residents search for answers at first Council meeting with
Art de Werk as city manager
By BEVERLY BARELA
January 11, 2018
Monday night’s Atwater City Council meeting was the
first with Art de Werk in the position of Interim City Manager
on his fourth day of employment, and although the Council
members publicly expressed their willingness to find a way
to work together, a rancorous tone was pervasive, with some
citizens during public comment time questioning the process
that resulted in the decision to hire de Werk and others
scolding the entire Council or the Mayor for recent bickering
over the de Werk controversy.
Atwater Mayor Price, who refused to sign de Werk’s
employment contract pending answers to questions about de
Werk’s pre-employment background check, announced,
"I want to pledge that I will be working with Mr. de
Werk. I won’t be an impediment to progress in this
question looming is whether de Werk, whose contract with
the city is temporary and expires in six months, will apply
for the position of permanent city manager. Previously,
de Werk said that whether he sought long-term employment
as city manager would depend on how he felt the community
Monday night’s meeting, de Werk expressed positive
feelings about the community and the city staff, describing
them as a family, but commented, "I haven’t necessarily
been accepted into the family. They will make the right
decision at the right time. That’s why I’m not
agenda items were approved, and de Werk announced that on
Jan. 18 at 8 a.m. in the City Council Chambers, he will
make himself available to the public and city staff at a
coffee for questions about anything, whether personal or
having to do with his goals and objectives.
announcements by Atwater Mayor Jim Price and Atwater Mayor
Pro Tem Jim Vineyard lightened the atmosphere, as did the
presentation of a $2,000 check to Sandy Rahn, Recreation
Department Supervisor, which was a donation from Central
Valley Disposal for the remodeling of the pavilion at Veteran’s
Park in Atwater being spearheaded by volunteer Harry Markarian.
Price’s positive news was that the Ferrari Ranch project
is anticipated to include two or three hotels, something
he has been advocating for.
said, enthusiastically, "Things are finally gelling
and coming together."
has been keeping in close touch with David Dolter, the real
estate broker for the project, and has been encouraging
the inclusion of hotels because the transient occupancy
tax generated by hotels is a local tax that the county is
not able to share.
said, "I was with David Dolter, and he said he has
tentatively explored putting two hotels instead of one.
We’re potentially looking at three hotels, a mini
mart and some restaurants."
positive news was that a business is interested in purchasing
some land on Commerce, which would be a boon to the community.
said, "There will be a presentation to Council in the
contrast to the seemingly positive atmosphere, during public
comment time Manuel Pinto expressed dismay that de Werk
had re-emerged and had been hired in December after being
passed over in April when a possible Brown Act violation
arose in connection with a gathering at Almond Tree Restaurant
where he was seen with Council members Cindy Vierra, Paul
Creighton and Brian Raymond. The 3 to 2 vote to hire de
Werk, after the city had paid a headhunter, Murray &
Associates, $24,900 to find candidates with no local controversy,
was still irksome.
asked de Werk, exasperatedly, "How are you here?"
an interview with the Times, Pinto said, "I meant how
is he back in the position? I just don’t understand
how they could spend that amount of money and we’re
right back to where we were. What a waste of our time!"
to the three Council members who voted de Werk in as Interim
City Manager, Cindy Vierra, Paul Creighton and Brian Raymond,
Pinto said, "This is strictly a friendship pact. It’s
very obvious. Mrs. Vierra states she is not friends with
de Werk, but she completely negates this by saying, ‘He’s
my guy’ at the last Council meeting. There’s
a picture of the three of them at Adam Gray’s office
on Facebook. There they are, the three amigos. They’re
the ones putting that out there. They’re trying to
go in the direction they want by sidestepping everything.
It’s as if they’re saying, ‘This is how
we’re going to do it’. How do we know they’re
not having meetings discussing Council business?"
continued, "I don’t have anything against anyone,
but Mr. Creighton has the unofficial position of tour guide
of the city for the potential candidates. Is that appropriate?
Cindy Vierra stated she did her own investigation of de
Werk with the City of Ceres, and I don’t think she
can do that unless she has instruction to do so. It shows
their lack of experience in the political arena."
said, "I don’t know how Mr. Terpstra allows these
Council members to say what they say, and he seems to have
no remorse. He should be directing them. He should be at
the helm, guiding us. I would think our city attorney would
step in and say ‘Enough’s enough’."
added, "The other thing I find is mind-boggling is
that Frank Johnson gets up and speaks at our Council meetings.
He’s not a member of our community, and he’s
included with the issues with the City of Ceres and Mr.
de Werk. Mr. Johnson was involved with the practices of
this non-profit in Ceres with de Werk. Now, Mr. de Werk
is in Atwater and Mr. Johnson is in Atwater. What does Mr.
de Werk have? A cult following? I’m absolutely perplexed
over the whole thing."
Lee, an Atwater businessman and a regular at City Council
meetings, also spoke during public comment time. He described
taking the initiative to talk to Art de Werk in person last
week. His goal was to express his concerns about de Werk’s
pre-employment background check and the process resulting
in de Werk’s being hired.
an interview with the Times, Lee explained, "I am concerned
about the process, and the way it was rammed through. It
bothers me that we’re doing things that don’t
make sense. The Council jumped over Candidate # 1 and Candidate
# 2 and took Mitchell, who was third or fourth. My understanding
is the Council members then agreed if Graeme Mitchell did
not take the position, they would go back to the list and
take the next highest. When Mitchell declined, they didn’t
go back to # 1 and offer that person the job. They offered
it to de Werk. They need to get rid of the way they choose
people. It’s their right to choose, but I want to
make sure there’s a way of vetting candidates so that
there’s no way someone brings in someone they know."
perception about the most recently elected Council members,
Cindy Vierra and Paul Creighton, was that they came in and
began demanding changes from Mayor Price.
said, "This started when they were elected, and once
their feathers were a little bit dry, they went after Jim
Price. They went after him on rearranging the seating. They
didn’t think he should be appointing the mayor pro
tem. It continued on. What I see is that they were upset
that [former Police Chief/City Manager] Frank Pietro appointed
Sam Joseph police chief, and then they didn’t like
that the previous Council made Scott McBride Interim City
Manager. They felt when they came into office, they should
vote for the Interim City Manager. I remember Cindy told
me she thought they should have been able to choose the
city manager, and she said the new city manager should have
the right to appoint the new police chief, and she complained,
‘Why is Sam Joseph leaving to go to the FBI Academy?
He’s just getting training so he can lead the city.’
I responded that there is nothing that would indicate Sam
would lead the city. She was very, very upset that Sam was
appointed police chief."
continued, "I had heard so many things, that Art de
Werk did have a background check, he did not have a background
check, that he had a cursory background check. I was concerned
that he clear up any discrepancies, and clarify what was
the background check he underwent. A further background
done would end all speculation. De Werk said he would clear
said, "From there, we moved to what is your plan for
Atwater. De Werk said, ‘I haven’t really developed
a plan yet because I need to talk to people, find what the
concerns are, find out where Atwater is and where it is
going.’ He did tell me he is more of a technical person
who likes to get his department heads working together,
and he wants to make sure the Council and department heads
communicate well, and that is his area of expertise - -
to make sure the body is functioning well. My conversation
with Mr. de Werk centered around his description of his
ability to manage people. I hope going forward he may start
to have more of a vision because we’re headed for
a lot of important stuff."
speaking at public comment time about the hiring of a permanent
city manager, Don Martin wanted to know if the two experienced
individuals with city manager backgrounds whom the headhunter
found could be invited to a public forum in Atwaterwhere
members of the public could express their views.
said, "Would it be possible to have those two candidates
appear and make a 30 minute presentation?"
Price explained during an interview with the Times that
the selection of a permanent city manager is done by a City
Council process that is strictly closed session, Lee commented,
"Years ago, seven people from the city pre-interviewed
the city manager candidates. They were members of the general
public, and they just asked them questions about their visions
for the community, and they also answered the candidates’
questions. It had nothing to do with ranking a candidate;
it had everything to do with letting people know they were
part of the process. The City Council still had the same
authority to interview them to make the decision."
interviewed after the meeting about the permanent city manager
position, Price said, "Has anyone heard Art de Werk
did well as a city manager in Ceres? I haven’t. I
haven’t heard anything about any accomplishments from
anyone, including Cindy. We need to be able to ask the question:
Would you hire this person again? We can’t ask that
question because we’re under a gag order. I made the
statement a couple meetings ago that what I wanted was someone
from outside the area. It all goes back to what happened
in April. When we brought on Murray & Associates, that
was my whole thing. This way, we avoid what we’re
going through today. Get someone who comes from somewhere
else, not anywhere close to here. We found two of them that
are like that. The guys we vetted come with stories, experience,
asked if Art de Werk will be required to undergo a more
thorough background check, Price said, "I don’t
know at this point if that will ever happen because it would
call for the Council to do that. De Werk is not compelled
to answer any of those questions. For now, he’s here.
I will work with him as much as I can. I’m ready to
give him the benefit of the doubt. I’m hopeful that
I’ll see something positive from him very soon."
asked whether Atwater’s financial consultant, Bill
Zenoni, forecast a financial crisis in the future of Atwater
if nothing changes, Price responded, "Both
and Scott McBride were adamant about the trend as far as
where it’s going and I’m concerned because we
don’t have that rush of business coming. Ferrari Ranch
is going to take awhile to develop. The clock is ticking
on our Cal Pers obligation all the time. The rate increase
started on January 1, and it’s going to be substantial.
I want to say it’s in the millions. In February 2017,
we had a workshop where we discussed the financial challenges
and that was pretty much at the top of the list. Prior to
that, we had tried to refinance the outstanding debt and
it got voted down. The attitude from certain council members
is it wouldn’t have mattered if we did the refinancing
or not because Cal Pers took a run up. But it would have
lessened the blow, and now we’re getting the full
what he would like to see from de Werk, Price said, "He’s
the city manager, and he needs to form some kind of plan.
Financial challenges need attention and planning. There’s
a long list of things that need to be handled."
Times interviewed Art de Werk after the meeting.
asked what is his plan as acting City Manager, he said,
"The first step is familiarization with the employees,
the community. There is a steep learning curve. How are
the processes different from the places I’ve worked
in the past? This is something that based on my experience
I can figure out. The budget, the infrastructure needs a
lot of work, the employees haven’t had a raise for
six years, there’s been inconsistencies at the department
head level because of downsizing and people leaving the
organization so there’s a real need for the organization
to build a sense of stability. The city will plod along
no matter who is the city manager. My goal is to have a
positive effect on the employees and the organization, not
one that creates more instability. I have some tentative
goals like team building. The idea is to work with the Council
and affirm prior goals they have worked on and see if any
of those have changed, to improve communications and become
more effective at overall oversight of the organization.
have employees doing multiple jobs, and that slows processes
down and increases stress levels and sometimes work products
suffer as a result. We’re trying to get information
to the Council more quickly. There’s so many things
that need to be done. I know our budget has been looked
at by multiple people for cost savings and modifications,
but it has to be done again. I’m not inclined to depend
on the interpretations from people in the past. My fresh
eyes might be able to find ways to save money or be more
efficient. Every component has to be visited and reviewed.
Also, I am meeting with community members which spans all
kinds of areas. Some are people who are dissatisfied with
practices in the city, some are developers. There are a
number of meetings being scheduled that cover all kinds
of bases. These are people who have reached out to me, knowing
that I’m the new interim CM and they have things they
would like me to follow up on. Some of them are not matters
for public consumption but I view them as being positive.
I have to be vague because these are business matters and
subject to competition.
the city is going through a recruitment process for six
or seven positions. The city manager has a role in the selection
process, pending personnel actions. These are all things
I have to deal with on a concurrent basis.
think the city manager and certain key people in the organization
have to do active marketing to find businesses beneficial
to the community. I just started talking with staff this
morning on that.
want to make sure our customer service is where it ought
to be in terms of satisfaction by the citizens. If there
are needs or areas where we’re really excelling, those
are areas that need to be identified.
negotiating the contract with Cal Fire for fire suppression
services, emergency response. That’s just one of many
meetings throughout the day. Today was my first formal discussion
with their representatives. We have a few ideas that might
help the city save money and keep the equipment closer to
the city but it’s a little too early. We haven’t
played it out. There’s also just the basics - we have
a contract that needs to be renewed. Cal Fire proposes a
certain amount on an annual basis, and we look at it and
say whether we can or can’t afford it. It will take
some more time. I get the sense people are very happy with
Cal Fire and I think they’re doing a great job and
I really like the staff they have. In terms of the protection
for the community, I don’t see a better way to do
it but we still have to keep our expenditure within our
ability to pay.
are other contracts. PAL is coming up. We’re working
on the mid-year budget review. It really isn’t any
different than a private corporation conducting business."
asked about the hiring process which resulted in his employment
in Atwater, de Werk said, "I applied for the position.
I was informed I did very well. They didn’t say where
I was numerically on the list of eligible candidates. Then
at some point, a critical event took place. One evening
after I went to a Council meeting, I went to the Almond
Tree to meet with a citizen. I met with that citizen, kind
of a self-appointed high stakeholder in the community. There
was one Council person there, talking with another Council
member, and then another Council member showed up. I don’t
think there was a plan. Even if there were three Council
members there and they said, ‘Let’s have dinner’,
it was a casual free-wheeling social interaction, and no
one should assume business was being discussed. We agreed
later it looked bad on its face. It wasn’t improper,
but it seems like that tainted my candidacy for the position.
I think the Council thought, ‘Let’s go with
someone else.’ [Interim City Manager] Bramble needed
to leave, so they called me and asked, ‘Are you still
interested?’ I had shifted back into a kite surfer
mode, but eventually I listened to what different people
had to say about not letting things I learned go to waste.
I received an interview by the headhunter, Murray &
Associates, and I was also interviewed by all Council members
along with the city attorney. Several Council members took
it upon themselves to contact my colleagues in Ceres, so
they did some of their own vetting. When the Council voted
to offer me the position on December 11th, the next day
I went in for a medical, drug test and live scan where they
check the local, state and national records for arrests,
of which they were none."
asked how he found out there was a job opening for Interim
City Manager in Atwater, de Werk said, "In the 2010
time frame, when Mayor Joan Faul met with me, she came to
Ceres on a couple of occasions. They wanted to find out
how well the city manager/police chief arrangement was working
for me. That kind of started my relationship with Atwater.
There was also a former Ceres employee, Stan Feathers, who
used to work here. After I retired and I healed completely
from the surgery I had in April 2014, I wasn’t really
finished with my career. I wanted to do something. I was
told Atwaterwas looking for reserve police officers, and
I thought that would be nice to do something productive.
I put in for that job, and they scheduled interviews. I
was unable to attend the interview, but by now, my name
was out there and not a long time later, I can’t remember
who called me, but someone called me and said there’s
a city manager position coming up. I did apply. I believe
that at the time I applied, they hadn’t used the services
of the head hunter. I don’t remember for sure. But
a head hunter firm did get involved at some point when I
was going through the selection process, Murray & Associates.
Interestingly, when I took the job in Casper, Wyoming, it
was Murray & Associates who handled that, so I had a
history with that organization. That was 1991. I’m
actually on their website as a person available to do interim
city manager and interim police chief jobs."
concluded, "I’m proud of my career. I’ve
made plenty of mistakes. But as I tell my employees, you
grow from your mistakes and it’s how you handle your
mistakes. The last thing the city needs is distractions
from the business like the budget they face. I don’t
want to be a destructive force they see like the shadows
or the dark side of the organization."