A Del Rey Oaks city councilman is calling for Mayor Joe Russell to resign in response to a recent vote of no confidence signed by the tiny city’s entire roster of staff and volunteers. Councilman Jeff Cecilio says he is fed up with Russell micromanaging City Hall and sidestepping the city manager.
“His treatment of other city officials and employees warrants [his resignation],” Cecilio says. “I like Joe as a person. I just don’t like the way he conducts business.”
While Russell and Vice Mayor Jerry Edelen have suggested holding a public workshop for employees to air their grievances, Cecilio is taking a harder line following the July 28 vote of no confidence. A City Council meeting Thursday, Aug. 13, will decide the city’s next move.
Elected officials have yet to respond to a litany of allegations signed by 27 city employees and reserve police officers. The vote says Russell “has fractured the Del Rey Oaks City Council by controlling and manipulating City Council agenda items,” the budget, and City Attorney Robert Wellington. Staff and volunteers allege Russell’s “actions have cost the city thousands of dollars in legal fees,” and he has billed the city attorney and auditor without consent from the council.
Russell denies overstepping his authority. “The mayor’s function is to set the agenda,” he says. “I don’t manipulate the budget because that is done by the Budget Committee. I don’t manipulate the city attorney even though I’ve known him for a long time.”
He also says he won’t resign: “I’m optimistic that we will move forward.”
Russell, a retired lawyer who most recently worked as a project manager for Graniterock, has served on the City Council since 1974. Although he has been a longtime fixture at City Hall, his fellow councilmembers aren’t rushing to his defense.
The mayor often rubs people the wrong way, Edelen says. “Joe has a tendency to be a little bit not nice,” he says. “If he disagrees with you, he doesn’t treat you with respect.”
Cecilio adds that Russell doesn’t always subscribe to Del Rey Oak’s city-manager form of government. “He’s used to basically running with the ball and he feels he doesn’t have to report to the city manager,” Cecilio says.
About a month ago, Russell allegedly called Police Chief Ron Langford at home on the weekend to report a speeding motorcycle on his street instead of calling the non-emergency number, says a city employee who wishes to remain anonymous. When he didn’t reach Langford, Russell then drove around the city looking for an officer, and complained to Langford that the city wasn’t protected when he couldn’t find a patrol car.
Cecilio cites this as an example of the mayor demanding preferential treatment. “You can’t expect certain things from the police department that any other resident can’t get,” he says. “That, to me, is a blatant disregard for the process.”
In another episode, Russell e-mailed Langford a three-point reprimand when the chief wrote a mournful letter to the editor about attorney Mel Grimes’ murder. “It was improper for you to interject your opinion or make any statement about the case,” Russell wrote in February 2007. “Ron, this is basic Administration of Justice 101.”
In his letter, Langford lamented Grimes’ death over a “trivial” neighbor squabble: “The loss of this man and his wife by a person fixated on such pettiness is such a waste.” The chief alluded to the fact that he was in law enforcement but signed his name without his title, instead identifying himself as a Del Rey Oaks resident.
Russell complained the letter was unprofessional because Langford identified himself as a Del Rey Oaks police officer – Langford didn’t – and said Langford’s comments could be considered an official city position.
Once again, Russell defends his conduct, saying Langford “knows better than to comment on another police case in the newspaper,” and says he goes through the city manager – a position that, up until recently, was a moving target. Daniel Dawson, a former Santa Rosa community development administrator, took over as Del Rey Oaks’ full-time city manager on Aug. 10.
Now that the city has its first non-interim city manager in 10 years, Edelen says, the first thing the council needs to address is the vote of no confidence, and publicly go over each allegation. Russell says he’s open to this.
Edelen says he and other council members have met with the mayor about resolving the issues: “Unfortunately [his] behavior has not changed.”
John Moore, a volunteer reserve officer with Del Rey Oaks since 1998, says it’s too late for Russell to change. “The mayor has been aware of these issues for some time, and his responses are what I call political smoke,” he says. “The city well has been poisoned by his past actions. The well should be flushed. Mayor Joe should go.”