for this job. She has shown herself to be a superb employee and leader of others. She is beyond qualified to lead the staff as city manager.”
Councilman-elect Ricky Felix said, “I have nothing against her. She has always been very kind with me, very respectful toward me, but I do feel it would be a disservice to Upland if we didn’t postpone this vote until after December 10, where we could actually do more, the new council can do research to make sure she is the best person for the job. As of right now, she’s shown she is qualified, obviously. We’ve seen her qualifications. She’s done a great job, but I feel we need to do our due diligence to make sure we have the best person on here.”
Upland Treasurer Larry Kinley said, “The new city council should be given their own opportunity to select their own city manager. If they decide another city manager would be needed and they select another city manager, then we are going to be paying twice. We are going to be paying for Vagnozzi’s compensation for one or two years, whatever her contract is, plus the salary and benefits for a new city manager. So we would be up to half of a million dollars, probably, for that position. The new city council should select their own city manager.”
Marla White, a 13-year resident of Upland, said, “The election was a clear mandate that it is a time for a change. With a new council majority taking over soon I would like to encourage this body to hold off on filling the vacant city manager position. It is clear the candidate that is being presented here tonight has high qualifications, but it seems it should be the new city council that should vote on such a critical matter. What is the rush to put in a permanent city manager until these people [the new council] have had a chance to get their feet wet?”
Steve Carvalho asked “What is the rush to appoint a new city manager? The City of Upland has a high turnover rate for city managers. The last one lasted less than one year. How much did that cost the city? What is the rush? The current city council has shown an inability to manage the finances of this city. The recent election showed that the people of this city are paying attention. The residents want change of leadership. No financial or employment decisions should be made by the outgoing city council. The new city council should vet and hire the new city manager. A prudent employer has an interview process and a probationary period before committing to permanent employment. This protects the employer and the employee. So, what is the rush? The Upland City Council has demonstrated repeatedly that they are incapable of handling finances in the best interest of the residents. It is time for those voted out to gracefully step down and recuse yourselves from voting on any financial and future issues, especially city management. We do not need self-serving city leaders.”
Barbara McJoynt said that she was concerned that city staff was violating the proper protocol by “adding an agenda item without full and prior knowledge of the full council.” Her reference in that regard was to the consideration that Elliott had not been informed about the proposal ahead of time.
“I am asking you to postpone action on this item, as I have serious concerns about this process,” McJoynt said. “Recently there was a vacancy on the planning commission. The position was open to application, applications were accepted and the vacancy was filled by appointment. There is now a vacancy on the personnel board, and if I understand properly, the same process is to be undertaken presently. Now you have chosen to deviate from the norm with this move. I’m not in a position to render judgment about this individual, but as to the process, it is flawed.”
David Wade said that City Attorney James Markman had justified Vagnozzi’s promotion as necessary “to keep continuity, to keep a consistency. Nothing is going to change between tonight and next week, except a pay scale rate.” He said hiring Vagnozzi now would cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars more. If it doesn’t work out, like the six city managers we’ve had in as many years didn’t work out, she’s walking away with a huge bonus. That’s what this appears to me to be. A huge bonus for no value added. I believe we should have a hiring process. I don’t see any exigent circumstance whatsoever to do this tonight. I don’t think you need to do anything tonight. I don’t think you need to add to our exposure by giving a large bonus to somebody without proper vetting and the opportunity for other applicants to have a chance to fill this position.”
Hydee Hall said, “I feel that we, the residents, are paying a hefty price right now for a grave mistake that you, the current council members, made. You kept Marty Thouvenell on the payroll for far too long. During his reign, city management appointments were made that you rubberstamped, and they proved to be failures, costly failures. It physically pains me to say this: I think you have no business appointing the next city manager. Let me be clear: Jeannette Vagnozzi should be the next city manager. Her almost thirty years in city government, her expertise, her vast education and knowledge of Upland make her the very best candidate. But I blame the appointment of Marty Thouvenell at $9,000 a month; you made a critically grave error in not hiring her at the time she was vetted a year ago. Instead, you hired a man that could not last a full year. For the incoming council members who are listening in, I implore you to have the patience to delay your decision for at least six months as you get to know Ms. Vagnozzi, her expertise and her work ethic.”
Diane Fedele said, “The current council continues to spend without apparent regard for the impact it has.” She said the council had made “more and more poor choices, ones you have not investigated nor researched thoroughly. You have apparently been relying on one or more persons to tell you how to vote on items. You and previous city councils have been convinced to approve seven city managers in 13 years. For one reason and another, they have all left, and we the residents have paid their severance packages and are continuing to pay them their benefits and their California Public Employee Retirement System pensions to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now there’s an item tonight on the agenda to hire another city [manager]. I don’t know Jeannette. I don’t know if she’s good at her job. I hear she is. I don’t know if she has played a big role in the coverage you have received before you vote to spend thousands and thousands of dollars. My concern isn’t centered around that. My concern is why are you in such a big hurry to hire her, to promote her. In two weeks, the newly elected council members will be sworn in. Why then, do you feel it is your responsibility to hire someone for them? I know you have been convinced that she knows everything about what is going on, and everything that has yet to be announced to the residents. She needs to be there to make sure the new council votes the way they are supposed to. Wow! Imagine if our new city council members chose to vote the way they believe is right and not the way they are supposed to. The voters in the three districts made themselves pretty clear when they voted to have all of you replaced. They wanted their choices to speak for them. They wanted them to be an independent voice. They wanted them to do their research and investigation.”
Steven Bierbaum said the item to hire Vagnozzi was put on the agenda only after it had become clear that Timm and Filippi would not be reelected. “Last Wednesday, at six o’clock in the evening, the City of Upland posted the agenda for tonight’s meeting,” said Bierbaum. “At that time it listed Item 14 B to address the city council’s intent of hiring a new city manager with no forewarning whatsoever, no application or interview process, and most importantly, no communication with at least one of the current sitting members of this council, who, with respect, will be the only city council member seated here at the next meeting. The city council and senior city staff failed to notify or discuss the proposed hiring of a new city manager with all sitting city council members and city employee groups of their intended actions. Staff instead published its intent the day before the Thanksgiving holiday. Subsequently, Upland City Hall was closed on Thursday. It was closed on Friday, not allowing for any discussion or information to be obtained regarding the agenda item.”
Carolyn Anderson said, “Upland needs Jeannette Vagnozzi now more than ever to provide continuity.”
Brinda Sarathy said, “I am here to raise my sincere and good faith concerns about the city manager appointment in this manner. I believe that appointing Ms. Vagnozzi in this way, by an outgoing city council, casts a cloud over the hire, does a disservice to Ms. Vagnozzi’s reputation, and furthers public distrust, which was clearly evident in the outcome of our recent election. An appointment in this manner might also lead to an atmosphere of toxicity within City Hall, if people feel that process was not followed. I also think the incoming city council should exercise caution and wisdom, so that they can give due time to see how competent Ms. Vagnozzi is and decide how to move forward, also in good faith.”
Don Kendrick, the mayor of La Verne, said he and his council colleagues wanted to keep Vagnozzi in La Verne but she “insisted on leaving. I would like to congratulate whoever hires her because I think Jeannette Vagnozzi is an amazing leader. She has great vision and the ability to see things as they need to be done and those people to get them done. She is a great facilitator of people.”
Kendrick referenced the succession of seven city managers in 13 years in Upland. “That revolving door is going to stop,” Kendrick predicted. “Jeannette Vagnozzi is as committed long term as anybody I’ve ever known. She will be here the rest of her career.”
April McCormick said, “To not submit this process to a bid, advertise it normally, take applications, interview people is a travesty of justice, democracy and everything else in this city that you just stepped on during your tenure here. I can’t believe that this woman is going to be paid I think $311,000 with all the cumulative benefits and entitlements, plus when she is let go by a new council, if that should happen, a $147,000 parting gift, and they have to wait ninety days to even be able to make a decision about what to do with her because you are going to handcuff them to do what you want to do after you’re gone.”
McCormick opined that Vagnozzi is not everything her supporters have cracked her up to be.
“In her role of city clerk she has been unable to answer a public records request,” McCormick said. “She’s not working for the citizens. She’s working against them at every single turn.”
Bob Russi, LaVerne’s city manager, said he had worked with Vagnozzi for the nearly five years between the time he started with the city in 2010 and her departure to Upland in 2015. “She served La Verne very well during that time and having her make the decision to come here to Upland was a very emotional and difficult decision, but I think she came here for all the right reasons, for her and for this community,” he said. “I think she came here to do what’s right and serve this community well, and give it the leadership in whatever capacity to help move Upland forward. Putting her into a full-time position is the right decision for this community. I will happily take her back if she is no longer wanted by the City of Upland. La Verne would love to have her come back and work for us.”
Irmalinda Osuna called for “forming a selection committee, establishing a set of criteria in terms of the mission, vision, goals and objectives for the city, advertising the position opening, evaluating the candidates’ statements of qualifications, documenting the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses and conducting interviews for a final evaluation” before filling the city manager’s position.
In offering his size up of the situation, Councilman Sid Robinson acknowledged conflicted and contradictory principles attended the justification for promoting Vagnozzi, and he obliquely referenced Thouvenell’s unwillingness to recommend her to serve in the capacity of city manager.
“I understand the comments and objections raised tonight and many of those arguments certainly make sense and there were a number of good ideas that were expressed,” Robinson said. “However, I believe there is a lot more to this and it is more complex, and while some of you might not agree, this proposal makes a lot of sense to me. It’s about trying to bring stability to our city. It obviously hasn’t been the case in a number of years. The last search for a city manager started in mid-2016 and took eighteen months before Upland found someone who was qualified and checked all the boxes. When Upland finally did pick a city manager, Jeannette was also a finalist for the position. She’s been vetted and is one of the top finalists after a very long and tiresome and thorough process. We’ve been through this process already and it was very recent.”
Robinson then suggested that the incoming council would not be up to the task of properly selecting a new city manager, and that it was therefore incumbent upon the current council to do so for them. “Let me assure you, it’s an awful lot to ask a new council with at least two and maybe three new members who have never served in any municipal capacity to take this on, especially when the work has already been done,” Robinson said. “It’s a matter of providing them with the type of stability in office I believe they will need. She brings decades of experience as a city administrator along with a wealth of knowledge about how to run a city.”
Robinson said there would be “difficulty in finding a new city manager. We went 18 months. You need somebody who wants to be here. Outside of our world here in Upland, qualified city managers don’t really want to come here as we saw in that last search process. If they do, they are going to ask for a lot more money than is being proposed here. Upland does not exactly have a stellar track record when it comes to city managers. We’ve seen seven over the past ten years. Do you really think we’re going to find someone who is both qualified and affordable? I believe this action is a gift to the next council. And you may not think that way, but I think it is in the best interest of Upland. It may seem counter-intuitive to you but it makes perfect sense both in practical terms and financially. She’s proven her worth and value and I don’t think Upland can afford to lose her.”
Janice Elliott said, “My concern is not about the city manager but the timing and also the selection process.” She said the city could keep Vagnozzi on as the acting city manager and that the selection should “take time. Haste makes waste.” She said the hiring would be a “disservice.” Without mentioning him by name, she referenced the council’s appointment of Linden Brouse to the planning commission at the November 12 city council meeting. There was, she said, “a lack of respect shown by this council to ramrod our last meetings with these appointments,” which she characterized as “disturbing. They are unprecedented. Some cities have lame duck ordinances that wisely prevent irresponsible actions like these. The request to appoint the new city manager is irresponsible, since three of you will not have any accountability after tonight’s action. This action is irresponsible because it ties the hands of the new city council for more than 90 days to make the most important decision that city councils have to make to affect the daily operations of our city. This action is fiscally irresponsible because it will cost us at least $150,000 extra to terminate this contract once ratified if the new city council chooses to do so. Waiting until after the new city council is sworn in reduces significantly this risk.”
Mayor Debbie Stone, like Robinson, made a veiled reference to Thouvenell’s recommendation against hiring Vagnozzi, which she indicated the council had blindly followed. “I’ll be the first one to admit we missed the boat first time around,” Stone said. “Jeannette has done so much for this city. We are overlooking the fact that we have experience, we have knowledge, we have a person who cares about the City of Upland, we have the qualifications, we have compassion and we have a person who is dedicated to this city.”
And, like Robinson, Stone suggested the incoming council will not have the skill and sophistication to make the right hiring decision, so it is up to the current council to do so.
“This has nothing to do with disrespect to the new council, but they need her leadership,” Stone said. “There is hardly anyone left here to lead here and that’s what they need.”
“Councilman Gino Filippi acknowledged, “Some of the choices with city managers have been wrong. Upland needs a responsible and experienced person in that seat. In my view, Jeannette will continue to serve with dedication. She is very proficient. There is far more going on in this city than most people might be aware, and she knows what to do here. The new council will understand that, but it will take time, and if they’re not satisfied with that, they can cut her loose.”
Councilwoman Carol Timm, who was not at the meeting, sent from North Carolina, where she is currently with her parents, a letter to the city in which she said she endorsed Vagnozzi’s hiring. It was read into the record.
Before voting on approving the contract, Elliott sought to amend it so that the restriction on firing Vagnozzi during the first 90 days after the new council is sworn in would be removed and that the element of the contract which confers upon her six months’ salary and benefits as a severance in the event she were terminated be changed so that if she were to be terminated during the first four months of her tenure under the contract, she would only be due a severance equal to one month’s pay for each month she had served in the city manager’s role. That motion died for lack of a second and the contract was approved 3-to-1, with Elliott dissenting.
The council’s action raises Vagnozzi’s base salary to $205,368, roughly $66,000 more per year than the $139,244.85 she was making as deputy city manager and some $58,000 more per year than she was making as assistant city manager. The promotion will also boost by more than 28 percent the pension she will receive upon retirement.
By Mark Gutglueck