After a tumultuous departure of its former city manager, Greenfield has a new top staffer. City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday night, Sept. 25, to hire Paul Wood, who had been serving as interim city manager since June.
Wood will earn an annual salary of $240,000. (It's a significant raise from his predecessor, whose annual compensation was $165,000.)
Wood has been interim city manager since the termination of former city manager Jaime Fontes, who was hired in May of 2017, then terminated on June 16 of this year. The vote to fire Fontes was 3-2.
Fontes filed a claim against City Council alleging that the mayor and councilmembers had pressured him to fire Community Service Director Mic Steinmann, largely because of Steinmann's role in bringing the cannabis industry to Greenfield and moving them through the permitting process.
In Fontes' claim against the city, he recounted a meeting with Mayor Jesus OlveraGarcia about two weeks after he started the job. "[The mayor] clearly stated that many people had told him Mr. Steinmann was corrupt and added 'Mic has to go and it reflects on you as the new manager if he does not.'"
On Wood's first day as city manager, Wed. Sept. 26, he placed Steinmann on paid administrative leave. Wood did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Wednesday. On Friday, Steinmann was terminated.
Steinmann's last act before he was placed on leave was sending a letter, late on Sept. 25, after the City Council meeting wrapped up, to builder Mike Avila.
Avila had come before council with a proposal to build a 168-unit farmworker housing complex. The Greenfield Planning Commission approved the project on Aug. 7; a resident appealed, and the City Council was set to vote on whether to uphold the Planning Commission's approval or overturn it last night.
After heated public comment weighing in both for and against the project, the City Council decided to delay voting. Steinmann's letter to Avila gives the opinion that by taking no vote, the council had approved the project. He wrote:
"The City Council having failed to take final action on the appeal and to either approve or disapprove yourdesign review application within the mandated maximum 60-day period allowed under California Government Code section 65950, pursuant to California Government Code section 65956, your design review application is hereby deemed approved."
Steinmann says when he arrived at work Wednesday morning shortly after 8am, he was immediately directed to speak to a human resources staffer, and was told that he was on paid administrative leave.
"This is all due to my support for the farmworker housing project," Steinmann writes by email. "Pretty amazing that in Greenfield, an agricultural community with a 90-percent Hispanic population, I would get placed on administrative leave because I was supporting a farmworker housing project."
The Weekly obtained and published documents showing evidence of the history that members of City Council had pressured Fontes to fire Steinmann. After a phone call to Lozano Smith, the law firm that represents Greenfield, the city filed a lawsuit against the Weekly, aiming to block publication of the documents, some of which are marked attorney-client privilege.
The city also sued Fontes, presuming him to be the source of the documents; his attorney, John Klopfenstein, said his client would swear under oath that he had not leaked the documents.
In a Monterey County Superior Court hearing on Sept. 7, the Weekly prevailed, and a judge declined to rule on the case against Fontes.
On Sept. 17, the city filed an appeal in its claim against Fontes.
The Weekly is set to appear in court on Oct. 5 in an anti-SLAPP motion. The statute—for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation—is meant to protect the press from lawsuits aiming to intimidate.
If the Weekly prevails on that motion, Greenfield would be required to pay the paper's attorney's fees.