At the public forum at the July 6 Los Banos City Council Meeting, 19 persons spoke, and one letter was read aloud. Most who spoke voiced their discontent regarding the council’s 3-2 vote to terminate Josh Pinheiro’s employment as city manager.
The meeting attracted a large crowd. Nearly all seats in the council chambers were occupied, with many people standing along the walls and in the doorway of the chamber.
When the public forum opened, John Gunther, owner of Little Caesars in Los Banos, spoke about his experience with Pinheiro as a business owner.
“This is the most proactive, business-friendly manager that I have ever [met],” Gunther said. “I’m in 64 different cities. I have never had a city manager reach out to me to help me with my process. The next thing I know, he was being fired.”
Laurie Balatti, a resident of Los Banos for 52 years, discussed Pinheiro’s accomplishments in depth with examples. “He grew up in Los Banos and had a vision of what Los Banos could become under his leadership,” Balatti said.
“He was observing what needed to be done, talking to the residents and businesspeople from Los Banos,” Balatti continued. “He was always accessible to the public and listened to concerns.
“I believe that he was not given the respect he deserved,” Balatti added, “nor was he given the time required to make a difference for the city he cares so much about.”
A former employee of the city’s finance department also spoke positively about Pinheiro’s impact as city manager. She believed the thoughts of several other city employees influenced the council’s decision to fire Pinheiro.
Referring to a letter read at the June 22 council meeting, she said, “The things that were stated in that letter do not accurately represent the behavior and attitude he [Pinheiro] expressed during my employment.”
During the reports from city council members, Brett Jones criticized the votes cast by three other council members to terminate Pinheiro and added, “We knew we had serious issues with our human resources and finance departments, so we purposely excluded our HR department from the background details of Josh.”
During her report Council Member Lewis said, “I would love to tell you all the thoughts behind the decision I had to make. It’s not comfortable sitting up here. Unfortunately, due to the Brown Act, which our state legislatures have set up, we cannot discuss it.”
Lewis went on to say that there were items mentioned in the public forum that were not meant to be publicized. “It grieves me when I know that people have incorrect information out there,” Lewis said. “And it troubles me that some of the things that were stated by the public here tonight were discussed in closed session, and how did they get out there? That’s what I would like to know.”
Council Member Refugio Llamas also referred to the Brown Act in his report, “It pains me that I cannot talk about these things,” he said, “because, right or wrong, those are the restrictions. And as I believe in our republic, I believe in the rule of law.”
Following the closed session, Mayor Tom Faria announced, “By a vote of 5-0, City Council has appointed Gregory Wellman as interim city manager commencing July 11, 2022.”
The City Council will reconvene Monday, July 11, at 10 a.m. in council chambers to consider the approval of an interim city manager employment agreement.