An emergency meeting of the Atwater City Council ended Thursday with the members presenting a united front hours after a rocky start marred by allegations of “name-calling” and “lying.”
The 3-day-old council, which had two new members sworn in Monday, butted heads over the necessity of the emergency meeting held at noon Thursday. The main topic was a closed-session discussion about the interim city manager, who is to take over after City Manager Frank Pietro retires on New Year’s Eve.
The council unanimously appointed Scott McBride, Atwater’s community development director, as interim city manager as of Jan. 1, according to City Attorney Tom Terpstra. McBride will make an annual salary of $142,248 plus benefits while serving as interim city manager, according to the contract.
Mayor Jim Price, who earlier in the week called the emergency meeting unnecessary, said council members worked out their disagreements and will move on without hard feelings.
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“I want to reassure the public, I want to reassure the council and everyone here, that from this point forward, those things have ended,” he said. “The things that have been said, the things that have been perceived, are in the past.”
I want to reassure the public, I want to reassure the council and everyone here, that from this point forward, those things have ended. The things that have been said, the things that have been perceived, are in the past.
Mayor Jim Price
Allegations of “lying,” “bullying” and “name-calling” colored the fallout earlier in the week over the emergency meeting. Two new council members, Cindy Vierra and Paul Creighton, said the old council dropped the ball and failed to make sure someone would be in place to take over for the outgoing city manager.
Vierra and Creighton placed first and second in the November election, beating out incumbent Larry Bergman for the two open seats. Price and Councilman Brian Raymond did not face election this year. Joe Rivero did not seek re-election.
Price criticized the emergency meeting, saying it was “ramrodded” through the process and that Vierra and Creighton effectively had cut the public out of a series of important discussions also put on agenda for the emergency meeting.
The agenda posted Wednesday afternoon listed closed-session discussions with labor negotiators regarding the city manager, interim city manager, interim police chief and labor unions. It also included public discussions regarding “increasing city council training budget,” the “city manager powers and duties,” “possible action regarding City Council Reorganization process,” and “possible action regarding city council review of open/current city contracts.”
The council members, however opted to bump discussion of those issues to the next regular meeting of the council.
Fallout over the hastily scheduled emergency session included an acrimonious exchange between Vierra and Price. Vierra said she’d tried to reach out to the mayor but hadn’t received any response. She characterized Price as “hotheaded” and “a bit of a bully” following Monday’s meeting.
The smoke was cleared today. I think we all have a clearer vision.
Councilwoman Cindy Vierra
Price said he hadn’t responded to a series of text messages from Vierra that he had received after Monday’s meeting because he didn’t want to continue a private discussion on a public meeting that already had been adjourned. He said he planned to contact Vierra the following morning, but received word at 8 a.m. Tuesday that the special meeting already was in the works.
He also characterized Vierra’s efforts to contact him regarding the emergency meeting as “an outright lie.”
“It’s unfortunate that we were only on the council for 12 hours before there was a power struggle,” Vierra told the Sun-Star on Wednesday. “It’s a small city and I’ve already been told that the mayor doesn’t like me, in fact he despises me – that’s the word I heard he used.”
Price bristled at the allegation.
“I’ve never said that about her publicly or privately. Ever. I don’t know where she’s getting that, but it’s obviously from someone who wants to start rumors,” Price said. “I don’t know where she’s getting this bullying thing, either – we’ve only had one meeting.”
There’s confusion and uncertainty about who’s going to be running our city, so it’s absolutely necessary.
Councilman Brian Raymond on why the emergency meeting needed to be held
However, 24 hours later, both elected leaders said they’d cleared the air and pledged to work together going forward.
Vierra said Thursday she was pleased with the outcome of the “positive” closed-session discussions. “The smoke was cleared today,” she said. “I think we all have a clearer vision.”
Price went on to say the infighting earlier in the week reminded him of the “dark days” of past councils.
“We are a council that is united, and we are going to move forward with the business of the city,” he said. “We have too many items staring at us at this present time, dealing with finances and everything, that are going to have to be addressed.”
Digital Content Editor Rob Parsons contributed to this report.