Within One Week, SB City Manager Candidate Carrigan Goes From Feast To Famine

On September 27, Steve Carrigan was a municipal managerial ace, one who was so in demand that California’s 17th largest city, San Bernardino, was clambering for his services and its 33rd largest city, Salinas, was desperately trying to hang onto him. Carrigan was in a position, as the saying goes, to write his own ticket. Less than a week later, on October 3, he was thoroughly unemployed, having burned his bridges with both cities.
What happened?
Carrigan’s progression toward the top of the municipal managerial trade – a respectable and well remunerated one – followed a progression only slightly different than most of those in the profession.
In 1996, the then 33-year-old Carrigan, who had a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from the University of Arizona and had fair-to-middling success in the private sector, resolved to try his hand in the public sector. Having started as a governmental employee at a slightly more advanced age than most, he had to work some basic, virtually entrance-level assignments as a public employee initially, but advanced relatively rapidly. In his late thirties, he struck pay dirt, landing the first of a string of impressive positions, in this case that of economic development director in Stockton. He lasted in that post eight years. Thereafter, he worked as the assistant city manager of 25,000-population Sanger in Fresno County. In 2013, he was hired as the city manager of 37,000-population Los Banos in Merced County. While there, Carrigan was a prime mover in an effort by city officials to develop a 1,585-acre industrial park along Interstate 5 and Highway 165. In 2015, the city council with 84,000-population Merced, the county seat of Merced County, hired him as city manager on a three-year contract. In 2018, the Merced City Council, suitably impressed with his performance, extended his managerial contract. Things continued to go swimmingly for Carrigan in Merced, but in 2020, the COVID-19 crisis hit. Carrigan sought to get on board with the State of California’s response to the pandemic, and when Gavin Newsom, California’s Democratic governor, issued a series of mandates in the late winter and spring of that year, Carrigan moved rapidly in an effort to seamlessly make the transition from the conventional governmental operational mode to crisis mode in keeping with those mandates and using his authority as city manager to make public fund expenditures to carry out Newsom’s orders. That did not sit well with then-Merced Mayor Mike Murphy, a Republican, who, with other members of his party, was questioning the rationale for the governor’s measures, believing they were doing damage to the economy and squandering local taxpayer money needlessly. In the face of Newsom’s demands, Murphy believed the proper stance was to make a show of dissent or defiance to Sacramento. When Carrigan sought to defend having complied with the state mandates, Murphy even more pointedly charged Carrigan with withholding information from the council. Perceiving that the mayor had sufficient votes to terminate him, Carrigan in July 2020 departed as city manager.
Having fallen from, or being knocked from atop, the Merced horse, Carrigan immediately moved to mount another steed. When Ray Corpuz, Jr. left the position of Salinas’ city manager in September 2020, Carrigan applied for that position. In a competition against 77 other applicants, he underwent interviews by the mayor and members of the city council in place prior to the November 2020 election and then further interviews with the new mayor and reconstituted council after the election. Ultimately, on the scorecards of the council as it was composed prior to the election and the council after the election, Carrigan was deemed the most suitable candidate and given a contract as city manager in January 2021.
In Salinas, a substantial amount of Carrigan’s time was spent dealing with the city’s institutionalized budget deficit, crime, homelessness and efforts to create affordable housing. He was given high marks all around for the progress he was making.
In the meantime, 355 miles away in the southern part of the state, another county seat, San Bernardino, had long been wrestling with similar bedeviling issues. That city was consistently ranked as being anywhere between the eighth and 52nd most crime-ridden city in the country over a period of a dozen years. Beset with a recalcitrant homelessness problem, the city had been in a downward economic spiral that was triggered when the Department of Defense in 1994 shuttered Norton Air Force Base, which had been a primary economic engine locally since the Second World War. In 2012, the city had filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection. From 2009 until 2022, it had burned through no fewer than seven city managers – Charles McNeely, Andrea Travis-Miller, Allen Parker, Mark Scott, Travis-Miller again, Teri LeDoux and Robert Field – and two interim city managers. Earlier this year, the city had contracted with McNeely, now retired, to guide the city while a city manager was sought. The city advertised widely that it was seeking a city manager, employing the Berkeley-based headhunting firm of Gallagher Benefit Services, which is also known as Koff & Associates, to carry out the recruitment effort and do a preliminary evaluation of the responses to inform the council in its determination as to which of those applicants were best suited and merited closer scrutiny by the mayor and seven council members, who were charged with making the ultimate hiring decision.
There were no fewer than 68 applicants for the post, Carrigan among them.
The Sentinel received a report that one of those applicants was so impressive that by mid-summer, seven of the eight decision-makers were determined to hire that candidate. When someone with the city, the Sentinel is told, approached a member of the city council in the city that currently employs that individual and thereby let the candidate’s political masters know about the application, the candidate, at that time uncertain of being extended a job offer in San Bernardino, withdrew. The council redoubled its examination of the field of applicants, which by that point had been winnowed to roughly a dozen semi-finalists. From that group, according to sources, “about four” finalists were arrived at by mid-August. Shortly thereafter, Mayor Helen Tran and council members Ted Sanchez, Sandra Ibarra, Juan Figueroa and Fred Shorett were leaning heavily in favor of extending an offer to Carrigan, the Sentinel was reliably informed. Councilman Damon Alexander was favorably impressed with Carrigan, but not 100 percent sold. Council members Ben Reynoso and Kimberly Calvin were in favor of considering other applicants more seriously or widening the selection field.
On August 28, the city council was set to meet in a specially-called closed session and make a decision on extending a job offer to the leading candidate, who, at that time was Carrigan. Carrigan, anticipating his hiring was imminent, informed members of the Salinas City Council on August 26 that he had applied for the San Bernardino job. The August 28 meeting concluded, however, with no vote to make that job offer.  At the San Bernardino City Council’s first regularly scheduled meeting in September on September 6, a decision was reached in closed session to hire Carrigan. In announcing that decision during the public portion of the September 6 meeting, City Attorney Sonia Carvalho stopped short of identifying Carrigan by name, stating that the official hiring decision would take place in open public session at the council meeting on October 4 and that full details would become publicly available with the September 29 release of the agenda for the October 4 meeting.
On September 28, however, Carrigan had an abrupt change of heart. He called Gallagher Benefit Services and informed the company he would not take the San Bernardino job, after all. He then drafted a memo to the Salinas municipal staff. “Earlier this morning,” he began, “I contacted the recruiter and removed my name from consideration for the position of San Bernardino city manager. Over the past few weeks I have had time to think about what’s important to me from a personal and a professional standpoint and I have decided that Salinas is the best place for me. In Salinas, we’ve made a lot of progress on major issues like homelessness, affordable housing, crime and infrastructure and I want to be here to continue that momentum. I cannot see myself working anywhere else.”
Carrigan then alluded to something many people already knew, that a huge element of his decision to remain in Salinas was based on his desire to maintain the relationship he had developed over the previous two years with Salinas City Elementary School Superintendent Rebeca Andrade. “I have met someone in Salinas that I’m crazy about,” he wrote.
In San Bernardino there was a mad scramble on at City Hall, particularly in the city clerk’s office, where staff had to redraft the nearly fully prepared October 4 city council meeting agenda by deleting the item relating to Carrigan’s employment with the city and renumbering the items that followed it on the agenda, with each given an identifying number one less than what had already been assigned, and likewise altering the agenda packet to remove the staff report relating to and recommending Carrigan’s hiring, which was augmented with an employment agreement.
Over the weekend of September 30/October 1, Carrigan was looking forward to life with renewed purpose: continuing to meet, and overcome, even more than before, the challenges facing Salinas.
On October 4, the day that the San Bernardino City Council would have voted on approving his contract with the city that would have provided him with a $291,000 annual salary, pay add-ons and perquisites worth $16,000 or thereabouts and benefits/deferred compensation in the range of $89,000 for a total annual compensation of $396,000, six of the seven Salinas City Council members met in a two-hour closed session, after which it was announced they had voted 6-to-0 to terminate Carrigan from his $355,899.38 total annual compensation job as city manager.
While it is yet possible that he will be able to find another municipal management posting elsewhere, the circumstances that ultimately led to Carrigan’s current state of unemployment might make that difficult. Reportedly, he is now seeking employment with a non-profit organization that will pay him less than one-fourth of what he was earning as Salinas city manager.
-Mark Gutglueck

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