By Mark Gutglueck
Jeannette Vagnozzi’s sometimes patient and other times anxious wait is over, the Sentinel is informed, as she has unofficially replaced Bill Manis as city manager in Upland, according to word on the street.
Vagnozzi has been with the city since 2015, when she was brought in to assist then-City Manager Rod Butler in the everyday oversight of operations at City Hall. Butler’s predecessor as full capacity city manager had been Stephen Dunn, who was elevated from his position as finance director to serve as city manager in 2011. Dunn had substantially expanded the duties of then-City Clerk Stephanie Mendenhall after he became city manager, keeping her in the capacity as city clerk while elevating her simultaneously to serve as administrative services director, human resources manager and risk manager. Butler instilled in Vagnozzi a similar span of authority. Vagnozzi was recruited into the City of Gracious Living from her previous post as the assistant to the city manager in the not-too-distant City of La Verne, in which capacity she had lasted for nearly a decade. She was given the lofty-sounding post of Upland’s deputy city manager, which many assumed made her the city’s second-in-command. In actuality, on an organizational chart, the deputy city manager was junior to several city department heads. Nevertheless, like Mendenhall before her, Vagnozzi was given multiple assignments and titles, including that of city clerk, risk manager and human resources director.
Ostensibly, she was to serve as Butler’s aide-de-camp and hatchet-woman. In that capacity, an air of palace intrigue attended much of her function. In July of 2016, Butler, who had been with the city for less than two years, was abruptly and ignominiously given the heave-ho by an unlikely 3-to-2 council majority. Vagnozzi’s ascendancy to city manager appeared to be in the offing. Instead, however, the city council elected to bring in the city’s former police chief, Marty Thouvennel, to act as the city’s short term/interim city manager while the city council sought to arrive at a decision as to who would serve as the city’s top administrator in the years going forward. At that point, odds-makers were torn between ranking Vagnozzi or then-finance manager Scott Williams as having the inside track on the post, with others still suggesting that Community Development Director Jeff Zwack better fit the sought-after attributes for the city manager position. Very soon thereafter what were purported to be derogatories relating to Williams that had originated in his personnel file surfaced, and he was shown the door. Many surmised that Vagnozzi, who as the city’s human resources director, was the custodian of all city employees’ personnel files, had more than a passing involvement with Williams’ demise. But there was no proof that Vagnozzi had sabotaged Williams’ chances at becoming the city’s top staff member.
The city council was simultaneously entrusting to Thouvenell the task of determining which of the city’s in-house staff members would be best suited to serve as city manager, or in the alternative, to recruit one from outside the city. Though it had been indicated that Thouvenell’s tenure in the interim city manager capacity would be a short one that would last just long enough for his ultimate replacement to be found, he remained as city manager for more 18 months. His extension in the position for that period of time was widely taken as an indication that his advisals to the city council ran against entrusting the position to Vagnozzi. Late last year, it was revealed that Thouvenell’s recommendation was for the council to hire Bill Manis, who was then the city manager with Rosemead and who had been the deputy city manager and community development director in San Bernardino, the City of Banning’s economic development director, redevelopment director and public information officer as well as the economic development director in the City of Cypress prior to his time in Banning. Previously, Manis had held other progressively more responsible positions within the halls of government in the cities of Corona, Santa Ana, and Cerritos.
There was, however, a suggestion that the 57-year-old Manis was not long fated to remain in Upland, as he would be in position at the age of 60 to retire into a full pension. It was believed by somt that he was in Upland merely to increase both the years he had accumulated thus far in the public employee retirement system, which was part of the formula upon which his pension is to be calculated, together with the prospect that his top pay as city manager would increase as well, further enhancing his pension, as another part of the formula for calculating retirement benefits among public employees is the level of pay they achieve, and this is used as a multiplier in deriving their pensions. In this way, Vagnozzi remained in the running to become city manager based upon the likelihood that Manis was likely to depart in another two-and-a-half years.
Zwack similarly held a ticket in the Upland city manager sweepstakes. In June, however, he, too, abruptly departed from the city.
As of last night and today, Friday, it is not absolutely clear that the ambitious Vagnozzi is now serving in the capacity of interim city manager. However, a strong indicator of such exists. Upland City Hall is closed on Fridays. Yesterday, September 20, the agenda for the September 24 council meeting was posted. That document, in designating who the various city officials are, lists the current members of the city council as well as Manis in the city manager’s capacity. Near the top of the agenda, scheduled for 6 p.m., an hour before the public portion of the meeting that commences at 7 p.m., the council is scheduled, the agenda states, to adjourn into a closed meeting, outside the earshot and sight of the pubic. The single item scheduled for discussion during that closed hearing, the agenda states, is “Consideration of public employee appointment pursuant to California Government Code Section 54957. Title: Acting City Manager.”
If indeed Manis is leaving, his departure will be, like that of Butler, an abrupt one. Moreover the departures of all of the city managers in Upland going back for thirteen years have been equally abrupt. Last week, Manis was in attendance at a League of California Cities meeting, representing Upland. His participation in that confabulation would suggest that Manis at that time was comfortable in his role with the city, while spending taxpayer dollars to engage in interaction with other city officials from throughout the state and picking up information that would be of assistance in his continued stewardship of the city. Less than a month prior to Butler’s firing, now-Mayor Debbie Stone, who was then a councilwoman, expressed confidence in Butler, suggesting to then-City Councilman Glenn Bozar, who was grilling Butler on a multitude of issues, that Bozar should back off and allow Butler to simply “do his job.” Stone’s vote was one of the three that terminated Butler. In 2014, Dunn’s departure came after a tense standoff between him and then-Councilman Bozar and then-Mayor Ray Musser. What was interpreted as an intemperate remark during that confrontation led to then-Councilman Brendan Brandt joining with Musser and Bozar to confer a year’s salary upon Dunn to simply have him leave. In 2011, the council turned on a dime and suspended then-City Manager Robb Quncey. And in 2005, the Upland City Council led by then-Mayor John Pomierski induced then-City Manager Mike Milhiser to leave, speeding his exit with a $200,000 contract buyout to convince him to go.
One well placed source noted with caution that “I think it is premature to state Jeannette will be the acting city manager. It is possible that Marty [Thouvenell] or even Steve Dukett [who had been hired into what is essentially the city’s contract community development director post following the departure of Jeff Zwack] could have that position as well.”