The depth of the divisions riving the Santa Rosa City Council as it searches for a new city manager became even clearer this week.
Several council members walked out of two recent closed-door meetings held to discuss the hiring of a new city manager, Vice Mayor Gary Wysocky disclosed Tuesday at the weekly City Council meeting.
His remarks came during a normally routine vote to approve the minutes of previous meetings. Wysocky asked the clerk to correct the minutes of two prior special meetings to reflect that several council members left before the sessions were adjourned.
The first was the all-day meeting at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel and Spa on May 28, when council members interviewed several job candidates.
Wysocky asked the clerk to change the minutes of that meeting to reflect the fact that Jane Bender, Ernesto Olivares and John Sawyer left prior to its conclusion.
The second was a follow-up special meeting the council had in the mayor’s conference room on June 2 to continue discussing the issue.
Wysocky asked the clerk to change the minutes of that meeting to show that Bender and Olivares left before it had concluded.
“I want the record to be accurate,” Wysocky said afterwards. “This is an important issue.”
The departures provide further evidence that the council is profoundly divided over whether to hire a permanent city manager or whether to scrap the current search and start looking for an interim city manager, according to sources.
Some council members believe it would be better to wait until after the November elections to hire a permanent city manager. Three council seats are up for grabs in the fall.
The three council members who left the meetings gave various reasons for their departures.
Sawyer said he left the first meeting because he felt further participation would have been futile.
“We did leave before the meeting was adjourned because it was clear that our need to participate at that point had ended,” Sawyer said. “We didn’t storm out.”
Bender said she was unaware that other council members continued on with the meeting after she left.
“I thought we were done,” Bender said. “I would not characterize it as walking out of a meeting,”
Olivares, too, said he considered the meeting over when the group left.
“I felt there was nothing more to contribute to the meeting,” he said.
By several accounts, the second meeting was more heated and the walkouts more deliberate.
Both Bender and Olivares said there was no mistaking the fact that they were leaving in the midst of the meeting in protest.
“I left because of the offensive nature of the conversation and I didn’t want to be there any longer,” Olivares said.
Bender said her decision to leave the meeting early was “conscious and deliberate.”
All three council members declined to discuss the nature of the deliberations that caused them to depart the meetings.
Mayor Susan Gorin downplayed the importance of Wysocky’s amendments to the minutes and said she regretted council members were speaking about a process that is supposed to be confidential.
“The council is working deliberatively and carefully in confidence to make the best choice for the city manager right now,” Gorin said. “It’s really difficult to choose a city manager in this budget environment and we want to make sure that we get it right.”
The council is next scheduled to discuss the issue in closed session on Tuesday, but another special meeting before then is possible, Gorin said.