The mayor of Atwater said the city should go forward with an outside background check of the city’s next interim city manager, an effort to bring greater transparency to the process.
The City Council named Art de Werk earlier this month to take over the interim job on Jan. 3, but some members of the council and residents have questioned actual or perceived issues from his past jobs.
Mayor Jim Price would not specify his concerns about de Werk other than to say it’s “his past history.”
“I think a thorough and complete in-depth background check in light of some of the concerns from past work history would be appropriate in this case,” Price told the Sun-Star. “We don’t get a do-over.”
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De Werk, a 63-year-old former police chief and city manager in Ceres, was named after a 3-2 vote on Dec. 11. Price and Councilman James Vineyard cast the dissenting votes. Councilmembers Cindy Vierra, Paul Creighton and Brian Raymond voted in support of de Werk’s interim appointment.
Bob Murray and Assoc. is conducting a routine background check on de Werk, according to City Attorney Tom Terpstra. As is common for any city manager candidate, the company will do a credit check and look at court databases for criminal and civil court records, according to Terpstra.
De Werk will have to submit to a drug test and physical examination, which are also routine. Terpstra said he had “no independent reason” to subject de Werk to deeper scrutiny, but said the City Council can decide to dig further at their own discretion.
“I don’t think that would be a problem. It’s just those things take additional time,” he said.
Some detractors of de Werk have questioned his departure from his last job.
De Werk served as police chief in Ceres from 1999 to 2014, including a roughly four-year stretch at the end of his tenure when he also served as the Ceres city manager. During that time, de Werk worked with Tom Niederreuther, who was a reserve police officer for a short time, and also worked with Frank Johnson, who was president of the Modesto chapter of the NAACP at the time.
In 2007, de Werk partnered with a nurse practitioner and later with the NAACP under Johnson to open a health clinic, according to a 2014 report from the Modesto Bee. The City of Ceres collected donations for the program and wrote checks to the NAACP until February of 2014, the Sun-Star’s sister newspaper reported, when Ceres Councilwoman Linda Ryno raised concerns over potential liability issues in connection with the program.
De Werk’s departure in 2014 from Ceres was controversial with many community leaders and others — including Johnson — speaking out in support of de Werk. Following a two-month medical leave, the City Ceres Council relieved de Werk of his duties, citing his medical issues. Johnson said he didn’t believe the city’s stated reason for parting ways with de Werk and pledged to investigate.
De Werk’s departure also included an agreement with the city that raised other questions, including stipulations that de Werk not make any “disparaging remarks” about the city or enter of its private facilities without permission, the Modesto Bee reported.
De Werk, in an interview this month with the Sun-Star, said he was “angry at the time” of his departure from Ceres three years ago, but said, in hindsight, the Ceres City Council “did what was best for me and the city.” De Werk had recently returned after undergoing surgery to remove a benign mass in his brain when he was relieved of his position.
No council meeting is planned before the end of the year, so the council would have to call a special meeting if its members wanted a deeper background check.
Both Vierra and Creighton declined to comment on a potential deeper background check. Efforts to reach Vineyard and Raymond for comment were unsuccessful.