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Santa Maria officials are working to create a plan to replace retiring City Manager Rick Haydon, who will leave City Hall for the last time as an employee in less than 60 days.

On Wednesday evening, the City Council convened a special meeting that then went into a closed session. Haydon, who announced his retirement Aug. 16, said there was no action to report out of closed session. 

During the short public portion of the meeting, some asked the city leaders why discussions about replacing the city’s top administrator were handled that way.

The board is able to confer about appointing or recruiting a replacement for Haydon because of the Ralph M. Brown Act, which sets specific rules for government bodies to follow to promote transparency and stipulates how city councils, commissions and other bodies can communicate between themselves and the public.

Generally, all meetings have to be held in public with a couple of exceptions: if they include personnel matters or legal discussions.

“The intent tonight is to discuss the appointment process and what the options are: either an appointment or do an external recruitment, hire an interim," Haydon said Wednesday. "There are a multitude of options before the council.” 

Appointing a new city manager from the city’s current staff means discussions of actual candidates and their job performance or readiness. It’s those discussions that are protected by the Brown Act.

“We, as a council, are not able to discuss this outside of a formal meeting because of the Brown Act. It is the only way the five of us can talk,” Councilman Jack Boysen said. “We hire two people -- the city manager and the city attorney. They are responsible for hiring anyone else.”

Mayor Alice Patino said the closed session meetings are a needed first step but gave her assurance that the process of choosing a new city manager will be made public. 

“You will absolutely know the process that we will be using," she said. "We can only discuss personnel in closed session."

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The Brown Act also stipulates how, when and what language to use when public notices about upcoming meetings are posted.

The notice of Wednesday’s meeting detailed a closed session on the topic of public employee appointment: city manager.

“When we (give) notice (of) Brown Act meetings, we are limited to the language of the Brown Act,” City Attorney Gil Trujillo said. “When the council wants to discuss the appointment of a city manager or city attorney, this is the only language that is allowed. We are following it. It is not very descriptive.”

Wednesday’s closed session was the second on this topic and won’t be the last.

The item was on the agenda for the Sept. 19 meeting and will be on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting, Haydon said. 

“We are seeking direction of the council. No decisions have been made and no discussions of salary have been had. In order to discuss salaries, you would have to agendize it under the Brown Act,” Trujillo said.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.


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