Series Of Miscommunications, Misunderstandings & Errors Led To Dunn’s Exodus

(June 18)  The events that led to the resignation of Upland City Manager Stephen Dunn were a comedy of errors, miscommunication, misunderstandings and rash acts that were exacerbated by the secrecy surrounding the process in which most or all of the parties involved were unsure of or had no inkling of the actions of the others, the Sentinel has learned.
Though no clear consensus to remove Dunn as city manager ever emerged organically among the city’s five ultimate decision makers, i.e., the city council, events transpired in such a way as to make Dunn’s exodus a fait accompli. There were multiple levels of irony in the string of events, including the consideration that legal requirements which exist as part of the government code intended to protect public employees, together with other restrictions on the open exchange of information or a dialogue between the council members, worked against Dunn’s continued tenure as city manager.
In the end, Dunn’s intemperate reaction to the admittedly awkward and aggravating circumstance he was put in  resulted in three members of the council concluding that his remaining as city manager was no longer tenable.
On May 27, when Mayor Ray Musser announced Dunn’s pending departure at the end of that evening’s city council meeting, a full two weeks after his employment separation agreement was signed and thirteen days after it was approved as to form by city attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow, the story behind what had occurred remained shrouded in mystery. Over the last three weeks, the Sentinel has pieced together the events that led up to and resulted in Dunn’s departure.
Dunn, who in early 2011 was promoted from his position as finance director to serve as first acting and then actual city manager in the wake of the suspension of former city manager Robb Quincey in the wake of fallout from the events preceding the indictment of former Mayor John Pomierski, long enjoyed the support of the city council.
Among his early acts as city manager was the discharging of four of the city’s department heads and the cutting of 25 staff positions at City Hall. That prompted a campaign of anonymous letters sent to the city council, community leaders and the press attacking Dunn on a multitude of issues personal and professional. The council did not accede to the calls, stated both directly and indirectly in the letters, for Dunn’s dismissal. Through more than three years in his function as city manager, the city council had Dunn’s back.
What might be seen as a major turn toward Dunn’s demise as city manager occurred in February when Dunn, who had been working for three years with a salary and benefit package significantly below what was provided to his predecessor Quincey, asked for a raise. The city council, which is struggling with the city’s beleaguered financial condition, deliberated with regard to his request and turned him down.
The following month the council initiated Dunn’s routine annual review. After a first closed session discussion, the review was delayed for two weeks while the council undertook to fill out written forms providing their individual rankings of Dunn’s performance. Dunn’s contract ran through June 2015 and his continuing tenure seemed assured.
Nevertheless, legal prohibitions against the council members communicating with regard to official city business in any forums outside of the public or closed door sessions of the council led to a degree of uncertainty as to the outcome of the review. In particular, councilwoman Debby Stone, who was close to Dunn in part because of their shared membership in the Rotary Club, was Dunn’s greatest champion on the council. The advent of Dunn’s job review, which was routine in nature but followed closely upon his turned-down request for a raise, seems to have been misinterpreted by her as a preparatory move toward terminating him.
In reality, at that point only councilman Glenn Bozar held any significant reservations about Dunn’s management of the city, and he clearly lacked the political muscle, i.e., the accompanying votes, to force Dunn out. Stone, however, because of the spotty communication afforded the council under the rule of law, perceived that Musser and perhaps even Filippi and Brandt might join with Bozar to hand Dunn a pink slip.
Actually, Filippi was solidly behind Dunn, Brandt was philosophically and temperamentally opposed to making any drastic personnel changes at City Hall, and Musser, though smarting from some public criticism leveled at him by the city manager, felt obliged to keep Dunn in place at least until his contract expired some 15 months thereafter. Because of her misgivings about the others’ intentions toward Dunn, however, Stone balked at completing the written evaluation form relating to Dunn, possibly because she believed the delay would forestall any action the council might take toward terminating him.
Ironically, this suspension of the delivery of what would most certainly have been on balance a positive review for another two weeks had the exact opposite effect of what Stone intended. At that point, Dunn appears to have misinterpreted his review having been held in abeyance for nearly a month as, at best, hesitation at or strong differences over giving him a positive review, or at worst, a sign that he was about to be cashiered. Intemperately and ill-advisedly, he issued a memorandum stating he was taking, on his own initiative, a leave of absence.
This caught the council by surprise and Musser interceded to convince him to return to work at once. Nevertheless, the council’s review of his job performance languished, and Dunn at one point cleared his office of his personal effects, sending a signal that he anticipated being fired.
Word of the contretemps between the city manager and the city council at that point wafted beyond the confines of City Hall. Though statements were made for public consumption to the effect that whatever misunderstandings that occurred had been cleared up, that the long delayed job review had been concluded in Dunn’s favor and that Dunn was now back at the city’s helm and coolly in command of municipal operations, a crucial milestone in the Dunn drama had been eclipsed. The council was now faced with negative publicity – negative publicity for the city and negative comments vectored their way by some of Dunn’s supporters.
Despite efforts to make it appear as if City Hall was back to functioning as normal, the tension that existed behind the scenes of power in the City of Gracious Living was palpable.
With his future seemingly hanging in the balance and suspended by the slimmest of threads, Dunn inexplicably escalated the crisis, doubling down and demanding that in order for him to remain as city manager, a member of the city council – thought to be Bozar – would need to resign.
That threw Upland City Hall into full blown crisis mode. Councilman Brendan Brandt, whose previous Sphinx-like support of Dunn had long been the key to Dunn’s continuing viability as city manager, was jolted by Dunn’s histrionics. Yet another corner had been turned, with Brandt having been pushed over the edge. Shortly thereafter, Dunn was overheard demanding that the city council fire him, knowing full well that his resignation would excuse the city from having to fulfill all payments due to him under his contract and that being terminated would trigger the requirement that the city pay him the full $192,768 due him during the final year of that contract. By the second week of May, a consensus among Musser, Brandt and Bozar that the city would best be finished with Dunn had formed. On May 13, a separation agreement had been drawn up and it was signed by both Dunn and Musser.
Dunn, whose primary line of municipal operations expertise is finances, agreed to assist the city in finalizing its 2014-15 budget before departing on June 30.
This week, the council hired Martin Lomeli, the former city manager of La Verne, to serve as interim city manager most likely until November, by which point the city hopes to have hired Dunn’s permanent replacement.
Filippi offered up a wistful post mortem of Dunn’s managerial tenure.
“I supported him from day one,” Filippi said. “We had going on three-and-a-half years of working closely together. We came in almost a month apart. I took the oath as councilman on December 13, 2010 and he was asked to accept a promotion from finance director to the position of acting city manager in January 2011. I have always had positive relations with him and looked to him for guidance. I think he did an excellent job. I did not support his leaving. I do not know, exactly, what he was thinking toward the end there. The road has not been easy for him. He entered [the position of city manager] at a difficult time and so much upset. The mixed signals the council was sending and the actions being taken by three of them and the divisiveness probably created insecurity in Stephen. I’m speculating. I know he was working very hard to lead the city and trying to push through his own recommendations and those of the fiscal task force. I think he grew very frustrated going through delays.”
The end stage was particularly harsh, Filippi said. He said he could not describe what set of events proved to be the final straw. “You would have to ask the three members who wanted him to not continue,” Filippi said. “Three of the council voted to provide him an exit agreement. Obviously, he accepted it and the majority of the council provided it. I can’t tell you what happened in closed session.”
Filippi concurred that a whole series of misunderstandings, miscommunications and mistakes precipitated Dunn’s departure, which Filippi said at this point is irrevocable. “I didn’t want that,” Filippi said. “Stephen’s on his way to retirement. I hope he is satisfied with that. I am now looking toward working with Marty Lomeli.”

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