City manager contract veto conflict dominates Riverside City Council meeting

The Press-Enterprise | February 13, 2018 – 

The first Riverside City Council meeting since Mayor Rusty Bailey attempted to veto a new contract for City Manager John Russo was dominated by debate over the topic Tuesday, Feb. 13, even though it wasn’t directly on the agenda.

One week earlier, Bailey announced at the conclusion of the Feb. 6 meeting that he was vetoing a contract extension for Russo that the City Council had approved 5-2 that afternoon. It was inappropriate to renegotiate the contract when the initial contract hadn’t expired and bad timing to give Russo more compensation when the city was preparing for cuts, Bailey said.

City Attorney Gary Geuss said at that meeting that the City Charter doesn’t give Bailey that power, instead putting Russo under the authority of the City Council. City staff put Russo’s new contract into effect the next day.

Six members of the public spoke in support of Bailey’s position at the Feb. 13 meeting, and none in opposition.

“The citizens of Riverside have repeatedly been asked to give more,” said resident Ben Clymer, adding that council members, and not the city attorney, were elected to represent the people. “I would like a formal vote (on whether to override Bailey’s veto).”

When Councilman Mike Soubirous suggested Bailey veto another item, changing meeting times, Bailey and council members reopened a discussion of the veto.

The city has other important business that it needs to focus on until the veto is resolved, said Councilman Mike Gardner.

“That disagreement is getting in the way of that business,” Gardner said.

Also during the meeting, a list of 16 “frequently asked questions” was emailed on behalf of the City Council, saying members were “concerned about misconceptions” about the contract.

The email says Bailey’s only recourse is to go to court if he thinks the city attorney is in error — and that Russo’s 3 percent raise for the next two years is less than what most other city employees will get.

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