City Manager Responds To Allegations Regarding E-mails To Parks Board Member
An e-mail thread circulating West U. involving City Manager Michael Ross and Parks Board member Helen Talianchich was brought up at last night’s candidate forum, with former Councilwoman Marilyn Griffin providing copies of the e-mails along with text accusing Ross of treating citizens with “disdain and outright nastiness.”
The issue began with an April 17 e-mail from Helen Talianchich to Parks and Recreation Director Tim O’Connor concerning lap swimming lanes at Colonial Park Pool, in which Talianchich wrote that O’Connor had a conflict of interest.
“Who developed the list of people who would be on this panel for Colonial Park Pool?” wrote Helen Talianchich. “In your official capacity as director of parks, I have noted how you try to push your own vision and try to discount opinions that differ from your vision.”
Ross responded to that e-mail twice, once on April 17 and one on April 18. In the April 18 e-mail, Ross wrote, “Your misguided and pathetic attempts to paint staff as driving this process for personal gain are growing old and tiresome with everyone. Why not let the residents of the city determine what should be built? Rest assured that we will all see what the public wants and council will direct staff in that direction.”
“Has anyone talked to city manager as to how he responds to the citizens of West U.? His response to Helen Talianchich…was extremely condescending and mean spirited,” said Griffin at the candidate forum Tuesday night.
Griffin added that she believes there are no “checks and balances” regarding the city manager, and wanted the incoming council to be aware of that.
Ross responded to the accusations Wednesday by saying, “It is a city manager’s job to represent the City Council’s policies and positions in a public forum. Rest assured that a city manager would not last long if he represented himself and not the council. Of course the message is not always popular with everyone and it is sometimes seen as the manager’s instead of the council’s, and that’s okay. What is difficult for many to understand is that when someone personally attacks a manager’s staff member it is like attacking one of his kids. While I may have prematurely hit the send key on the specific message to the individual it was clear that the actions were being criticized, not the person. A good manager will always defend the appropriate actions of his or her staff.”
Council candidates each addressed the issue as well, during the forum.
“I think what we have to understand is that the city manager works for the city council, whether it’s the City of West U. or the city of San Diego, or any city with a city manager form of government,” said council candidate George Boehme. “They are acting with the support of the majority of the council or else they are guilty of insubordination. I saw the e-mail and it certainly is not the way I would have written it. I think we have to remember the council hires the city manager – I’ve got to believe he has the support of council.”
“I know Michael to be a stand up guy and I would bet that in this Internet age when e-mails are transmitted, sometimes in haste these are probably a couple of e-mails that if he could he would take back,” said candidate Philip Bryant. “It was insensitive and inappropriate, but I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Current Mayor Pro-tem and council candidate Bob Fry said he was not aware of the e-mail, nor has he heard complaints concerning how Ross responds to residents.
Current council member and council candidate Chuck Guffey said the City of West U. was lucky to have Michael Ross as city manager, and said he has seen the e-mails and thinks Ross “just had a bad time” when he answered.
“I think it was inappropriate, but I don’t think, like some people are saying, that we should fire him,” said Guffey.
Brian Hoogendam said he though Ross’s response was “very inappropriate” but said the important question is whether it is a pattern of behavior or if Ross was just having a bad day.
“I don’t think firing is appropriate if it’s not a pattern,” said Hoogendam. “I think he had a bad day and framed it incorrectly.”
Candidate Steven Segal said he “wasn’t in the loop” concerning the e-mails.
Helen Talianchich’s husband, former councilman Michael Talianchich, wrote an e-mail to all council members calling Ross’s response a “two-year-old temper tantrum” and accused Ross of lack of anger management.
“I think Helen has the right to express herself and Michael has the right to defend his position in a polite manner without personally attacking the person offering their opinion,” wrote Michael Talianchich.