Rialto & City Manager Reach “Mutual” Departure Agreement As His Past Emerges

With no fanfare, Rialto’s recently-hired city manager last month was placed on administrative leave and then voluntarily resigned after a series of conflicts with the city’s existing staff alienated at least four council members.
In January, 67-year-old David Carmany, who had been the city manager in West Covina, La Puente, Manhattan Beach, Seal Beach, Pacifica, Malibu and Agoura Hills, was brought in as a replacement for Marcus Fuller, who had served as city manager from May 2021 through January 2023.
Carmany’s inability to forge a lasting managerial niche among the city’s employees and its city council replicates a pattern that extends back more than 24 years, during which the city has now had 12 administrators, potentially leaving the city essentially rudderless until after the upcoming November election, with what is likely to be no more than an interim city manager elevated from department head status to oversee municipal function in the 22.34-square mile city of 102,965 on a day-to-day basis.
At the turn of the millennium, Joseph Guzetta was Rialto’s city manager. He was replaced in 2001 by Henry Garcia, who remained in place for a decade. Upon Garcia’s departure for greener grass in Moreno Valley, the city first tapped then-Redevelopment Director Robb Steel to oversee its operations and then conferred the acting city manager role on Police Chief Mark Kling. Mike Story was selected to serve as city manager thereafter. When Story left in December 2017, Ahmad Ansari, the city’s one-time public works director and city engineer, served as interim city administrator. There after, Rialto Fire Chief Sean Grayson took on the temporary assignment. In June 2019, Rod Foster, the former city manager of Colton and Laguna Niguel and the de facto city manager of Upland and Hesperia, was hired a city manager. In short order, however, Foster grew crosswise of Mayor Debra Robertson when she was hit with adverse publicity relating to a nonprofit entity that employed her daughter receiving funds and free lease accommodations through the city, and in October 2020, Foster voluntarily departed. Foster was temporarily replaced by Police Chief Kling, while the city council carried out a city manager recruitment that involved 85 applicants. In June 2021, Marcus Fuller, the assistant city manager of Palm Springs who had been Rialto’s public works director from 2012 to 2014, became city manager. Ultimately, however, that didn’t work out, and Fuller departed in January 2023. He was replaced by Arron Brown, the director of information technology in Palm Springs who had likewise acceded to deputy city manager in that city and then accompanied Fuller to Rialto as to serve as deputy city manager. In July 2023, the city called upon the at-that-point retired Garcia to return to Rialto, supplanting Brown, while it again sought a full-fledged city manager.
Over the summer and into the fall of 2023, all five members of the city council, relying upon an evaluation of the 37 competing applicants carried out by the Laguna Niguel-based JL Group LLC initially winnowed that field to 7 candidates until, in early January, there were what were deemed three finalists for the post, including Carmany. Based upon the JL Group analysis, the five reached a consensus that Carmany was the best of the three, with at least three of those rather enthusiastic about him. At that point, Councilman Baca and Councilman Ed Scott, were reluctant to make a commitment and were contemplating, if one or more of their council colleagues would have been willing to do so, extending the recruitment/search.
Internally and behind the scenes, a lobbying effort to promote Carmany was ongoing, which included the advocacy of former Assemblyman and one-time Mayor of West Covina Roger Hernández. Ultimately, with Councilman Rafael Trujillo and Councilman Andy Carrizales strongly in favor of Carmany, and Councilman Baca favorably disposed toward him, on January 23, Carmany was hired on a split 3-to-2 vote, with Baca, Trujillo and Carrizales prevailing, Scott dissenting and Mayor Robertson abstaining because she had not been in attendance at the closed-door meeting of the council during which Carmany’s qualifications and suitability were discussed. Mayor Robertson nevertheless expressed her belief that his choice was merited.
That vote approved giving Carmany a five-year contract, starting with a first year annual salary of $354,994 subject to-be-approved three percent annual increases, together with yearly pay add-ons and perquisites of $43,936, benefits of $74,227 plus an $89,454.48 contribution toward his pension for a total annual compensation of $562,611.48. That was a substantial increase over what he had been making in West Covina in 2023, where he was being paid 218,780.24 in salary, $30,283 in pay add-ons and perquisites, $24,685.15 in benefits and a $55,130.15 contribution toward his pension for a total annual compensation of $328,878.54.
The city and council in general signaled substantial confidence in Carmany, with Mayor Robertson heralding him as exactly what the city was seeking in a city manager.
“His impressive track record, leadership skills, and commitment to community engagement make him the perfect fit for our city,” Robertson beamed. “We are confident that under David’s leadership, Rialto will continue to thrive and prosper. We are thrilled to have him here.”
The honeymoon between Carmany’ and Rialto lasted fewer than three full weeks.
Indeed, even as the decision to hire him was being made, the Sentinel has learned, entities withing and connected to City Hall, including at least one of the city council members, were second guessing JL Associate’s glowing report about Carmany, which at least four members of the council now agree turned over an insufficient number of rocks in looking into Carmany’s municipal managerial past.
In that regard, in short order it was learned that in 2023, Carmany had voluntarily departed West Covina in lieu of being terminated.
When Carmany was hired by West Covina in 2019, it was done on a bare minimum 3-to-2 vote, with then Mayor Lloyd Johnson and Councilwoman Jessica Shewmaker opposed to his hiring. He did, though, at that time have the enthusiastic support of Councilman Tony Wu, who endorsed Carmany as the kind of “common sense” public official capable of methodically working through difficulties facing public agencies.
Carmany’s time in West Covina, which has had nearly as unstable of a relationship with city managers as Rialto has had with its top administrators, was star-crossed from the outset. When he came into the city manager position, West Covina was wrestling with an $8.7 million deficit, which had in turn created unrest within the professional ranks at City Hall over deferred raises and benefit increases. Over time, Carmany was able to balance, or come close to balancing, the city’s finances. Nevertheless, in the arena of personnel management and maintaining civil working relations with his political masters, Carmany was severely challenged.
By his second year in West Covina, Carmany’s relationship with Wu grew testy. This was despite Carmany’s efforts at supporting retrenchment with regard to some of the city’s long-term employees.
At the time Carmany became city manager, some members of the city council, including Wu, had designs on forcing West Covina Fire Chief Larry Whithorn, who had started as a firefighter/paramedic with the department in 1991 and was promoted to fire chief in 2014, into retirement. Indeed, before Carmany arrived, the city was moving in that direction. After Whithorn took an extended leave medical leave in 2017 and then took further leave in 2018 to look after his ailing father, an effort to force him to retire ensued. Whithorn resisted and in the midst of the fire chief controversy, with the West Covina Firefighters Association issuing a vote of no confidence against Whithorn and Whithorn seeking to demote union members or changing their schedules and duties in reaction to their picketing City Hall, the situation deteriorated. Some of the department’s firefighters, who stood a chance at promotion with Whithorn’s departure, became further embroiled in the bureaucratic fisticuffs. Then-City Manager Chris Freeland and Human Resources Director Edward Macias, at the bidding of Wu and Planning Commissioner Glenn Kennedy, were pressuring Whithorn to retire throughout 2018. In March 2019, Freeland, Macias and Finance Director Marcie Medina abruptly resigned. The city’s effort to depict Whithorn as distracted and an “absentee” fire chief was in full swing when Carmany arrived shortly thereafter. Carmany took up where Freeland and Macias had left off, carrying out what he recognized as the city council’s imperative to get rid of Whithorn. He proffered Whithorn a resignation letter, which the fire chief refused to sign. When Whithorn did not go quietly into the good night, Carmany terminated him.
Whithorn responded with a lawsuit in which he alleged a hostile work environment, age discrimination, harassment, defamation and both constructive and unlawful termination.
Wu, despite having been a prime mover in the effort to get rid of Whithorn, and at least one other member of the city council blamed Carmany for his hamfisted approach in firing Whithorn, believing he should have used greater skill and politesse in cashiering him and not giving the fire chief the basis upon which to file suit.
The deterioration of the relationship between Wu and Carmany gave rise to a deeply untoward circumstance, one that was not handled very gracefully.
In the Spring of 2022, Carmany went to the West Covina Police Department, alleging that during a meeting, Wu physically threatened him. The police department, declaring a conflict of interest, passed the complaint along to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. That matter was still being investigated when, on May 5, 2023, a Los Angeles County jury found in favor of Whithorn in his suit against the city, awarding him $4.1 million.
Furthermore, former West Covina Police Chief Marc Taylor, who was terminated by Carmany on the same day as Whithorn, has also filed an age discrimination suit against West Covina in 2020. That case, which was set to go to trial in late May 2023, was delayed, at the city’s request, after the judgment in favor of Whithorn. Efforts to settle the matter short of trial have not succeeded and the matter is set to go to trial in August.
If, up until the point of the judgment in favor of Whithorn, Carmany had majority support on the city council to remain as city manager, his credibility and ability to function as the city’s top administrator was irretrievably compromised with the finding that he had condoned and engaged in age discrimination against Whithorn and had potentially done the same to Taylor. The council met in closed session on May 16, 2023, taking no action but making clear that Carmany had to go, or else. On May 18, he resigned as city manager.
City managers commonly lack job security. As they serve at the pleasure of the city councils in the cities where they work, they are subject not only to the collective whim of the councils that employ them, their longevity in the positions they occupy can be jeopardized upon a change of council membership pursuant to an election. While a city manager may meet the expectations of an entire council or a majority of a given council, if the voters in that particular municipality choose to remove one or more members of a council’s ruling majority in as little time as a single election cycle such that the new majority lines up with what had been a previous council minority that was at odds with the displaced majority, a city manager can be expendable virtually overnight.
Carmany has, as is common among at least a minority of city managers, been terminated or forced into resigning more than once.
In 2003, he was terminated as city manager in Pacifica “for cause,” which obviated the provision of his contract requiring that he be given severance pay. Carmany sued, which resulted in a settlement in which he was provided with $175,000.
Manhattan Beach City Council members unanimously dismissed Carmany as that city’s top administrator in November 2013, citing the need to “move in a new direction.” In doing so, Carmany was terminated without cause. The firing came within the context of a contretemps with a former Manhattan Beach employee, Patricia Schilling, who had been his executive assistant. She alleged Carmany forced her to alter figures in staff reports, shred documents and falsify financial disclosure forms. The suit also had a sexual harassment component, with the former employee alleging that Carmany would stand over her while she was at her desk and stare down her blouse. She filed a lawsuit against the city in 2014, one which was settled two years later, with Schiling receiving $1.5 million to drop the matter, with both sides paying their attorney fees and the city making no admission of further liability or wrongdoing.
Carmany’s managerial style, in which he seeks to construct a municipal management team composed of department heads of his own preference, stands at the cutting edge of one approach toward planning, organizing, directing and controlling City Hall. If the vision of that particular manager lines up with the priorities of the council in place and such a strategy works in terms of meeting a locale’s needs, such a city manager can be deemed a valuable asset to the community. On the other hand, reordering the ranks and roster of employees in a particular jurisdiction carries with it the risk that those displaced employees will take legal action, such as has been the case with Whithorn and Taylor in West Covina, Schilling in Manhattan Beach or Carmany himself in Pacifica. This can prove expensive for the city and taxpayers in that money must be expended on lawyers to defend the city and, in those case where those defenses fail, in substantial settlements or awards.
Soon after Carmany arrived in Rialto, it became clear he was gunning to make personnel changes, i.e., displace individuals who had worked their way up into key positions at City Hall.
One of those changes was Katherine Stevens, the city’s finance director. Upon Carmany’s arrival, he came into a situation where the finance department was initiating its proposals for the 2024-25 budget and was dealing with replacing a previous accounting system, adapting a new set of electronic financial books with more sophisticated tracking capabilities, while having the department’s personnel make the necessary adjustments to effectuate that. There were shortcomings in the previous bookkeeping system, and in making his immediate assessment of what the situation entailed, the Sentinel is told, Carmany came to a conclusion that Stevens was in some way responsible, if not for the shortcomings of the accounting system and what it rendered in and of itself, than for tolerating those shortcomings for so long. He moved to get rid of Stevens.
Similarly, Carmany from the outset had a disaffinity for Assistant City Manager Arron Brown, something that was clear before the end of January, within days of his arrival, City Hall insiders tell the Sentinel. He cashiered Brown.
Though some have asserted that Carmany, in his efforts to carry out the policy directives of the council, should have been free to hire, fire, reassign and promote staff as he felt necessary to achieve the council’s goals, others believe he had scapegoated Stevens and Brown, was about to do so with others and that ultimately what he was engaged in was clearing the decks of existing Rialto employees who were in the way of favored employees he had worked with in West Covina and La Puente to whom he wanted to give plum, high-salaried assignments.
So far, Rialto has ducked a couple of bullets. Brown was able to land on his feet, moving into the position of city manager in Canyon Lake. As of this week, it does not appear that Stevens is going to take action against the city over her departure. “She’s moving on with her life,” someone close to the situation said.
By early April the city council had familiarized itself with the holes in the JL Group’s analysis of Carmany, in particular the issues in Manhattan Beach, Pacifica and West Covina. On April 12, the council put Carmany on administrative leave. Shortly thereafter, he met with City Attorney Eric Vail. During that conference, Carmany was given the opportunity to resign. Conditional upon his agreement to leave without any further claims against the city, he is being provided with a $119,329 severance.
Built into the arrangement is a face-saving cover story by which Carmany is at liberty to take refuge in the parallel suggestion that remaining in Rialto for what was less than one-twentieth of his 5-year duration contract was a natural outgrowth of his unwillingness to abide a general situation in which the council was engaging in micromanagement, which he was not willing to abide. Under this narrative, Carmany made his exit accordingly, not unlike the exodus of several of the other 10 city managers before him the city burned through in less than a quarter of a century.
The $119,329 severance paid to Carmany after his fewer than three months on the job is comparable, if not absolutely proportional, to the $430,000 severance paid to Fuller following his 20 months on the job after he departed over what were described as managerial differences with the council.
Assistant City Manager Tanya Williams has been elevated to the position of acting city manager. It is unclear whether she will maintain that position until Carmany’s replacement is found.
It is reported that the council is reluctant to make such an appointment with the November election approaching. Reportedly, Councilman Trujillo is to challenge Robertson for mayor in that contest. Consequently, the council believes it may be beneficial to wait until after the election to make such an appointment, avoiding placing a new city manager into a pressurized political environment during his or her first few months in office.

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