Barstow City Manager Salas Casualty Of Majority City Council Shift

A little more than a month after the changeover of a majority of the Barstow City Council, City Manager Nikki Salas has been placed on administrative leave.
No reason was provided for the abrupt move, which was taken on January 8, a day after the council held three separate agendized meetings on January 7, including one at which three items were discussed during a closed session. One of those items was shown as being “Public Employee Discipline/Dismissal/Release (Government Code Section 54967).”
If public disclosure of the council’s action was made on January 8, the Sentinel was not included among those receiving the announcement. The local newspaper, the Barstow Dispatch, ceased the publication of its print version more than two years ago, and no local announcement of the action appears to have been made.
On Monday, January 11, the first actual indication of Salas’s departure was made, when a special closed session of the council was held, the agenda for which stated, “Public Employee Appointment Recommended Action: (Government Code Section 54957) Title: Interim City Manager.”
Indeed, at that meeting, held at 6 p.m., the city council appointed Barstow Police Chief Albert Ramirez as interim city manager, designating Ramirez what one city official referred to as “manager pro tem.”
Inquiries as to what grounds the city council had in suspending Salas were met with no response. The context of city statements with regard to the move was that Salas will not be returning as city manager.
Over the last 14 months, the political status quo in Barstow has shifted. In December 2019, City Councilman Rich Harpole resigned to move to Texas, and no effort to fill his position throughout the first ten months of 2020 was made, the council deciding to allow the voters to make that decision in November 2020, when the city’s District 3 council election was held. In November, incumbent Mayor Julie Hackbarth-McIntyre was chased from office by Paul Anthony Courtney and in District 4 incumbent Councilwoman Carmen Hernandez was edged by Marilyn Dyer Kruse. The District 3 contest was won by Barbara Mae Rose.
In their election posturings, the successful council candidates gave indication of their discontent with the way the city has been run over the last several years.
Salas was a relative newcomer to Barstow, but over the last 21 months became a part of Barstow’s establishment. She held the titles of director of human resources and risk management director with Apple Valley from 2009 until June 2016, at which point she promoted to to assistant town manager, before leaving Apple Valley in 2018 to become, for seven months, the director of human resources with Napa County. She was lured back to the Mojave Desert in early 2019, when she was brought in to replace Curt Mitchell as city manager in March of that year.
Salas was highly thought of both before and after her hiring by Barstow, at least in some circles. She reportedly competed with 72 others for the Barstow city manager position. Those applicants were evaluated by the firm Peckham & McKenney, which recommended a set of finalists to be interviewed by a selection panel which included the city council and city luminaries including former Mayor Lawrence Dale. Salas was given the nod over the other finalists.
Salas has at this point over two decades municipal experience and 20 years in advanced municipal administrative posts. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Cal State San Bernardino, a masters degree in business administration and management from Redlands University and a doctor of education degree in organizational management from Brandman University.
For nearly the entirety of her tenure in Barstow, she pleased, or seemed to please, the city council. That, apparently, proved to be a liability after Hackbarth-McIntyre and Hernandez departed.
Reading between the lines, it would appear that Salas was felled by the sentiment of a majority of the current city council holding against her, but that she was in favorable standing with Councilman Tim Silva, who at present is the longest serving member of the city council. It is recognized that Mayor Courtney and Councilwoman Rose represented two solid votes against Salas. They apparently were able to get support from either Councilwoman Kruse or Councilman James Noble or both to force the issue with regard to Salas. Noble has been on the council since 2018.
Noteworthy is that the city council did not turn to Assistant City Manager Cindy Prothro to replace Salas on an interim basis. Prothro, who has been with the city since 2011, instead retired on the same day Salas was put on leave.
Curiously, Prothro has been reluctant to assume the city manager’s post, having turned down the interim manager’s position on more than one occasion. In 2016, while she was the city’s finance director, she was promoted to assistant city manager by Mitchell. It appeared as if the city was investing heavily in her – providing her with $173,601 in annual salary and another $43,600 in annual add-ons and benefits – while attempting to groom her for the city manager’s position upon the eventual anticipated departure of Mitchell. When Mitchell in the fall of 2018 announced his retirement was to take place at the end of that year, both Mitchell and the city council attempted to induce her to take on the city management assignment. Prothro balked at that offer, however, and at one point this provoked a blistering attack on her from then-Councilman Harpole.
It is unclear whether the city council offered Prothro the management position either before or in the immediate aftermath of Salas’s suspension.
-Mark Gutglueck

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