Atwater could offer the city manager job to another candidate during the upcoming Monday meeting, according to elected officials.
After receiving the nod from a split City Council in November, the last candidate, Graeme Mitchell, said he didn't want the job. Mayor Jim Price said "it's possible" the council could choose a candidate during closed session.
Councilman Brian Raymond said he's "hoping" the council will make an offer at the upcoming meeting. He said he could not share the identified candidate's name.
"With closed session rules, I don't want to violate anything," he said.
The council whittled down more than 40 candidates to a final three before offering the job to Mitchell, leaders have confirmed. The larger list came from headhunting firm Bob Murray & Assoc., which the city hired for more than $20,000, according to Price.
Citing confidentiality rules, City Attorney Tom Terpstra denied a request from the Sun-Star in November to see the resumes for the other two finalists.
"The applicants, I am told, expected that their privacy would be protected throughout this process, and do not wish to be identified, as it may affect their ability to retain and/or obtain employment elsewhere," he wrote in an email.
Asked on Monday, Price said he could not confirm or deny that controversial candidate Art de Werk was discussed in a closed session meeting. Price gave a similar answer the day Mitchell declined the job offer.
De Werk, who served as Ceres police chief and public safety director for 15 years, was one of two applicants interviewed for the administrator job back in the spring. The other was Scott McBride, who had been interim city manager, but has since left to work in Merced.
McBride pulled his hat out of the ring in May, saying a series of “conflicts” and “distractions” had surfaced in the weeks prior that were “keeping the council from working on the serious issues the city is facing.”
Councilman James Vineyard said he couldn't discuss the names of candidates for the job because of closed session rules. "We're trying to look at all our options," he said.
De Werk 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.”
Raymond, Councilman Paul Creighton and Councilwoman Cindy Vierra met at an Atwater restaurant in April with de Werk after a council meeting, council members confirmed, raising questions about procedure. The leaders stress that no city business was discussed, and that they ran into each other by accident.
Vierra’s husband, Danny Vierra, is a police officer in Ceres who worked for de Werk, has denied knowing de Werk well. In April, Vierra acknowledged hearing questions about whether she intended to make her husband the chief of police in Atwater, but said she that simply was not the case. She noted her husband likely would have to take a paycut to move from Ceres to Atwater.
Vierra’s son, Matthew Vierra, already is a police officer at the Atwater Police Department. Vierra also has said there’s no conflict of interest for her to vote on most police-related matters. The Fair Political Practices Commission has said that’s true.
“The conflict of interest laws are designed for the public official themselves, not necessarily extended family,” said Jay Wierenga, a commission spokesman. “Generally speaking it would not appear to be a conflict because of the nature of one person’s job.”