Riverside City Hall. File photo by William Wilson Lewis III, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG

By Ryan Hagen | rhagen@scng.com | The Press-Enterprise
Published: April 17, 2018 at 7:18 pm | Updated: April 18, 2018 at 9:02 am

Riverside City Manager John Russo was fired Tuesday, April 17, by the City Council — less than 10 weeks after it extended the top administrator’s contract and lavished praise on him.

That Feb. 6 meeting ended with Mayor Rusty Bailey announcing a veto of Russo’s contract, which he said was too generous and poorly timed. The battle that followed — including Bailey filing a lawsuit against the city to establish that he has the power to veto the contract — has dominated much of the discussion by and about city officials since.

Then came a performance review of Russo, which was scheduled for the closed-door meeting Tuesday between the afternoon Riverside City Council session and the night-time meeting. The City Council voted 4-3 to terminate the man they had said did an excellent job. When the 6:15 p.m. night City Council session began, Russo was not on the dais as usual with the rest of the city’s top officials.

Councilmen Steve Adams, Chuck Conder, Mike Gardner and Jim Perry voted to terminate Russo. Councilmen Chris Mac Arthur, Andy Melendrez and Mike Soubirous dissented. Bailey, who doesn’t have a vote on the council, was out of town and not at the meeting.

“The council exercised its at-will authority to immediately end the employment of our city manager, John Russo,” Perry said in announcing the vote. “We thank him and wish him well.”

In a statement sent via city spokesman Phil Pitchford, Russo said:

“I’ve loved working with the great team at the city of Riverside,” he said. “We got a lot done, and there’s much more that will be happening as a result of our efforts. As a proud resident, I am looking forward to Riverside’s future.”

Russo could not be reached for comment. Nor could Bailey.

Perry, speaking on behalf of the City Council, said an interim city manager will be named as soon possible.

Adams said in an interview that the council decided Tuesday to again hire Lee McDougal, who served as interim city manager of Riverside from 2014 until Russo was hired in February 2015.

Adams praised McDougal’s earlier tenure.

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