A division has opened up between members of the Grand Terrace City Council over the timing and substance of a review of city manager Betsy Adams’ performance.
Adams was hired by the city council in 2010 as the third full-fledged city manager in the city’s history. Seth Armstead guided the city from its 1978 inception until 1989, at which point he was succeeded by Tom Schwab. Schwab suffered a subdural hematoma in 2008 and was hospitalized. Assistant city manager Steve Berry was appointed fill in as acting city manager during Schwab’s absence. In 2009, after Schwab had recovered, a struggle between Berry and Schwab ensued as to whether Schwab would return or Berry would be promoted from his interim status to actual city manager. The contretemps that ensued led to Schwab’s retirement and a bitter conclusion for Berry, who offended a majority of the city council by his several attempted power ploys in seeking to replace Schwab. He was then succeeded by finance director Bernie Simon as interim city manager. A statewide recruitment was conducted and Adams, who was then deputy city manager with the Riverside County city of Moreno Valley, was chosen to lead the city.
Adams was provided with a $209,001 annual salary and $85,993 in benefits for a total compensation package of $294,994, but agreed to cut her salary back to $185,500 shortly after being hired and to another set of reductions she and the council agreed they would impose on city staff that reduced her salary to $166,950 and her benefits to 77,690, so her total yearly compensation is $244,640.
Among San Bernardino County’s 24 incorporated cities, Grand Terrace is the third smallest population-wise. It ranks 24th as a producer of tax revenue of all sorts, such that it has the most meager of the city’s 24 municipal budgets. Adams ranks as the 13th best paid of the county’s 24 city managers. Nevertheless, when the size of Grand Terrace both in terms of its population and operating budget is considered, Adams is the third most expensive of the county’s city managers in terms of per capita cost to taxpayers.
A significant and vocal portion of the city’s residents were long indulgent of Adams and the members of the city council who had hired her. In 2010, then-city councilman Walt Stanckiewitz was elevated to the mayor’s position and two new councilmembers, Darcy McNaboe and Bernardo Sandoval, were elected to the council. Subsequently, Gene Hays was appointed to fill the vacancy created by Stanckiewitz ascendancy to mayor. Thus, Adams now serves at the pleasure of a city council that counts among its current members only two of those – Stanckiewitz and councilwoman Lee Ann Garcia – who hired her.
Adams and the present council enjoyed a honeymoon with most of the city’s voters over most of the last 14 months but in recent weeks, the sentiment of a highly vocal portion of the electorate has turned against both the city’s elected political leadership and the city’s senior management. In particular, these critics have taken exception to the manner in which the city proceeded with the operation of its redevelopment agency in the latter portion of 2011, even as the state legislature at Governor Jerry Brown’s bidding had moved to phase out all of the state’s municipal redevelopment agencies. Grand Terrace, like many other California cities, had banked on the success of a collective lawsuit challenging that legislation, but in the waning days of 2011, the California Supreme Court ruled that the state had the right to shutter the agencies.
In Grand Terrace in particular, the effort to hang onto redevelopment authority was an abrasive issue, as Stanckiewitz and Sandoval had succeeded in the 2010 election largely on the strength of their pledge to reform redevelopment. That pledge followed the exposure of former city practices that utilized the redevelopment agency in a way considered highly questionable and even illegal – one that saw redevelopment money used not for erasing blight in the community but erasing red ink out of the city’s operating fund ledgers.
To many of the city’s awakening critics, the Stanckiewitz/Adams regime was not acting fast enough to undo the legacy of redevelopment agency abuse and they grew increasingly alarmed when the city, instead of embracing Brown’s and the legislature’s abolition of the agency, fought it.
Seemingly overnight, Stanckiewitz went from being hailed as the city’s last best hope to being celebrated as a pariah who needs to go and to take Adams with him.
The Grand Terrace News, a blog that covers local issues and is overseen by an as-yet unidentified activist know as Grandpa Terrace, took issue with issues as seemingly mundane as an increase in pet license fees to similar increases in rental home inspection fees, business fees and taxes, and propositions to charge local sports groups fees for the use of parks. Similarly, those involved with the blog blasted City Hall for high salaries and pensions for city employees, and increases in general taxes. The blog made clear its sponsors’ had lost faith with city management and the city council and no longer trusted City Hall with the stewardship of taxpayer funds.
Stanckiewitz was likened to Nero playing his fiddle as Rome burned and the blog called for the “End [of]the city of Grand Terrace as an incorporated city” and for “All Grand Terrace City Council Codes and Ordinances [to] be nullified” so the city “would revert to county, state, and federal regulations only.” The blog called for the council to “Stop all payments of any kind to all city council members, and the related costs of all council members. No more medical insurance or co-pay, and any other payments made to them.”
Moreover, the blog issued a call for the termination of Adams, who was portrayed as incompetent and overpaid.
Previously, before the California Supreme Court ruling on municipal redevelopment authority, Stanckiewitz had called for a review of Adams’ performance as city manager. But in the aftermath of that ruling, which triggered the onslaught of disapproval of Grand Terrace City Hall, Stanckiewitz sought to delay that review. This led to a pull in the opposite direction by McNaboe, who insisted that the review proceed.
This week, McNaboe told the Sentinel the review was proceeding.
“We are currently in process of doing a review,” she said. “This will be our second review. It is being done in closed session. I am not at liberty to disclose any part of the process we are undergoing, but we are looking at our responsibility.” McNaboe said a review of the city manager’s performance “is contained within her contract.”
McNaboe was somewhat dismissive of suggestions that Adams was overpaid.
“A couple of years ago she did do a ten percent giveback,” McNaboe said. She said comparing Adams’ salary to that of other city managers on the basis of city population was not a fair measure of worth or value. “Population and tax base are two differenct things,” she said. The consideration that Adams is struggling with insufficient capital to run the city does not mean she should take a pay cut either, McNaboe suggested. “[Not having money] does make the job tougher. When I look at performance review, I am looking at how the city is doing under her management. I will be looking at her performance.”
Asked whether Adams was going to be given a job performance evaluation, Stanckiewitz said, “Yeah, but no. I was the instigator of that. I tried to get a performance review for her before but [then mayor] Maryetta [Ferré] did not want to do it. Now another year has gone by and we owe her an evaluation. I wanted to do it but given everything we are going through, the last thing I want to do is take time away from her and have her sit down and write up what we have asked her to do and what she has done to meet those expectations and instructions. I do want to accomplish an evaluation. This is not the right time to stop the train to do that. We have a whole bunch of things we are going through at the moment and once we figure out what state our redevelopment agency is in then we can come back and revisit it.”
Stanckiewitz continued, “When I brought it up in early December, that was before the Supreme Court made its decision. Now we are approaching the February First deadline and we are going through this fire drill imposed on us by the state and I do not think we want to distract Betsy with that. Right now we need all hands on deck dealing with the redevelopment wind down and if that means we are going to delay the review for a couple of months, I’m fine with that. I am the person who started this conversation about the review. I think it important that she gets a performance evaluation. I’m not sure that right at this moment is the time to do it. If we can put it on the back burner for another month or two, that is what I hope the other council members will support.”
Stanckiewitz said he has a disagreement with recently emerging criticisms of the council and Adams.
“On the Grand Terrace News blog, Grandpa Terrace, whoever he is or she is or they are – I think it is a group of people – they are saying she is making three times what the average income in Grand Terrace is,” Stanckiewitz said. “The woman took a pay cut to come here and shortly thereafter took another pay cut because we instilled that in all employees. I would say to Grandpa Terrace: ‘Do you think we can get someone of her caliber for the average income of Grand Terrace, 66 grand? Show me where we can get a person for that kind of pay. I know that salaries for city managers are inflated. But look at what we were paying our old city manager. Tom Schwab was knocking down way more than Betsy is making. I don’t know how to respond to that blog and what they want to do. Reality doesn’t allow us to do what they want us to do. The bottom line is we’re in a competitive environment and you get what you pay for. Sometimes you make a mistake and you end up paying top dollar for someone who is not worth it. I do not believe that is what we have with Betsy. She has been with us for two years, cleaning up minutiae. Every time we get our heads above water something else comes in at us. It is one financial disaster after another. I am ecstatic with her performance. I have watched over the years how salaries for city managers have escalated. I thought we had done the right thing. We did not inflate her salary. Given her background and what she was paid [in Moreno Valley] it was a lateral to a downward move for her. She got a job closer to home. That was the big bonus for her and we got a good deal. Had she known what was under the water and all she has ended up dealing with, she would not have come here. At her own recommendation she took a salary reduction. She has never brought that up. She has done a good job here and she has a job to do here and she is still doing it.”