The controversial interim city manager in Atwater takes over Wednesday despite the mayor's refusal this week to sign the contract.
Mayor Jim Price told the Sun-Star he would not sign the contract with Art de Werk, who was given the interim job with a split 3-2 vote on Dec. 11.
Price had previously called for a background check that would be more thorough than the one used on de Werk and other candidates for the position. He has not specified his concerns about de Werk other than to say it’s “his past history.”
Along with his protest, Price said he wants de Werk to sign a waiver allowing Atwater city staff to look into his time with Ceres, which ended in 2014. De Werk’s departure included an agreement that could make it difficult to ask that cit's leaders about their opinion of de Werk, Price said.
The new interim city manager has a "checkered past" that Awater leaders must clear up, Price said. "The question you'd really like to ask any previous employer is: Would you hire this person again?" Price said.
"I realize how this dominates, but this is a very important position," Price said, adding a city manager gets the "keys to everything."
Because de Werk was hired by the council, Price's refusal to sign was tantamount to a symbolic protest, according to City Attorney Tom Terpstra. He has said previously that de Werk received a routine background check.
"It won't present any kind of impediment to Mr. de Werk beginning his employment tenure with the city of Atwater," he said.
Price and Councilman James Vineyard cast votes against hiring de Werk, while Councilmembers Cindy Vierra, Paul Creighton and Brian Raymond voted in support of his interim appointment.
According to a copy of the agreement, de Werk will be paid $13,721.56 per month.
Price said he "respectfully disagrees" with Terpstra, and argues the background check did not go far enough.
The mayor's effort to impede de Werk "doesn't show much class," Vierra said in a text message.
"All this over an interim position," she wrote. "We need to come together as a council so that we can focus on permanently filling the position."
De Werk has been a controversial choice to the portion of the council who voted against his appointment, as well as some residents.
In a phone conversation, de Werk said the mayor's declaration is "not entirely unexpected" given the resistance he's seen in recent months. He looks forward to a chance to "build relationships" with the council and others in the community, he said.
"I really think there's a lot of people who completely support my coming to do the work there," he said. "As far as the mayor goes, I'll do whatever I can to establish a good working relationship with him."
He went on to say he is not "shaken" by the mayor's idea to sign a waiver, though he admitted he's not certain how it would work.
"I don't have anything to hide from the city of Ceres," he said. "I'll see what (Price) has to say."
Controversy boiled over in Atwater in April when de Werk was seen at a restaurant with Vierra, Raymond and Creighton. Those three councilmembers denied violating state open meetings laws and said no city business was discussed.
Fallout from the meeting caused the city to reboot the search process a short time later. The council hired a law firm to come up with a list of candidates for the job. The report cost the city $24,900 and took several months to complete, though some argue the price tag is much higher.
Candidates were whittled down to a top three, according to several members of the council.
Price said he welcomes de Werk's willingness to allow the city to look into his history. He said he still questions why the City Council appointed de Werk, and have ignored two other candidates that the council agreed belonged in the final three of the city's search.
"I just believe that we got a lot of the city's money going into the process," he said. "We still have two candidates clearly vetted."