City Manager Candidate Who Spurned SB Now Wants $2.2 Million Because, He Claims, Officials Cost Him His Salinas Job

It has now been disclosed that a little more than a month after he voluntarily withdrew as a candidate for San Bernardino city manager, Steve Carrigan took the first step toward suing the city that was on the brink of hiring him.
In a $2.2 million claim of damages for off-setting financial compensation filed on Carrigan’s behalf on November 30, 2023 by the Irvine-based Executive Law Group against the City of San Bernardino, Carrigan’s attorney R. Craig Scott maintained Carrigan was fired by the city of Salinas, where he was employed as city manager when he applied for a similar position in San Bernardino, because someone with San Bernardino intentionally informed his political masters in Salinas that he was contemplating leaving his managerial post there.
According to Scott, Carrigan was discriminated against in San Bernardino because he is white.
While the basic narrative contained in Carrigan’s claim matches certain events as they occurred during the time Carrigan’s application was under review by the city and its elected decision-makers, it misses some key facts known to the Sentinel, which include that city officials had reached a consensus to hire Carrigan, that the city was on track to finalize that hiring on October 4, 2023 and that it was action by Carrigan himself, taken in rapid succession on September 28, 2023, both in person in Salinas as well as electronically and telephonically, which resulted, ultimately, in Carrigan not acceding to the city manager’s post in San Bernardino. More to the point, the firm representing Carrigan has erroneously drawn the conclusion that one of the council members who was actually in favor of hiring him had actively sought to prevent him from being hired.
According to Scott, San Bernardino, its elected officials and employees “interfered with the existing employment agreement between Carrigan and the City of Salinas. That interference resulted in the City of Salinas terminating Carrigan’s employment agreement.” Scott further alleges San Bernardino officials and employees “interfered with Carrigan’s prospective business advantages, as future city manager of San Bernardino [and] repeatedly and with malice engaged in unprivileged conduct by which Carrigan’s reputation… has suffered substantial damage [and] “intentionally and negligently inflicted severe emotional distress on Carrigan” while at least some city officials “discriminated against Carrigan on the basis of his race(white)” and “invaded Carrigan’s privacy by causing publicity that has placed him in a false light in the public eye” which was a consequence of those officials having “disclosed confidential information acquired in closed session.”
According to Scott, in July 2022, Carrigan was contacted by Frank Rojas from the headhunting firm Koff & Associates. Scott’s claim states Rojas suggested that Carrigan “take a look at the San Bernardino city manager position.” Carrigan, apparently interested in moving up the municipal managerial ladder from the 161,585-population Salinas to the 223,793-population San Bernardino, was interviewed by San Bernardino officials via zoom on August 3, 2023 and on August 18 by the same officials in San Bernardino in person.
After the second interview, according to Scott, Rojas informed Carrigan that it was a ‘dead heat’ between another candidate and Carrigan. San Bernardino then requested through Koff & Associates and Rojas what expectations the two leading city manager candidates had in terms of salary, contractual commitments and other accommodations would have in terms of taking on the post they had applied for. A few days later Rojas informed Carrigan in a phone call, according to Scott, that he “was the finalist the council wanted to move forward with.” All of this is documented, according to Scott, in an email from Assistant San Bernardino City Attorney Thomas Rice, who had sat in on the interviews of Carrigan, in which Rice conveyed a job offer from the city council and told Carrigan the city council would consider Carrigan’s employment contract in closed session on August 28, 2023.
“The City of San Bernardino, by and through the conduct of the mayor, members of the city council, or city employees or other agents breached the confidentiality of closed session and of the recruiting process and revealed Carrigan’s candidacy for the San Bernardino city manager position to the Salinas City Council,” according to Scott. “The city [of San Bernardino] acted without regard for the privacy rights of Carrigan and with the intent to interfere with Carrigan’s existing contractual relations with the City of Salinas. Rojas declared that he and the San Bernardino city attorneys instructed the San Bernardino City Council about confidentiality, and about the imperative that no one in attendance at a closed session mention any of the candidates’ names to anyone outside of the recruitment process.”
The claim against San Bernardino states, “In San Bernardino there is a pattern of unprivileged conduct designed to destroy the employment prospects of any person seeking the San Bernardino city manager position who is not favored by the mayor or one or more members of the San Bernardino City Council. Council members leak the candidacy of those who are disfavored to the city council where the candidate then works. The wrongful intent and purpose of the city in this effort is to undermine a candidate’s current employment, so that the disfavored candidate becomes insecure and withdraws his candidacy.”
Scott references another city manager candidate in San Bernardino who withdrew from the process in the fall of 2023 after word got back to that candidate’s employer that he was likewise considering jumping ship to San Bernardino.
“In Carrigan’s case,” according to Scott, “after his name was revealed publicly by the city, without Carrigan’s authorization, Carrigan contacted Rojas, requesting that his name be removed from consideration to be the next San Bernardino City manager.” Carrigan then sent an email to the Salinas City Council and all Salinas city employees informing them that he intended to remain as city manager in Salinas. “But, it was too late for Carrigan to hold on to his position in Salinas. The Salinas City Council had been tipped off by the City [of San Bernardino], and the Salinas City Council terminated Carrigan.”
According to Scott’s narrative, Carrigan had not only been denied the city manager’s post in San Bernardino by the action of the City of San Bernardino and its council but was fired in Salinas as an outcome of San Bernardino officialdom’s action as well.
Scott offers a selective version of events and is economical with some facts.
Scott’s assertion that the City of San Bernardino and its city council “interfered with the existing employment agreement between Carrigan and the City of Salinas” and that “interference …resulted in the City of Salinas terminating Carrigan’s employment agreement” is accurate only insofar as the consideration that Carrigan, while yet employed by Salinas, willingly applied in July for the San Bernardino city manager post. In so doing, Carrigan and Scott have confirmed, Carrigan did so secretly and with an understanding and expectation of confidentiality, such that he had not informed the Salinas City Council nor anyone at Salinas City Hall about his overture to San Bernardino.
When the company carrying out the recruiting process for San Bernardino, Berkeley-based Koff & Associates, also known as Gallagher Benefit Services, began its vetting of Carrigan in preparing an evaluative scorecard of those competing for the city manager position, entities outside the recruitment team became aware of who some of the applicants were, which triggered press inquiries. In the course of those press inquiries, members of the Salinas City Council were contacted. Scott in his claim on Carrigan’s behalf does not mention that those press inquiries resulted in Carrigan then making, over the weekend of August 26 & 27, 2023, a belated admission to the members of the Salinas City Council that he had applied for the San Bernardino job. Carrigan made those disclosures just one and two days before the San Bernardino City Council was scheduled to officially hire him.
By August 24, 2023, a five-eighths consensus on the San Bernardino City Council was purposed to hire Carrigan. First Ward Councilman Ted Sanchez, Second Ward Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra, Third Ward Councilman Juan Figueroa, Fourth Ward Councilman Fred Shorett and Mayor Helen Tran were sold on Carrigan. Seventh Ward Councilman Damon Alexander was relatively favorably disposed toward Carrigan, as well, but was less enthusiastic than Tran, Sanchez, Ibarra, Figueroa and Shorett. Fifth Ward Councilman Ben Reynoso and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Kimberly Calvin, while not overtly critical of Carrigan, felt the city had not fully explored its options with other worthy candidates and should not end the recruitment drive and evaluative process.
On August 28, the San Bernardino City Council held a specially-called meeting at which it scheduled to consider hiring Carrigan and vote upon appointing him to the city manager’s post, subject to a later ratification of his contract. With some members of the public expressing doubts about the wisdom of the appointment during the public comment portion of the meeting before the council adjourned into the closed session and Councilwoman Kimberly Calvin seeking ahead of the closed session to close out the recruitment process and the contract with Koff & Associates and reagendize a discussion about reinitiating the recruitment process anew, the council voted 4-to-3 against Calvin’s motion and adjourned into a closed session. When the council emerged from behind closed doors, it took no reportable action.
Nine days later, at the city council’s September 6 meeting, during the council’s closed session, a unanimous decision to make a final offer of employment to Carrigan was made, with Calvin and Reynoso bowing to the reality of Carrigan’s inevitable selection. After the council emerged from that closed session, City Attorney Sonia Carvalho announced an offer of employment had been made, but she did not identify Carrigan as the selection. A vote on confirming the appointment and the candidate’s acceptance of the contract was set for the October 4 city council meeting. The identification of the council’s selection as city manager – Carrigan – was to be provided in the agenda for the October 4 meeting, which was scheduled for posting no later than September 29, 2023.
Those preparations proceeded and were in full swing by the last week of September. On September 28, however, Carrigan had an abrupt change of heart. He called Koff & Associates/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 3, the day before the San Bernardino City Council would have voted on approving his contract with the city that was to provide 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.
Scott’s assertion in the claim filed for Carrigan against San Bernardino that the City of San Bernardino and its city council “interfered with Carrigan’s prospective business advantages, as future city manager of San Bernardino” is somewhat difficult to feature, given that it was Carrigan who ultimately decided to withdraw his application for city manager and the council was yet poised, based upon the documentation already drawn up for the October 4 council meeting, to hire him as city manager. It was, as has been pointed out, Carrigan who left San Bernardino in the lurch rather than the other way around.
Scott’s contention that San Bernardino city officials “repeatedly and with malice engaged in unprivileged conduct by which Carrigan’s reputation… has suffered substantial damage,” that they “intentionally and negligently inflicted severe emotional distress on Carrigan and “discriminated against Carrigan on the basis of his race (white),” while they “invaded Carrigan’s privacy by causing publicity that has placed him in a false light in the public eye” by having “disclosed confidential information acquired in closed session” stands with only the barest outline of factual support, which consists of Scott’s recitation of events in what he termed a “Summary of Facts.”
Without being specific, Scott alleged that “confidential closed session information was released in violation of the Brown Act,” which he implied was damaging to Carrigan.
Scott’s filing on Carrigan’s behalf dwells on the issue of race, alleging that San Bernardino engaged in race discrimination against Carrigan in violation of Government Code Section 12940(a).
One of the passages from this summary states, “After Carrigan’s possible appointment as city manager of San Bernardino was considered in a closed session of the San Bernardino City Council, Rojas informed Carrigan that three of the council members wanted a different candidate. Pressed for more information, Rojas told Carrigan, ‘this is about race.’ Carrigan is white. Two of the three council members who did not vote to extend an employment offer to Carrigan are African American and they wanted the other candidate, who is African American.”
Scott did not identify the African American candidate for city manager.
Racism pervades San Bernardino, Scott averred, extending through not just members of the city council but the city’s population as a whole.
“In the open session of the August 28, 2023 San Bernardino City Council meeting, a large group of African American residents attended,” Scott noted. “They spoke out against Carrigan’s potential appointment as San Benardino city manager. Seven of the ten speakers that spoke against Carrigan’s candidacy are African American. One or more members of the city orchestrated this effort to squash Carrigan’s candidacy because Carrigan is not the correct, favored race (Black).”
According to Scott, subsequently, in early October, Carrigan was being considered for the interim city manager post in Pacific Grove in Monterey County, a competition in which he held the inside track. Carrigan lost that opportunity because of the damage the City of San Bernardino had done to his reputation.
Carrigan is owed $2.2 million to cover the damages he sustained, extending to $731,250 that Scott calculates he would be earning if he had remained in Salinas for the two years and three months that were remaining on his contract, another half of a million dollars for the damage done to his reputation and $1 million to make up for what he will lose as the result of missed future employment opportunities.
In the limited time available to it, the Sentinel could find no indication that Carrigan or anyone on his behalf had filed a claim or had taken legal action against the City of Salinas, nor of any claim or legal action against Koff & Associates, also known as Gallagher Benefit Services.
There were, from the time the city began soliciting applications in April 2023 until the hiring of Charles Montoya in October, no fewer than 68 applicants for the San Bernardino city manager position, Carrigan among them. He was deemed by Koff & Associates and a six-of-eight-member city council majority to be the second-most qualified candidate among those who had applied for the position, after what was described as “an impeccably qualified” applicant withdrew from the competition in July. Scott makes no mention of it having been Carrigan’s decision to reach for the brass ring in San Bernardino without informing the city council in Salinas, and that it was Carrigan’s decision to forego taking the job in San Bernardino, which he merely had to claim by continuing his candidacy until October 4, having thus fallen from the municipal employment merry-go-round because of his own action. Within California’s municipal universe, employees are better paid and receive more generous benefits than those who hold comparable positions in the private sector. City managers in particular stand at the top end of the remuneration scale, in some measure because they serve at the pleasure of a city’s elected leadership, which in turn serves at the pleasure of the electorate. Thus, a city manager who serves in a city with a divided city council, can see his or her tenure brought to an ignominious end with an election in which an incumbent loses or does not seek to be retained in office or in such a circumstance where the city manager takes action that displeases even a single member of a ruling coalition that has been sustaining him or her in his or her position. Most city management professionals accept this reality as a matter of course. Carrigan and Scott, it seem, believe that San Bernardino, its city council and the city’s taxpayers should be financially responsible because six of the Salinas City Council’s members deemed his lack of loyalty to them to be grounds for his termination from the helm of their city.
This week, Carrigan’s threat of legal action, which had been kept quiet for more than four months, loomed into public view when the San Bernardino City Council discussed Carrigan’s claim in a closed session at its meeting Wednesday, April 3.
“The City Council met in closed session to discuss a claim filed by Steve Carrigan against the city in relation to the city manager recruitment process,” City Attorney Sonia Carvalho said in a curt disclosure of the action the council took during its executive session from which the public is excluded. “The city initiated an investigation of the claim and has voted 4-to-2 to release portions of the report. Councilmembers Sanchez, Ibarra, Figueroa and Mayor Pro Tem Shorett voted yes, and Councilmembers Alexander and Calvin voted no. Councilmember Reynoso was absent.”
Despite that vote, the Sentinel was not able to obtain the report, either in whole or redacted form.
-Mark Gutglueck


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