Monterey County, Confidential - Del Rey Oaks
Small Town, Big Drama: The heat is on in Del Rey Oaks.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
The first thing new Del Rey Oaks City Manager Daniel Dawson did when he started at City Hall was to move into Mayor Joe Russell’s office. The move was rife with symbolism, since Russell has allegedly been micromanaging the tiny city for years, even having bills from the city attorney sent to his home.
In a revealing vote of no confidence, city staff and volunteers say Russell routinely harassed and intimidated city employees and officials, causing workers to take workers comp.
Now Dawson, a chipper 49-year-old, is the boss. “Since I’ve been there [Russell’s] role has diminished significantly,” he says. “He has been pretty much out of sight.”
But not out of mind. The rift between Russell and virtually everyone else at City Hall will come to a head on Sept. 3, when Dawson will present his findings in each of the 13 allegations on the vote of no confidence, including sending inappropriate e-mails and authorizing city attorney and auditor expenses without City Council consent.
Dawson says he will give each charge a rating, ranging from “likely happened” to “unknown,” then give the council a range of action options. The council could demand Russell’s resignation, send him a letter of reprimand, and possibly strip him of his mayoral duties by changing the city code to have an appointed—rather than elected—mayor. But only the voters can force Russell out of office with a recall.
Russell, who’s been on the council since 1974, isn’t likely to step down or admit guilt. At the Aug. 13 council meeting, which centered on the vote of no confidence, he was subdued and a little apologetic. “If I have caused any problems or hurt anyone in the city, it was certainly unintentional,” he said. “I want to bring everybody here together again.”
But Councilman Jeff Cecilio says Russell has already had his chances. “We’ve told him to tone himself down and be more respectful and more of a team player,” says Cecilio, who boiled over at the Aug. 13 meeting, saying the council was only prolonging action and knew that the allegations were true.
The three-year councilman says he called the mayor out for receiving mail from City Attorney Rob Wellington at his home and that he had to stand up to Russell when the mayor tried to put a buddy on the list of final candidates for city manager.
The city’s strange political history has contributed to the recent meltdown. Starting in 1999, Police Chief Ron Langford took on the double duties of top cop and part-time city administrator. That ended last summer when Dewey Evans, also chief executive officer of Seaside Basin Watermaster, filled in as acting city manager. In July, Evans handed the city’s books off to his colleague Laura Dadiw. On Aug. 4, Dadiw abruptly resigned. Two days later the city swore in Dawson as the city’s first full-time city manager in 10 years.
As the city neared hiring Dawson, 27 employees and volunteers went public with their grievances against Russell. “We are hoping the new city manager comes into a nice, well-rounded city with positive staff and a positive outlook,” said Kim Carvalho, deputy city clerk. “You can’t do that when you got someone working behind the scenes against everyone else.”
For now, Russell has lost his corner office. Whether he loses anything else is up to the council. [ZS]