Yucaipa has a new city manager and city attorney.
Council chambers were full on Monday, Jan. 9, as Yucaipa City Council faced criticism from a “closed session” item listed on the agenda.
It read: “Public employment pursuant to government code 54957 - Performance Evaluation, Dismissal, Appointment Title of position: City Manager (Ray Casey) and Public Employment Pursuant to Government Code 54957 - Performance Evaluation, Dismissal, Appointment Title of position: City Attorney (David Snow).”
The closed session item came just two months after the former council’s performance evaluation of Casey and Snow, in which contracts were renewed.
Prior to the council meeting, several people spoke in public comment about the item.
The first public comment was from Yucaipa resident Kathy Sellers, who said, “On behalf of the concerned owners of North Bench, to quote the parting words of (former) Mayor David Avila after years of dedication, ‘It is your job as citizens to make sure we go in the direction you want to go.’
“We now have before us the current council: Mayor Justin Beaver and Jon Thorp, who are both law enforcement officers, who are known for having a very reliable moral compass, someone who actually has the courage of their convictions … I have been assured that Chris Venable is his own man who won’t cave to undue influence and will do what’s right for the city and the people who elected him. Then we come to Bobby Duncan and Matt Garner, who give us great cause for concern.”
Yucaipa resident and former planning commissioner Denise Work said, “I don’t know what prompted the city council’s closed session this evening, regarding the employment of our city manager, so I’m just going to talk about what I do know. I know Ray Casey, and I’ve known him for almost 30 years, all of which is not personal, it’s all been within the city ... I served on the San Bernardino Flood Control Committee, there were many other cities that truly needed to take flood control measures. But because of Ray’s efforts, we were ready. We were the only city that was shovel-ready and as a result of that and other grants, we received the county funding for the Wilson Creek Project.
“Time doesn’t allow me to address all the things that Ray has accomplished, but they include this city hall, revitalization of Uptown, YPAC and the community center. It’s not by chance the city has remained solvent all these years, through all of these trials. City councils come and go. You guys are all different than when I began on the planning commission, but everything else has remained solvent and the same under Ray at the helm. He has maintained a steady hand.”
Former mayor and Yucaipa resident Dick Riddell, who served over 25 years on the city council, with 13 of those years as mayor, also spoke.
“So, I think I can speak with some authority and wisdom,” Riddell said, “during Ray Casey’s tenure as city manager, we built state-of-the-art buildings, improved and expanded our park system, improved our infrastructure, roads, curbs and sidewalks, built 13 bridges and box culverts over our river crossings, improved flood control and water conservation facilities, brought new business into town and improved services to the public. All this without going into debt or raising taxes. We always had a surplus of money every year for rainy days and unforeseen circumstances.”
“During this time, the city council always voted Ray as outstanding in his annual performance evaluations. Not by a 3-2 vote, not by a 4-1 vote, but unanimously by the city council. Unanimously outstanding, including by one member who is still on our city council. It seems strange to me that this item is being considered now when two new members of the city council haven’t yet served a complete meeting. Maybe it should be postponed at least for six months or a year so they can better evaluate Ray Casey,” concluded Riddell.
Yucaipa resident Robin Miskin said, “I would like to address the closed session topic terminating City Manager Ray Casey and City Attorney Dave Snow. What prompted this action? Why are we revisiting this now when the city renewed Ray Casey’s contract in October for two years? What has happened since then? At the last city council meeting Ray Casey and city staff were praised for their work.
“In the State of the City video produced in August, Councilmember Bobby Duncan stated, and I quote, ‘The city of Yucaipa has one of the most amazing city staffs that I have worked with in my life and career. They are amazing, they are very well-trained and educated. They are diligent. They work hard with good leadership. Ray Casey does a good job with the staff and the staff directors, etc.’
“Why would we waste the city’s money to pay off these contracts? Is this fiscally responsible? When Councilman Matt Garner ran, his literature that he posted to all of us said that he would be fiscally responsible in his leadership if he was elected.”
Yucaipa resident Kevin Miskin commented on several things previous speakers mentioned.
“We have deep, deep concerns,” he said. “Ray Casey is a well-known and respected figure throughout Southern California. Yucaipa City Manager Ray Casey was the recipient of the James S. Thalami Memorial Public Service Award by the League of California Cities. This public service award recognizes the contributions of an outstanding municipal official, who demonstrated integrity and commitment in advocating for the important cause of local government.”
Miskin then had several questions he wanted answered.
“We, the citizens of Yucaipa, have a few questions for this city council: 1) With the city council sitting for just two weeks and this being their first full city council, why the rush to terminate a well-respected city manager and the city attorney that were praised just two weeks ago? 2) What could have possibly transpired in two weeks to warrant termination? What changed? From the vantage point of all of the citizens and those that are here with me today, the only change is the city council; 3) With only two weeks in office, how do Councilmen Garner and Venable have sufficient experience with these two individuals to make an informed decision? 4) If they were instructed by others, where did that information come from? What political agenda or bone to pick motivated this rush? 5) Who is being proposed for these positions and what relationship do city councilmen have with those people who are being proposed? 6) If Ray Casey and Dave Snow are terminated, how many millions of dollars of taxpayer money will be wasted to pay off these contracts? Your responses will likely elicit other questions and actions from the citizens, which we will address in the next city council meeting,” he said.
Yucaipa resident George Sardeson said, “Tonight I express the same sentiment to our city staff under the leadership of City Manager Ray Casey. Mr. Casey has the reputation in the Inland Empire that is above reproach. Leading us through the COVID-19 pandemic, managing our $30 million budget with great care and guiding the city into a bright future.”
Yucaipa resident Cecelia Johns also expressed concern.
“I have resided in Yucaipa for 35 years,” she said, “ The rumor mill is running full speed with talks of how one councilmember is determined to unleash his personal vendetta on the city and will get rid of anyone who has opposed him in any way. If it’s true, what a sad excuse for an elected official. With only one month in office, the two new council members need to take at least six months to get the lay of the land, so to speak, at city hall and to back away from any closed-door discussion of this nature. It’s called being your own man. It’s what the community deserves.”
In the unprecedented closed-session item, the Yucaipa City Council voted to release Casey and Snow from their contracts. The release of Casey’s contract, which is effective Jan. 31, was approved by a 3-2 vote. Mayor
Justin Beaver and Councilmen Bobby Duncan and Matt Garner voted to release Casey and Snow, while Councilmen Jon Thorp and Chris Venable voted against the change in city leadership.
Chris Mann was then immediately appointed Yucaipa City Manager, effective March 1, by a 4-1 vote, with Thorp voting no. Mann is currently the president of the board of directors at the Yucaipa Valley Water District serving Division 1 and city manager for Canyon Lake.
The vote to release David Snow from his contract was a vote of 5-0.
Steven Graham, of the law firm Cole Huber LLP, was appointed the new city attorney effective that evening, Jan. 9, with a 5-0 vote. Graham also serves as the city attorney for the cities of Indio, Hemet and Canyon Lake. His experience includes assistant city attorney for the cities of Ontario, El Centro and Oakley.
Mayor, city statements
Later that evening, just before midnight, Beaver released a statement.
It read: “On Monday night, the Yucaipa City Council appointed Chris Mann to serve as its next city manager. Following an election this past November in which the voters of Yucaipa elected two new members to the city council, the council is taking decisive action to move Yucaipa forward. The council’s first step involved making changes to the city’s executive leadership team by appointing Mann as city manager, effective March 1st, and the immediate appointment of a new city attorney.”
“The city council feels that Mann’s varied professional experiences match perfectly with the issues Yucaipa is currently facing. Chris has had success throughout his career in the areas of public administration, communications, public outreach and engagement, economic development, contract negotiations, governmental affairs, improving public safety, and managing staff and multi-million-dollar budgets,” said Beaver in the press release. “Chris also has the right relationships to help our city work collaboratively throughout the region for the benefit of Yucaipa residents.”
“This is a big win for our city,” stated Yucaipa Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Duncan in the press release. “We need new eyes on this city to effectively tackle recent budget challenges, organizational issues, and to aggressively address rising crime and homelessness. We were able to bring on a proven leader who is already invested in our community because he lives right here in Yucaipa, saving the city tens of thousands of dollars that a nation-wide search would have cost local taxpayers. What’s more, we found someone who will take a business-minded approach to the job of running the day-to-day operations of our city, yet someone who also has an abundance of local government experience. I’m excited about what this means for the future of Yucaipa.”
A second press release from the city of Yucaipa, dated the morning of Jan. 10, announced Casey’s retirement. It read: “Following almost 20 years of dedicated service to the city of Yucaipa, first as the Director of Public Works for five years, and then the city manager for 14½ years, City Manager Raymond A. Casey and the city of Yucaipa are jointly announcing his retirement.”
“We truly appreciate and recognize the significant contributions of Mr. Casey during his service to Yucaipa,” said Beaver in the press release. “Over the past almost 20 years, Ray worked with a number of city councils to make tremendous progress toward evolving our community, continually improving quality of life for our residents while enhancing public safety.”
“I’m very proud of what we have accomplished working together with our many partners in the city of Yucaipa and I know that I’m leaving Yucaipa and the organization financially secure,” said Casey in the press release. “I’ve deeply enjoyed working here and I will miss the friends I have made both inside city hall and in our community.”
“Among the city manager’s accomplishments cited by Beaver, are the development of seasoned professionals in multiple key positions; renewing strong partnerships with the Yucaipa business and education communities; overseeing numerous critical infrastructure and facility improvement projects; addressing long-term budget cycles and capital improvements programs; and at the state level, focusing on regional changes that will benefit Yucaipa and San Bernardino as a whole.”
Listen to the agenda item at yucaipa.org. Closed session items are not recorded.