Without much ceremony, the Richmond City Council canceled City Manager Carlos Martinez’s contract Tuesday night less than a year after hiring him.
The narrow, 4 to 3-vote took place during closed session and had the feel of spontaneous palace coup. The four councilmembers who voted to cancel Martinez’s contract apparently had not thought through their action because they did not have a interim city manager ready to takeover and the one person who they put forward to be acting city manager, Community Services Director Rochelle Polk, refused the position when she found out about it Wednesday morning.
Martinez’s firing leaves open what is perhaps the city’s most important critical position in terms of making decisions on the variety of critical issues that a mid-sized city faces on a daily basis. There are immediate prospects to fill the temporary and permanent position.
Mayor Tom Butt has called for a special meeting Saturday to make a plan for filling the job, but it is uncertain if he will be to get the required four councilmembers to put schedule the meeting. One councilmember observed that the offhanded firing makes the city look unstable and mercurial, two characteristics that will make it more difficult to find a qualified replacement.
Councilmembers Demnlus Johnson, Nat Bates, Eduardo Martinez, and Melvin Willis voted to fire Martinez. Mayor Tom Butt and councilmembers Jael Myrick, and Ben Choi voted to retain him.
“It took us eight months to find Carlos Martinez and now we have no acting city manager no plan for recruiting a new one and we have pay Martinez, $350,000, money we don’t have,” Butt said. “And we’re going to have to start the recruitment process all over again.
The firing was driven by the city’s five unions, which were angry with Martinez over negotiations and alleged labor law violations. In the past two or three weeks, union leaders put heavy pressure on councilmembers to oust the city manager. But Martinez was facing a $7 million budget deficit, which he inherited. The city council passed a budget earlier this month, which was described as “balanced,” though some city employees call that term a bit “magical.”
Martinez did not do himself any favors with his public relations style, which amounted to no public relations at all. During his nine months in Richmond, he did not give one media interview nor did he make his case to the public about the difficult decisions that had to be made in order balance the budget. His total lack of public profile helped, in part, to make him appear vulnerable to union pressure.
None of the four councilmembers who voted to fire Martinez returned calls from the East Bay Express.