MARTINEZ -- Councilwoman Lara DeLaney blasted her colleagues' decision Wednesday to award the city's top management position to a relatively inexperienced staffer, saying the process smacked of cronyism, patronage and corruption.
On a 3-2 vote, the council approved a five-month contract making Anna Gwyn Simpson interim city manager, with a monthly salary of $10,850 and the authority to hire and fire.
Council members DeLaney and Mark Ross opposed Simpson's appointment because they were denied the opportunity to interview her and review her résumé. Mayor Rob Schroder and council members Anamarie Avila Farias and Mike Menesini defended their decisions, asserting the selection process had been transparent.
"Someone has to run the city until we can deliberate and move forward with a fair, equitable process of a recruitment that we all intend to do," Farias said.
But in a blistering speech, DeLaney denounced the process as "grievously flawed" and questioned whether Simpson is qualified to lead the city.
"Ms. Simpson's appointment is based on the fact that there are three politicians who want her in this job to advance their personal agendas," DeLaney said, without elaborating. "Why else would they not care that this is a seriously flawed process, with a divided council, on a matter where there should be complete unanimity?"
DeLaney also shed light on the dispute that may have prompted Assistant City Manager Alan Shear to turn down the interim position. During a closed-session meeting on Dec. 18, Shear presented an organizational chart to the council that didn't match one Farias had created.
"Mr. Shear was viciously berated and insulted by members of the council for not putting forth a plan that included the promotion of Ms. Simpson to assistant city manager," said DeLaney, who encouraged residents to show their displeasure with her colleagues' action at the ballot box in November, when she, Schroder and Menesini are up for re-election.
Menesini dismissed DeLaney's remarks as a "great election speech" that was full of mistruths.
"There's no cronyism here, there's no patronage. Patronage implies that somebody got something for something. Where's the patronage?" he asked. "The bottom line is we selected someone that I believe will do a great job."
Simpson, who lives in Martinez, joined the city in July in the newly created position of deputy director of strategic planning and community development. Although she holds a master's degree in public administration from San Francisco State, Simpson apparently has no city management experience. Her background is in housing, most recently with the Oakland Housing Authority. During her six-month tenure in Martinez, Simpson has worked on economic development and on marina-related issues.
Simpson replaces Phil Vince, who resigned abruptly in October. Martinez owed Vince $147,345 in salary when he left, which he is receiving in monthly payments. The city also is contributing $16,839 to Vince's medical coverage.
Harriett Burt, a former council member and planning commissioner, said she is impressed with Simpson's work, but she also criticized the process.
"I do feel that every council member should have been allowed to be sure that they knew that this would be the best decision or have solid reasons for not agreeing with it," Burt said.
Martinez resident Marcia Hetzler also had concerns. "I would hate to see someone positive and energetic and young and qualified discounted because of a lack of transparency."