Upland City Council To Ratify City Manager Contract With Vagnozzi On Monday

In what will be one of the last major actions by the Upland City Council before three of its members depart in the aftermath of this year’s election, the city will enter into a three-year contract with acting City Manager Jeannette Vagnozzi, establishing her as city manager through December 31, 2021.
Upon her elevation to the post, Vagnozzi will become Upland’s eighth city manager since February 2005. She was hired to serve as Upland’s deputy city manager in July 2015. In that capacity she has functioned as the head of administrative services, city clerk and both human resources manager and risk manager.
For a few days in July 2016 when one of the city’s previous city managers, Rod Butler, was abruptly terminated, Vagnozzi served as acting city manager. This year, after the unanticipated resignation of City Manager Bill Manis, Vagnozzi has again served in the acting city manager capacity.
For more than a decade, Upland has had a troubled experience with its city managers. In 2005, then-Mayor John Pomierski orchestrated the leaving of City Manager Mike Milhiser, while also forcing the exit of then-Police Chief Martin Thouvenell. In Milhiser’s stead, Pomierski installed Robb Quincey, but was soon obliged to augment Quincey with the assistance of Rod Foster as assistant city manager. Foster in large measure ran the city, but left in 2009 to become city manager of Colton. In relatively short order, in June 2010, the FBI raided Upland City Hall. Ultimately, Pomierski was indicted on bribery charges, and Quincey, who was widely seen as Pomierski’s enabler and had been provided by Pomierski with a total compensation package in excess of $425,000 a year, was himself charged and convicted of political corruption relating to his activity as city manager. Quincey was succeeded in 2011 by Stephen Dunn, who had been the city’s finance director and held similar financial posts with the cities of Fontana and Buena Park. Dunn remained in place until 2014, at which point he had become crosswise of three of the members of the city council. Dunn was succeeded by Martin Lomeli, who served in a caretaker role until the city settled upon Rod Butler, who was brought in in the fall of 2014, based upon his experience as the city manager with the cities of Patterson and Crescent City and other municipal posts in Chino, Claremont, Ontario and Pomona. Though Butler had been raised in Upland, where he attended Western Christian High School, and openly spoke about remaining in Upland until his retirement a decade or more hence, in July 2016 a bare three-member majority of the council abruptly terminated him, a few months shy of his two-year anniversary with the city. The council then turned to its former police chief, Martin Thouvenell, to fill the managerial gap while it sought a new city manager, a recruitment effort which Thouvenell led. Though there was discussion of elevating Vagnozzi to the city manager’s position, Thouvenell did not seem favorably disposed toward her and she was not selected. Thouvenell remained as city manager for a full eighteen months until Bill Manis, who was the city manager of Rosemead and who had substantial municipal experience with San Bernardino, Cypress, Corona, Santa Ana and Banning prior to that, was chosen to serve as city manager. And while Manis was hailed as a good fit for the City of Gracious Living, things did not work out with him either, and in September he announced his pending departure as of November 2, just ten months after arriving in Upland.
Since Manis’s departure, this year’s municipal election was held and two of the council’s members, Gino Filippi and Carol Timm, were not reelected. Another council member, Sid Robinson, did not seek reelection and he will be leaving the council next month with Filippi and Timm.
In what some see as an effort to extend their control of the city beyond their tenure, which ends next month, Robinson, Filippi and Timm are now poised on Monday night November 26 to consider, with their two council colleagues Mayor Debbie Stone and Councilwoman Janice Elliott, an employment agreement with Vagnozzi.
According to a staff report by Upland City Attorney Jim Markman, “The proposed action supports the city’s goal to ensure continuity in the leadership of the city and proper oversight of the city’s functions and employees. A request was made by Mayor Stone and Council Member Sid Robinson to bring forward the appointment of Jeannette Vagnozzi to the position of city manager. The city council entered into agreement with Bill R. Manis to serve as city manager beginning January 2, 2018. After Mr. Manis announced his retirement in September, Ms. Vagnozzi was appointed unanimously to the role of acting city manager. The terms of the employment agreement remain largely the same as the previous city manager agreements; however the salary stated in the agreement is Step 4 of 13 of the established city manager’s salary range which places this position roughly one salary step ahead of the highest paid executive employee.”
According to the wording in the contract, “The annual salary for the position of city manager shall initially be Range 94, Step 5 of the city’s salary scale or $205,368 annually.”
Vagnozzi is also eligible for a host of perquisites such as a vehicle stipend and equipment allowances and augmentation pay worth roughly $25,000 annually and benefits of no less than $86,690.97, such that her total annual compensation package will be approximately $311,000. In 2017, as deputy city manager, Vagnozzi had a total compensation package of $235,681.57.
According to Markman, “There were several reasons cited for bringing this item forward at this time. First is continuity of service. Ms. Vagnozzi’s knowledge of current projects is crucial during this period of leadership transition. Additionally, with the exception of one department head, the key executive and administrative management employees are relatively new to the city. Ms. Vagnozzi’s leadership will provide stability within the organization. She has also established ties to the business community and has a long standing history in the community. Finally, her experience and education make her very qualified for the role of city Manager. Jeannette Vagnozzi has 27.5 years of experience in municipal government with the last 3.5 years with the City of Upland as the assistant city manager. Ms. Vagnozzi has broad experience from 24 years with the City of La Verne where she served simultaneously as assistant to the city manager and as city treasurer. Ms. Vagnozzi earned a master of science in leadership and management and a bachelor of science in business administration from the University of La Verne and a certificate in business ethics from Colorado State University.”
As word about Vagnozzi’s elevation into the full-fledged city manager position spread through Upland over Thanksgiving, concern was expressed that her ties to the former ruling coalition on the council, which included Stone, Filippi, Timm and Robinson, would from the outset put her at odds with incoming council members Ricky Felix, who is replacing Filippi, and Rudy Zuniga, who is replacing Timm, as well as Councilwoman Janice Elliott, who was not part of the ruling coalition in Upland over the last two years.
One of those concerns was that the contract to be considered, and presumably passed, Monday night contains provisions that will make it difficult to terminate Vagnozzi, if that is the incoming council’s determination, and also expensive to do so.
Under the heading “Performance Evaluation,” the employment agreement states, “The city council will review and evaluate the performance of the city manager on an annual basis or more frequently if the council so desires. Failure of the city council to provide a performance evaluation shall not limit the city’s ability to terminate this agreement pursuant to the terms set forth herein.”
Under the heading “Termination and Removal,” the contract states, “The city manager is an at-will employee and serves at the pleasure of the city council. Nothing in this agreement shall prevent the city council from terminating this agreement and the services of the city manager at its sole discretion without cause. The city council may remove the city manager at any time, without cause, by a majority vote of its members. Notice of termination shall be provided to the city manager in writing.”
The only limitation on the council’s autonomy in firing the city manager consists of a prohibition against removing her from office during or within a period of ninety days succeeding the date of a council member’s swearing in to office. According to Markman, “The purpose of that provision is to allow any newly seated member of the city council or a reorganized city council to observe the actions and ability of the city manager in the performance of the powers and duties of her office.”
Under the heading “Severance Pay,” the contract states, “In the event the city manager is terminated by the city council during such time that the city manager is willing and able to perform the city manager’s duties under this agreement, then in that event the city agrees to continue to compensate the city manager at her then current rate of pay, as severance pay, for a total of six months, including all benefits and accrued leaves.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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