Smoked Out

Greenfield politics have been divided into two camps: those who welcome the burgeoning cannabis industry, and those who oppose it. The former city manager, Jaime Fontes, alleges he was terminated in part because he did not fire city staff who helped cannabis businesses through the permitting process, as the mayor instructed him to do.

Here’s the way city government is supposed to work: The public elects members of a city council, who then hire a city manager. That person is then responsible for hiring and firing city staff leadership.

Only that’s not how elected officials in Greenfield wish it worked, according to a claim filed against the city by former city manager Jaime Fontes, alleging he was wrongfully terminated. Fontes says he was fired after he refused to carry out the mayor and councilmembers’ wishes that he fire Community Services Director Mic Steinmann.

According to Fontes’ claim, Mayor Jesus OlveraGarcia told him: “Mic has to go and it reflects on you as the new Manager if he does not.” City Council voted 3-2 to fire Fontes on June 16, barely a year after he was hired. He waded into a council divided over cannabis. Former mayor John Huerta, a cannabis supporter, was recalled by voters in 2017 and replaced by OlveraGarcia – a cannabis industry opponent not seeking re-election. A three-way race to replace him is set for Nov. 6, along with a five-way race for two open City Council seats.

Fontes claims OlveraGarcia refused to sign 11 development agreements for cannabis businesses, forcing Fontes to get the mayor pro tem to sign instead.

Council denied Fontes’ claim, paving the way for a lawsuit. Fontes’ attorney, John Klopfenstein, did not return calls for comment. But documents obtained by the Weekly show a long-term effort by Fontes to keep the mayor from interfering with city staff. A March 8 memo from the law firm Lozano Smith to the council explained they did not have the power to terminate Steinmann. “Operating outside of these designated roles… could create significant potential liability for the city, as well as potential liability in your personal capacity,” according to the legal memo.

Fontes reports one councilmember, Lance Walker – one of the candidates for mayor – put his thoughts in writing. A copy of Walker’s handwritten note states, “I know I’m not happy with Mic + I think he needs to terminated! I’m also not happy with the city of Greenfield partnering with the marijuana industry.”

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Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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