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City manager in limbo
The Willows City Council on Tuesday took no action on the fate of City Manager Steve Holsinger.
All eyes were on the embattled city manager, who sat quietly through the meeting, as residents called for his termination or waved signs that said he must go.
With no new business on the agenda, Tuesday's meeting was almost entirely dedicated to hearing from the public prior to the scheduled closed-session discussion on Holsinger's performance as the city's top administrator.
Willows Mayor Vince Holvik said it was the first of several steps the City Council will take to evaluate Holsinger's performance.
In a rare move, the City Council will include two city employees and two members of the public in additional discussions.
The four people will be drawn by lot from qualified volunteers.
Citizens who want to sit in on the discussion must be registered voters who reside within the city limits, Holvik said.
Holsinger on Tuesday was accused of being dishonest, not being a team-player and being too high-handed with members of the business community, the general public and city employees.
"He is not now, has never been or will ever be a good fit with the city of Willows," former Supervisor Forrest Sprague told the council. "This man has two faces. You hear one, and we hear another."
Several of those who spoke said Holsinger's alienation of people inside City Hall and out had simply reached a boiling point, and that it was finally time to cut the cord.
"We are unsatisfied with the performance of Mr. Holsinger as our city manager," said Vern Roberts, who presented a petition with some 90 names calling for his dismissal. "We further understand that the city is in fiscal crisis and feel his position should be cut immediately as a cost savings measure."
Most of those who spoke Tuesday were the same in recent weeks who spoke in favor of eliminating Holsinger rather than Willows Police Chief Bill Spears.
"Each person here represents many," said Angela Parisio, who was among several people who insisted that there was more than just a handful of people who felt the City Council violated the community's trust when they voted Sept. 30 to not renew Spears' contact when it expires at the end of the year, citing that it would reduce the city's budget deficit by $86,000 this year.
"None of us believe this was a budget issue," said former Councilwoman Rose Marie Thrailkill. "It's as simple as that."
Buddy Brackensick, Mike Donnelley and others questioned the savings because state law requires the city to have a police chief.
On the other hand, state law does not mandate having a city manager, so choosing Holsinger over Spears made no sense — even for financial reasons —they said.
"The police chief can do both jobs," Donnelley said. "The city manager can't."
Susan Parisio also agreed a consolidation of those duties would be a better option in a financial crisis.
"I don't see the need (to have a city manager)," Parisio said. "There is not much city to manage. We have a lot of competent people."
Although Holvik agreed that police chiefs have served double duty in several cities, he steered the public away from discussing alternative budget solutions that would enable the city to keep Spears another two years.
Councilwoman Terry Taylor-Vodden also said the time for offering solutions was three months ago during budget discussions, and that the public could have offered to form a citizens committee to help push through a proposed tax measure.
Most thought Vodden's admonishment that the public had not done enough to help solve the city's fiscal crisis was unfair.
"The issue not to renew (Spears' contract) was not discussed three months ago," said Stephanie Southam.
Some complained the mid-year budget hearing was held during the day, and those who did attend said after Tuesday's meeting that the topic centered around the city's survey intended to measure the level of support for a sales tax increase.
Jeff Williams, the most vocal opponent of the survey, told the council several times over the past few months that they could have put a tax measure on the ballot for about $5,000 and seen where it took them, but instead chose to pay an outside consultant $18,000 to do a survey to find out how people felt about it first.
The problem, people agreed, was that the survey asked how people felt about the services provided by the Glenn County Sheriff's Office, rather than focusing on the services of the Willows Police Department, fueling the belief that the City Council's goal is to eventually contract with an outside agency for law enforcement services.
The survey implied both the Glenn County Farm Bureau and the Public Safety Association supported the tax increase.
The survey did not ask if the public would support a sales tax increase if it meant the Police Chief's job was on the line.
Brankensick said the deficit budget passed in June included Spears' position, and had the council taken the Public Safety Association's offer to continue the pay deferrals in exchange for two-year contract extensions, the deficit would have been reduced by $110,000.
Brankensick said the public believed the city's refusal to accept the offer was in order to make changes to employee pensions, and that city officials never gave the public any indication that the Police Chief would be sacrificed.
Spears said he only learned he would likely be out of a job when a friend called to tell him his recommended non-renewal was on the Aug. 28 agenda.
Had he known earlier, Spears said he would have accepted the "golden-handshake" retirement incentive that was offered earlier in the year to all retirement-eligible employees.
Although the City Council insisted that it was too late for Spears and the public to offer budget solutions, Spears said he will continue his offer to re-negotiate if they decide to reinstate his contract.
He will also continue to suggest the city move forward with charging the cost of police services associated with patrolling and protecting the wastewater treatment plant to the appropriate enterprise fund, as is done in many cities.
Spears said Wednesday he would also perform combined duties of city manager and police chief at no additional salary, pending the outcome of Holsinger's review.
Finance Director Tim Sailsberry said Wednesday that Holsinger's and Spears' positions are comparable to within $1,000 of each other.
Holsinger's $90,000 salary is higher than Spears' — but Spears' higher public safety pension narrows the financial gap.
Both positions cost the city approximately $156,000 a year, Sailsberry said.
Citizens and city employees who wish to participate in the final steps of Holsinger's review must have their names to City Clerk Natalie Butler no later than 5 p.m. on Oct. 22.
Participants will be selected by draw, Holvik said.
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or email@example.com.