At 2:30 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 9, an agitated and divided City Council narrowly voted to authorize an investigation into the leaking of confidential information related to the hiring of the City Manager and City Attorney.

The investigation was proposed by Councilmember Gleam Davis, who had brought her concerns on information leaks to the City Attorney’s office and was advised that the best course of action was to ask Council to vote to authorize an independent investigation.

The confidentiality concerns include the leaking of the name of Council’s initial choice for City Manager, Rene Bobadilla, and other information leaks on the City Manager and City Attorney search to members of the public. Following the City Manager name leak in June 2021, Bobadilla subsequently declined the job offer and, in a letter to City Council, cited the unauthorized public revelation of his name as one of his reasons for doing so.

“We know for a fact that in fact that closed session did not remain closed with regard to the City Manager search and in fact the name of Rene Bobadilla, who was one of the applicants, was leaked,” said Davis. “We also know for a fact that Mr. White, perhaps not by name, but by description, surfaced prior to his hiring being announced. Now we know that sadly and unfortunately, the names of candidates for the City Attorney position also have been leaked.”

The proposed investigation would examine possible Councilmember violations of the Brown Act and confidentiality agreements in connection with the search, candidate evaluation, and recruitment for the positions of City Manager and City Attorney conducted in 2021 and 2022.

The Councilmember discussion of the proposed investigation was heated and divisive.

Councilmembers Phil Brock and Oscar de la Torre strongly opposed the idea of an investigation and said that it was a waste of money that would further divide an already divided Council. Councilmember Parra also voted to oppose the investigation with little comment. The remaining four Councilmembers—Kristin McCowan, Sue Himmelrich, Lana Negrete and Gleam Davis—voted in support of the investigation.

“I think what’s wrong is not so much investigating what the problem is, because the problem is distrust within this governing board,” said de la Torre, later adding, “I’ll just be straight up; there would be none of this going on if one side got what they wanted, you know, that is really what I’m being real about right now and it is politics.”

Councilmember Brock also put forth the notion that the investigation was politically motivated.

“This smacks of a political vendetta, It doesn’t smack of a legitimate investigation and that’s why I’m trying to work a compromise,” said Brock, who earlier in the discussion called the investigation a “partisan witch hunt.”

Councilmember Gleam Davis disputed this viewpoint and maintained that the investigation was intended to uphold the integrity of City Council.

“This has nothing to do with winning or losing or politics or retribution or whatever it all is that you seem to think this is tied to,” said Davis. “This is tied to the fact that the most important part of government at any level is integrity, and anyone who sees what’s happening at the federal level, where you have a bunch of legislators who are refusing to investigate what happened on January 6, 2020, and it is completely ruining the trust in government, because they’re not willing to investigate themselves and find out what happened. I don’t want to be that government.”

Mayor Sue Himmelrich said that she thought it was important to have the investigation to ensure these information leaks don’t continue to happen. She said that if people don’t expect discussion in closed session to remain private they will not speak freely and that a reputation for not being trustworthy may discourage future job candidates.

In lieu of having an investigation, Councilmember Brock made a motion proposing that Councilmembers instead receive further training on the Brown Act and confidentiality agreements. He said that this would be better than spending money on an investigation and was important given that many Councilmembers are new to Council and relatively inexperienced.

Brock’s motion failed in a 3-3-1 vote with Councilmembers Davis, Himmelrich and McCowan voting no; Councilmembers Brock, de la Torre and Parra voting yes; and Councilmember Negrete abstaining.

“I do not think this was a failure in education since we all signed forms saying that we would only talk to other members on the panel and this leaked outside the panel,” said Himmelrich.

Councilmember McCowan said that she too disliked the cost that this investigation would incur, but felt that she still had to vote for it.

“I just don’t see how I can, in good consciousness, not support an investigation when we have disclosed to the public that there have been leaks,” said McCowan. “I don’t really know how I can vote no.”

Clara@smdp.com