Temecula manager fired in rare upper echelon shakeup

In an unprecedented move for Temecula, the City Council Tuesday night, Nov. 27, voted to fire its top administrator and tap a longtime employee as its acting chief.

There was no public discussion of the first instance of a Temecula council firing its city manager. The fate of Bob Johnson was announced after a two-part closed session on personnel issues and other matters. Reporters’ questions were deflected about the decisions to fire Johnson and place Genie Wilson, the city’s longtime finance director, on administrative leave.

“I can’t comment on that,” said City Attorney Peter M. Thorson said. He declined to say whether any settlements would be forthcoming. He did note that the city will honor Johnson’s contract, which calls for him to receive six months pay as severance or the remainder of his $215,000 salary for this fiscal year.

The council also formalized its previous decision to name Aaron Adams, a longtime city worker, as its acting manager.

The disciplinary actions are unusual for Temecula, which has gained a reputation for scant turnover on the council and in its upper management. Until now, Temecula has experienced seamless transitions from one manager to another as the city groomed mid-level administrators to fill top positions when retirements occurred.

Johnson’s dismissal did not come as a surprise, as the council at its previous meeting had unanimously voted in closed session to put him on paid administrative leave. The action was the third city manager dismissal to unfold in southwest Riverside County in less than a year.

The formal vote on Johnson’s firing came one week after Menifee announced that its council and City Manager Bill Rawlings had “mutually agreed” he would leave his post. Rob Johnson was named as the acting replacement for Rawlings, who was hired nearly two years earlier. Menifee became a city in October 2008.

Upper management changes have occurred periodically in Menifee. The city’s first permanent manager held that post for five months and several interim managers have filled in as needed.

Bob Johnson was just the fifth city manager to be hired by Temecula since that fast-growing community became a city in December 1989. His nearly 11-month term was the briefest of any of any of Temecula’s permanent managers, and some city observers have wondered whether Johnson’s brusque management style had come under scrutiny by the council.

The flavor of Tuesday’s council meeting hinted at the transition period that Temecula has entered. Johnson and Wilson were absent from their usual places on the dais. Another seat was vacant due to a longtime employee being hired by Lake Elsinore. Adams’ shift to acting manager left open a seat that is designated for the city’s community services director.

Councilmen Ron Roberts and Jeff Comerchero both missed Tuesday’s meeting due to a government conference. All five council members voted last month to place Johnson on leave. All three council members who were present Tuesday voted to dismiss Johnson.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Mike Naggar said he has “full faith and confidence” in Adams’ expertise and experience.

Adams said after the meeting that he hopes to soon assign workers to the parks, finance and other duties that have been recently handled on a day-to-day basis. Adams said he appreciates the council’s confidence and feels “so blessed” to be at the helm.

Adams, 40, has worked for Temecula for about 18 years. He began as an intern, and then left for about a year to work as an analyst for the city of San Clemente. Adams was recruited for a similar job in Temecula, and he steadily climbed the ranks to eventually become a department head and assistant city manager.

“It’s a great city. My family loves it here,” Adams said.

Adams was one of several internal candidates in the running to replace Shawn Nelson, who was Temecula’s manager for more than a decade prior to his retirement in January.

Johnson was hired by Temecula as its planning director in December 2006. He was working as Riverside County’s planning director before he was hired by Temecula. Johnson was promoted to assistant city manager during Nelson’s tenure.

Johnson was picked over Adams, Grant Yates and other internal candidates to replace Nelson, who retired after working for Temecula for more than two decades at various posts. The term of Johnson’s city manager contract was set at four years.

Yates was recently hired as Lake Elsinore’s city manager. He began work there earlier this month. Yates will be paid $180,000 a year plus benefits, and his contract is set to expire in three years. Yates worked for Temecula for 21 years, and his duties there included deputy city manager, personnel director, contract negotiator and emergency services coordinator.

Yates replaced Bob Brady as Lake Elsinore’s manager. That council cast a 3-2 vote in March to fire Brady, an action that led to a nationwide search for his permanent replacement.

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