By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A messy City Hall conflict has spilled into the open, startling employees and publicly pitting Rohnert Park’s longtime finance director against its new city manager.
The turmoil involves Sandy Lipitz, a 21-year city employee, who has retained an attorney to negotiate the terms of her departure from City Hall. In June, she received a critical email from City Manager Gabe Gonzalez, who has been in his post a year.
“The City needs to be able to rely on the budget information and analysis you provide, and has been unable to do so,” Gonzalez told Lipitz in a June 28 email made available this week by her Santa Rosa attorney, Scott Steever.
Lipitz, whose official title is Director of Administrative Services, hired Steever, of Lanahan Steever and Anderson. On Friday he said, “She’s being targeted by Gabe.” Lipitz declined comment.
In early July, Gonzalez, who has criticized the city’s previous financial decisions, hired an outside accountant to review the finance department. He described the move as an ongoing effort to examine city operations and also stripped Lipitz of her responsibilities for purchasing.
Gonzalez would not respond Friday to questions about his remarks to Lipitz, or whether her work had harmed or put at risk the city’s finances. He said city attorneys had advised him against it.
Steever said Lipitz’s willingness to disagree with Gonzalez led him to try and get rid of her.
“If she disagrees with Gabe she lets him know,” he said. “They’re looking to find something in her performance so they can force her out because she will challenge them.”
The events have roiled City Hall, where employees said they learned of the situation Thursday.
“Total shock,” one longtime staffer who works closely with both Gonzalez and Lipitz, said, describing employees’ reactions.
Steever said negotiations with city attorneys about a separation agreement are underway. He said that additional steps may be considered, but would not elaborate.
“As things get more difficult and more untenable for her at City Hall, we’re going to have to look at her options,” Steever said.
Asked whether the accountant’s review was prompted by concerns about Lipitz’s performance, Gonzalez said Friday, “I’m just doing my job and looking at all city departments, recognizing we have a serious (financial) situation.”
He initiated a similar review in February of the city’s public safety department that was a part of a controversial exploration into contracting out the city’s police and fire services. The proposal was dropped last week when public safety officers approved a new contract with $2.3 million in concessions.
Steever said Gonzalez and Lipitz reviewed the auditor’s report Friday.
Gonzalez described it as a “debriefing of what we learned.”