There have been some rocky times between some in Pacific Grove and the city manager, Ben Harvey. A city survey of approximately 300 residents showed a third of them saying his performance needed a lot of improvement, while a tenth said his performance was "excellent." In written comments nearly 30 said they wanted him replaced, while three praised him for new ideas.
He's been taken to task by some for his handling of the failed Project Bella hotel development at the American Tin Cannery in 2017, among other issues. His decision to close down parts of Lighthouse Avenue during shelter-in-place to support outdoor dining proved unpopular with residents despite being very popular with diners who flocked there during its 5-day lifespan.
Since then it's been obvious in Pacific Grove City Council meetings that Mayor Bill Peake and two other councilmembers—Jenny McAdams and Luke Coletti—have issues with Harvey, but with four other members who appear to support the city manager there aren't enough votes to replace him.
That could be why it took over two months of closed session negotiations between the council and Harvey to hammer out a new contract, approved on Wednesday evening with a 6-1 vote, Coletti dissenting.
After one resident who wanted Harvey replaced asked the council to share a list of what Harvey is doing well, Councilmember Amy Tomlinson said that initial conversations with Harvey resulted in a 41-page document containing points that were both "very positive and very negative, so he got all of it," but it's a personnel matter and not shareable.
The new contract removes one of the sticking points that has rankled some residents since Harvey came on board in April 2016. The former city manager for the city of Avalon on Catalina Island had a home and children in the Los Angeles area that kept him there at least one day a week, working remotely.
Residents complained that he wasn't around on weekends at events and worried that he'd be out of town if disaster struck and he couldn't be there to lead operations. According to his new contract, he must be at City Hall 8am-5pm, Monday-Friday.
The contract also added an end date of June 30, 2025, where previously the contract's end date was indefinite.
Harvey's total annual compensation will be $274,000 a year, which is about 95 percent of the compensation rate for similar positions in 10 local jurisdictions.
"This is not exactly the contract I wanted and I suspect it's not exactly the contract anyone here wanted either. But after many long hard discussions we have this compromise, so I urge all of my colleagues to approve it," Peake said before the vote. "Let us use this as proof that we can really listen to each other and do the hard work for the betterment of our community," he added.
Despite Peake's plea for unity and compromise, Coletti refused. "In the end any contract should consider one basic fact in my mind, and that is are we getting competent performance from an employee? And I believe we are not. I cannot agree to a contract with this employee," he said.
Harvey said he was proud of what he, the council and staff had accomplished together over the past six years. "I look forward to the next four years knowing we can accomplish much together," he said. He also thanked his "amazing team" of staff. "I appreciate the confidence from the council to be able to continue."