At an explosive Oct. 4 city council meeting, members of the five city labor unions expressed no confidence in the leadership of City Manager Josh Pinheiro, Councilmember Deborah Lewis pulled all seven consent agenda items for discussion and the city voted to hire an interim public works director until a head-hunting firm can recommend a permanent replacement for Nirorn Than.

Coverage of the unions’ charges of intimidation and incompetence against Pinheiro are covered in other stories in the Express.

The consent agenda is reserved for routine city business, allowing the council to approve all of the items with a single vote. Lewis frequently is the only member of the council to pull items for additional discussion.

In a recent story in The Express, it was explained how the city has been spending millions of dollars through the consent agenda – including expanding an existing paving contract by more than $1 million through three change-orders to start two separate paving projects. Normally, such a large project would be put out for competitive bids.

Lewis explained the only way to make sure residents understand how the city is spending taxpayer money is to force discussion in open meetings.

“If no one pulls anything off,” Lewis said, “then it’s just going to be approved without question.”

When that happens, she added, “There is no redress for you, as citizens, to ask questions about how your money is being spent.”

During her councilmember report at the end of the meeting, Lewis said she often feels shut out of discussions on city matters: “I want you to know why I have to operate the way I do,” she said. “I’m entitled to receive the same information everybody else up here receives.”

Mayor Paul Llanez dismissed her concerns, saying he had “never heard anything (about) any staff member not being allowed to talk to any elected official,” adding she could call city staff with questions once the agenda is posted 72 hours in advance of the meetings.

But reporting by The Westside Express quoted sources within city hall confirming that Lewis’ requests for information are ignored due to specific orders from Pinheiro.

Lewis also dove into the city’s $200,000 contract with Precision Engineering to provide an interim city engineer/public works director. She demanded to know the terms of the contract, including its length of service.

She later brought up another “interim” – Brent Kuhn. He has been interim finance director for the past 13 months. In that time, Lewis pointed out, Kuhn has been paid $344,096.

“For someone who is here six days a month, that’s a lot of money,” said Lewis. 

Earlier, Jacob Green & Associates was chosen from among five companies to provide a list of possible replacements for Than, the current city engineer who has submitted his resignation effective Nov. 3. For its bid of $73,800, the firm also will recruit an assistant public works director and public works operations manager.

Lewis was concerned that the current posting for an assistant public works director did not require the successful applicant to have an engineering degree. “I would like for this city’s assistant public works director to be prepared to move up if needed,” she said. 

OTHER BUSINESS: Synagro Inc. was awarded a $1,997,902 contract to clean out waste buildup at the city’s water treatment plant. With another wet winter being forecast, the contract was let on an emergency basis. Synargo was the only bidder. Council member Kenneth Lambert said, “This is stuff that needed to be done several years ago, and we are now getting around to it. … Debra Fisher, administrative clerk II in the Public Works Department, was named Employee of the Month. … Former Mayor Micheal Amabile was appointed to the Measure V Citizens Oversight Committee. … City Manager Pinheiro thanked city staff members for their work in repainting city buildings…. Mayor Llanez, commenting on a report from Peninsula Clean Energy (PCE), said many PCE customers were misreading their bills confusing discounts as costs. Llanez said the CARES program allows PCE customers to get 20 percent off their bills.

Javier Powell