At the Sept. 6 Los Banos City Council meeting, several items pulled from the consent agenda stirred vigorous debate, especially proposed resolutions related to increasing the number of at-will city employees and canceling plans for a bike and pedestrian path to the Los Banos Campus of Merced College. Both resolutions were eventually approved.

The consent agenda for the meeting included 15 items. Near the beginning of the meeting Councilmember Deborah Lewis asked that many of the items be pulled for explanation and discussion.

The most contentious item was a resolution making middle manager positions within the city at-will. This would take these positions out of the regular disciplinary and appeal process, making it easier for department heads and the city manager to terminate individuals in these positions.

The positions impacted, as listed in the agenda, are assistant fire chief, assistant public works director, battalion chief, finance manager, housing program manager, facilities manager, parks and recreation operations manager, police commander, police services manager, public works operations manager, public works supervisor,  recreation supervisor and senior planner.

Included in the resolution is a provision that city employees promoted to at-will positions do not have retreat rights to their previous position, if vacant, or to any other vacant position in the city.

The change of these positions to at-will does not affect current middle managers, but only those who are hired after Sept. 1.

Councilmember Lewis felt it would ruin advancement and job security for city employees. “To take away the right of an employee to not go back to a previous position they held, if it’s open,” Lewis said, “to me is basically cruel.”

Lewis was also concerned it would snowball to include more employees in the future.

Councilmember Brett Jones and Mayor Paul Llanez supported the change. Jones said it would give the city manager the ability to weed out employees who are just milking the clock, simply putting their time in before retirement. Llanez followed Jones by saying, “When I hear at-will, I just hear constant accountability.”

Lewis was the only dissenting vote, with council members Douglas Begonia, Jr., Kenneth Lambert and Jones and Mayor Llanez voting to pass the resolution.

Lewis also dissented on the resolution regarding the council’s intent to no longer pursue the Pacheco Boulevard (State Route 152) Regional Path to the Los Banos Campus of Merced College. Llanez mentioned the provided free bus as an alternative to using a path and continued, “I will not let my kid walk on the proposed path” citing safety issues with SR 152. Jones cited the high cost of construction and maintenance as his disapproval of the city footing the bill.

The resolution to abandon the project passed 4-1, with Lewis the dissenting vote.

Earlier in the meeting, during the public forum, two Los Banos residents expressed their concerns related to the two resolutions.

Kathy Ballard said she had legal concerns about changing middle managers to at-will. Ballard also asked why the city would pull out of the college path after agreeing to it in 2017 and obtaining the funds for it. She ended her concerns by questioning the number of items on the consent agenda.

Former city councilmember Refugio Llamas said he was unhappy with so many items being on the consent agenda and wanted more public input on the items. Llamas then said that one council member was being excluded from staff updates and that contact with that member is being reported by staff to the city manager.

Javier Powell