State

Patterson council ends 8 months of performance talks, fires manager

PATTERSON — A divided City Council this week fired its city manager, ending eight months of discussions about his performance.

The council voted 3-2 Tuesday to release Cleve Morris, its administrator of 6½ years.

Councilman Dominic Farinha said he couldn't reveal closed-session discussions, but "There have been issues that I can't get into specifically that kind of caused us concern and pause." Farinha voted with Mayor Becky Campo and Councilwoman Annette Smith to fire Morris.

Councilman Sam Cuellar, who joined Dejeune Shelton in voting against releasing Morris, said he wasn't expecting the action.

"We've been having the evaluation of the city manager on the agenda for the last eight months," he said. While there were concerns with Morris' performance, Cuellar said, he didn't believe they rose to the level of termination.

"It was predetermined what was going to happen," Cuellar said.

Morris said Wednesday that the action didn't surprise him, given how often he's been evaluated. He earned $131,022 in 2008, pay records show.

A large group of friends and citizens in support of Morris gathered outside a closed- session meeting in October, when some felt he was at risk of losing his job.

"I appreciate the support I have received while working here," Morris said in an e-mail Wednesday.

Morris has come under fire in recent months. The Patterson Irrigator cited concerns over a potential move by the Del Puerto Health Care Center to Keystone Pacific Business Park and Keystone's possible reversal of a promise to loan the city $175,000 for a general plan update. The newspaper said Morris heard about the loan issue in November 2008 but didn't inform the council until this month.

Farinha said the latter problem contributed to the council's decision.

Morris said he plans to continue working through his leave date of May 24, but that could change.

And after that, "I will explore my options and look for other city manager positions."

Morris previously served six years as Newman's city manger, before resigning in what both he and the council called a mutual decision.

Farinha said that Morris has done some good work for the city, but now it's time to move ahead.

When the search begins for a replacement, "We just want a city manager that's going to have the best interests of the city and its citizens," Farinha said.

Patterson, which grew quickly in the real estate boom, has been particularly hard-hit in the economic downturn.

"We need someone with a true focus and a goal as to trying to help us out of this economic impediment we're dealing with," Farinha said. Priorities include bringing in businesses, which will raise tax revenue.

"Patterson is at a threshold," Farinha said. "I feel we have a wonderful city that's a model in so many ways. I would hope for the next city manager to not only continue that but help us leap forward into a new frontier."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or 578-2343.

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