An Atwater councilwoman who will help select the city’s next manager maintains there is no conflict of interest for her even though one candidate is her husband’s former boss.
Councilwoman Cindy Vierra, confirmed to the Sun-Star on Monday that Art de Werk, former police chief and city manager in Ceres, supervised her husband, Danny Vierra, who is a police sergeant there.
Vierra, who joined councilmembers in interviewing de Werk for the city manger position this week, said she’s had only a handful of conversations with him.
“I’ve spoken to him on a couple brief occasions when he was chief and one time at a wedding we went to when one of the officers was married,” she told the Sun-Star. “That was the only social event we’ve ever attended together.”
De Werk is one of two applicants interviewed for the administrator job. The other is interim City Manager Scott McBride, who has been serving in the office since the first of the year. The council unanimously appointed McBride, who was Atwater’s community development director, as interim city manager in December.
When the City Council will make a decision on the next city manager is unclear. The council did not take a vote during closed session on Monday, according to city staffers.
I’ve spoken to him on a couple brief occasions when he was chief and one time at a wedding we went to when one of the officers was married.
Councilwoman Cindy Vierra on speaking to a city manager applicant
Vierra said she’s heard unfounded whispers in the community that she plans to make her husband Atwater’s police chief. She denied any such intentions.
“Dan has never applied to the city of Atwater. He does not have a pending application to city of Atwater, and he has no intention of applying,” she said. “Dan has a career with the city of Ceres. He retires in three years, and I think it would be a pay cut to come work as chief.”
According to the most recent numbers from Transparent California, Danny Vierra earned $185,444 in salary and benefits in 2015. That year, Atwater police chief Frank Pietro, who also served as the city’s manager, earned $182,937 in salary and benefits.
De Werk, a former chief and public safety director in Ceres, was relieved of his duties in 2014 after 15 years. He was on medical leave for about two months beginning in April 2014 for treatment and surgery for a benign mass in his brain.
He returned to work on light duty in June of that year but went back on medical leave several days later, following two closed-door meetings to discuss his “discipline, dismissal or release.”
If it’s a question like should they get raises or should they get more beneficial employment terms, then I can see that there’s a problem.
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School and president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission
Questions also have been raised about Vierra’s votes on police matters because her son, Matt Vierra, is an Atwater detective. Vierra said that, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission, she may vote unless there are special circumstances.
“As long as there’s no financial influence or direct influence on his job, I would not need to recuse myself,” she said.
City Attorney Tom Terpstra confirmed her position. “It is her intention to seek appropriate guidance from this office and if necessary, from the FPPC, as matters potentially involving Officer Vierra come before the City Council,” he wrote in an email.
Neither the connection between de Werk and Vierra nor the councilwoman’s relation to her son immediately set off any ethics alarms, according to Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School and president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.
As long as de Werk isn’t seeking any special treatment, she said, he should be allowed to apply for the city manager job. She said the councilwoman should be “more circumspect” when it comes to decisions related to her son’s job.
“If it’s a question like should they get raises or should they get more beneficial employment terms, then I can see that there’s a problem,” she said. “In general policies regarding the police department, it seems to me that the people elected her because they trust her judgment and they should probably let her use it.”