Atwater, in crisis mode, meets to negotiate labor

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comAugust 28, 2012 

— City Council members forged ahead with their scheduled meeting Monday night in the midst of a budget crisis and despite a city manager who's on paid administrative leave.

Atwater Police Chief Frank Pietro took over as acting city manager last week after City Manager Kathy Kivley was put on leave following a late-night, closed-session meeting.

Pietro, who received thunderous applause from the audience Monday as he walked up to the dais, isn't getting any additional compensation for his extra duties.

The agenda for Monday's meeting showed that a labor negotiator met with department directors, middle-management and other city staff in a closed-session meeting, but there was no reportable action taken.

After open session Monday, the council went back behind closed doors again for a performance evaluation of Kivley and a conference with a labor negotiator. No reportable action was taken.

Atwater Planning Commissioner Fred Warchol said the departure of Kivley after only 16 months on the job comes as no surprise to him.

"Ms. Kivley's tenure as city manager has been a disappointment," he said. "She was brought on board to help address a stressed budget, yet, under her management, city finances have spiraled down to a near disaster. Apparently, even after receiving numerous negative performance reports, Kivley seemed to be accountable to no one."

Last week, 64-year-old Kivley said she wasn't given a reason for being put on administrative leave. She declined to respond to Warchol's comments.

"There's really nothing I can say," she added.

Before being placed on leave, Kivley had reportedly spoken to a bankruptcy lawyer for informational purposes, but when she was contacted earlier this month about the issue, she declined to comment.

Four residents spoke during Monday's meeting, including Jim Price, an Atwater resident and vice president of operations for Gemini Flight Support.

He said when a professional sports team isn't performing, the manager becomes the "sacrificial lamb," and Atwater's situation is no different.

Price encouraged the council to dump its pay and allowances to help ebb budget woes.

"Thirty-nine thousand dollars a year to pay you to get this city broke?" Price asked. "You were elected to come into this city and run this city. You've run it all right -- you've run it right into the ground."

The city is projecting a $3.7 million negative general fund balance for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

In addition to the general fund, the sanitation and water funds have deficits.

Revenues for the city fell during the 2011-12 fiscal year to $9.2 million from $9.8 million in 2010-11, according to staff projections.

Expenses are expected to fall in fiscal year 2011-12, totaling about $12 million, according to city documents. That's down from $13.6 million in 2010-11.

But the budget could take a hit of $900,000 in 2012-13, largely because of Police Department costs.

During a special meeting Wednesday, the City Council selected a Danville consulting firm, Municipal Resource Group, to provide the city with a financial assessment as the council considers passing a budget.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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