Fair Game

By TOM JOHNSON

Council down to three for city manager…check that…make it two!

Tom Johnson NewLast week we reported that the Newport Beach City Council had whittled down the 72 candidates presented to them for the City Manager position to three finalists. They then calendared the next round of interviews for Monday, Aug. 13.

That changed as the end of last week approached. Names of several of the finalists began to emerge on social media sites. 

In an effort to prevent further confidentiality issues, Mayor “Duffy” Duffield re-calendared the finalist interviews to yesterday morning.

Still, over the weekend, one name that came to the forefront was Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson and not in a necessarily good way. Nelson has experience as an elected official, first the Fullerton City Council and then more recently as a supervisor. Last month he unsuccessfully ran for Orange County’s 39th Congressional District.

Many voices on social media argued that he was the wrong guy for the job having no city manager experience. So much so, in fact, that a petition formulated over the weekend against him.

Following all of that and at the conclusion of yesterday’s Closed Session of interviews, Newport Beach City Attorney Aaron Harp issued the following statement to clarify the change:

“The City’s recruiting firm has counseled confidentiality throughout the City Manager application and selection process. Excellent candidates are willing to apply if they do not have to worry that their current employers question loyalty. The City Council agreed unanimously in Closed Session to respect confidentiality. 

“The Council agreed to interview seven of the 72 applicants. After a full day of in- person interviews (previously held on July 23), three candidates received majority support for final interviews. 

“The City’s recruiting firm scheduled final teleconference interviews for August 13, 2018.

“Within days, rumors circulated online that purported to disclose the name of one or more of the final candidates. The Mayor called a special meeting that moved up the August 13 interviews to, hopefully, stop the rumors and inaccuracies and potentially lose good candidates for this most important position. 

“On Saturday, July 28, Council Member Jeff Herdman issued a public statement regarding the qualifications of the final three candidates. His statement violated the confidentiality he agreed to uphold and contained a number of inaccurate statements. 

“To set the record straight, the candidate Mr. Herdman now calls unqualified received a bare majority of four Council Member votes. Mr. Herdman cast the deciding fourth vote. Without Mr. Herdman’s support, the candidate in question would not be the subject of community speculation. 

“After conducting the final round of interviews, the Council will now pursue one of the other two candidates. We sincerely hope that the process has not been so compromised that the candidate refuses consideration.”

And, while it looks like Jeff’s hand will probably be slapped, who knew.

When I asked Herdman about the claims against him, he commented, “Looks like election season is upon us!”

Newport Beach activist Jim Mosher has a different take: “The first paragraph of the (Harp) press release reveals a likely earlier Brown Act violation: it says that at some previous closed session “The City Council agreed unanimously in Closed Session to respect confidentiality.” 

“First, that would be a discussion of the general selection process rather than a candidate, which is not allowed in closed. Second, even if it was allowed, the vote was not announced at the time (as the Brown Act requires for personnel decisions).

“Finally, regarding the claim that “Without Mr. Herdman’s support, the candidate in question would not be the subject of community speculation,” I suspect the preceding sentences might be very artfully worded. 

“Since it seems unlikely Herdman would have voted to move forward someone he felt was unqualified, my guess is an all-or-nothing slate of three finalists might have been offered and he may have reluctantly accepted it to move things along. In any event, the vote on whatever it was has never been reported, again, in likely violation of the Brown Act. 

Love him or hate him, Mosher always, and I mean always, has a say. And many times, he makes so much sense.

And so, foul is called on Herdman with a major question, again, about potential Brown Act issues.

Welcome to Newport Beach politics.