07:37 AM PDT on Tuesday, August 31, 2010

By LAURIE LUCAS
The Press-Enterprise

Moreno Valley scrapped its six-month hunt for a city manager after Interim City Manager William Bopf announced that he wanted to be considered for the job and would work cheaper than most of the candidates he already had helped screen.

The Aug. 24 vote to terminate the search frustrated two councilmen and several members of the search committee who have questioned Bopf’s motives, timing and ethics.

In a closed session that day, the City Council voted 3-2 to abort the search. Councilmen Richard Stewart and Jesse Molina cast the no votes.

Bopf, 74, said he didn’t see it as a question of ethics but as the chance to save the city money, considering the $12 million deficit Moreno Valley faces next fiscal year.

He said at least four council members encouraged him to stay on.

“I’m dismayed and disappointed,” said pharmacist Carl Rowe, one of five residents appointed by the council to vet the finalists. The council paid $70,000 to a national firm to recruit city manager candidates and more than 100 people applied.

“My fear is that we will not be able to attract other quality candidates in the future,” Rowe said. They may shy away from us if they feel there is insider trading. I’m sure (Bopf) is sincere in trying to save the city money. But he had the opportunity to apply along with everyone else.”

Bopf’s declaration “threw a wrench in the whole process,” Molina said. “I don’t think it was right. It stinks.”

Stewart said the closed-session meeting resulted from two internal memos, marked confidential, that Bopf sent earlier this month to the council.

Bopf, who’s worked 18 years in the private sector and 25 years as a public administrator, has been Moreno Valley’s interim city manager since November.

He has helped screen candidates for the permanent city manager position.

In an Aug. 11 letter, he criticized as too high the salary and benefits package proposed by the frontrunner, who was not named. The candidate’s proposed base pay was $280,000.

In an Aug. 12 memo, Bopf declared himself a contender — well after the application deadline had passed and after the City Council and search committee had targeted a potential new city manager.

In the memo, Bopf wrote that his total package “will be less than almost any new city manager you hire.” Other advantages, he said, are his cordial relations with the mayor and council members and their familiarity with his management style.

“I was shocked and indignant,” Stewart said of the memo. “I think it’s unethical. Mr. Bopf was not a candidate. He didn’t put his application in in a timely manner. He sat through the interviews, aware of the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. He had knowledge of the salary packages.”

Stewart said the council budgeted $330,000 for the new city manager. Bopf proposed a package for himself under $300,000, with a two-year contract and a six-month severance clause. He also asked for $3,000 for moving and relocation and four weeks per year of vacation.

“It would significantly increase his pension for the rest of his life,” Stewart said.

PENSION BOOST

Bopf said the extra two years would raise his pension because he’d receive credit toward his pension at a higher rate.

He said Moreno Valley now pays him $247,000 a year with no benefits, based on a 36-hour-a-week rate.

If the city hires him, he said he’ll be giving up $36,000 a year in annual pension during his term because he would be halting his retirement and returning to full-time work. He suggested the council make the contract effective Oct. 1.

In an interview Monday, Bopf said it’s up to the council whether or not to interview him and that he isn’t going to push the matter.

“I don’t want the job that badly. … I’m available. At the prices I indicated, that was a fair option,” he said.

Skechers’ developer Iddo Benzeevi, another member of the search committee, said he opposes Bopf’s candidacy.

Benzeevi said the frontrunner for the city manager’s job was the unanimous choice with all the vetters from among 15 finalists.

“This guy was a shining star,” Benzeevi said. “We independently arrived at the same conclusion. We need young leadership who can take us through the years, not a lame duck who’ll be there for two years.”

Attorney and survey engineer Dave Slawson, who served on the search committee, said he found it “alarming” that the council simply junked the whole thing.

“I had the impression that everyone was supportive of one particular candidate,” he said. “He seemed perfect.”

Jamil Dada, a member of the search committee, said he also was disappointed the council scrapped the search.

“I’m totally disgusted. Bill Bopf is not the right guy. He’s retired. He’s an interim manager,” Dada said. “The city needs someone fresh who has ideas.”

Dada, a civic leader who works in banking, said he also objected to Bopf’s last-minute attempt to throw his hat in the ring.

Councilwoman Robin Hastings defended Bopf’s performance and confirmed that several officials had asked him to apply for the job.

She allowed that while Bopf legally didn’t have the confidentiality he had stamped on the memo, he expected the contents of the application to be private. She said it was unethical to divulge and share these details.

Hastings said by releasing only a small portion of the decision-making process, it makes the situation look bad for Bopf.

“There’s nothing there we can even talk about (publicly),” she said, referring to the memos and the closed session.

But Terry Francke, a lawyer who heads Californians Aware in Sacramento, a nonprofit group in support of open government and free expression, said the council’s closed vote “is the essence of hypocrisy, to treat this matter as if council members’ hands are tied, as if the law requires them to be secretive.”

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