By Ryan Hagen | rhagen@scng.com | The Press-Enterprise
Published: April 18, 2018 at 6:57 pm | Updated: April 18, 2018 at 8:10 pm

Now that Riverside’s city manager has been abruptly fired, there’s another question: Who’s running the city?

After the City Council terminated John Russo on Tuesday night, April 17, it chose an interim city manager — who officials learned Wednesday may be ineligible for the job.

Lee McDougal had been set to start Friday, April 20 — though he hadn’t yet signed a contract and said he was first contacted about the job Tuesday. Now it’s unclear who will have authority over the city’s day-to-day decisions in the near future.

Council members had expressed confidence in McDougal, the retired longtime city manager of Montclair, based on his work as Riverside’s interim city manager from December 2014 until May 2015. They praised McDougal for keeping the ship steady between the tenures of permanent city managers Scott Barber and Russo.

But that interim stint is exactly the problem.

A state law that’s been in place since 2013 says a retired person can only be appointed to the same interim position once.

Councilman Jim Perry, who’s taking a lead role in selecting the new city manager because he’s overseen searches before, did not confirm McDougal’s name.

But Perry said complications related to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System were delaying the announcement of an interim city manager.

“We’re still researching some PERS issues,” Perry said Wednesday evening.

Councilman Steve Adams said Tuesday night — shortly after the City Council voted 4-3 to fire Russo — that council members had chosen McDougal. Other council members confirmed the decision Wednesday.

McDougal said Wednesday afternoon that he looked forward to working with the council, all of whom he’d worked with before when they were either council members or council staff members. His plan was to continue the city’s direction until the council chose a permanent replacement, he said.

“I wouldn’t say I have big plans,” he said, “except to continue with the fine work that’s been done.”

His first contact about the job came when Perry called him Tuesday, McDougal said. Perry then called back Wednesday afternoon to say city officials were researching the retirement complication, McDougal said.

Perry said the City Council will meet in closed session between Thursday, April 19, and Tuesday, April 24, to discuss an interim city manager.

In the meantime, no single person is filling the city manager’s role, but the city’s top staffers are handling things without any problems, he said.
Lawsuit unresolved

The City Council voted 5-2 in February to extend Russo’s contract until December 2024, but Mayor Rusty Bailey announced at the end of that meeting that he would veto the new contract because it 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.

Bailey, who was visiting Riverside’s sister city in Gangnam, South Korea, on Tuesday when Russo was fired, said he approved of the council’s vote.

“I appreciate the council’s leadership and decision making on this tough issue,” Bailey said Wednesday.

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