|Richmond's Top Exec
Ousted By City Council
November 20, 1997
WEST COUNTY TIMES
* FIVE MEMBERS VOTE IN POST-MIDNIGHT, CLOSED SESSION NOT TO RENEW POPULAR CITY MANAGER'S CONTRACT IN JANUARY
Thursday, November 20,
RICHMOND In a tense meeting, the City Council voted Wednesday to force out City Manager Floyd Johnson, Richmond's top administrator, after months of accusations that he does not respond quickly to council members' directions.
The divided vote not to renew Johnson's $123,165-per-year contract when it expires Jan. 9 apparently will set in motion a national search to replace the 50-year-old executive and Carriage Hills resident.
Some city employees, the largest municipal union and the Richmond branch president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People praised Johnson on Wednesday, expressing anger and sadness about the council's decision. The NAACP was to meet Wednesday evening to discuss a resolution encouraging the council to reconsider its rejection of the black executive.
Johnson, who was told about the decision at 2 a.m. Wednesday by City Clerk Eula Barnes and Mayor Rosemary Corbin, said little publicly.
"In light of the manner in which the council's decision was made, and the fact that nothing has been stated to me in any official terms I don't think this is the time to comment on my obituary, if you will," he said from his office at City Hall.
Some of the five council members who voted to end Johnson's four-year Richmond tenure defended their decision after the vote.
"I don't think this city of Richmond can take another four years of Floyd at the helm," said Councilwoman Donna Powers, alleging that Johnson has moved too slowly on an alarm system to warn city residents of industrial accidents.
Council members Richard Griffin, Nat Bates, Alex Evans and Tom Butt also voted against Johnson. They also appointed Bates, Evans and Griffin to negotiate with Johnson over whether he'll remain on the job for the 50 days left on his contract.
The reasons for the five members' lack of confidence were not clear Wednesday.
Bates, Griffin and Butt declined to comment after the meeting. On Wednesday afternoon, Butt, who angered Corbin by voting against Johnson, said the vote was "too fresh" for discussion. Bates and Griffin could not be reached for comment.
Evans, who immediately after the vote accused Johnson of harming city finances, said later that acting City Attorney William Bonnell advised council members not to discuss their reasons for the vote.
The most recent criticism of Johnson came from council members angry about his proposal to refinance city bonds to pay for a new radio-dispatch system and seismic retrofitting of city buildings.
The City Council unanimously supported the idea. But some members were angry that Johnson had not suggested the refinancing before the council voted to support a new tax for the same expenses. Voters resoundingly defeated the tax, called Measure H, on Nov. 4.
The decision on Johnson's contract caught some people by surprise. It was listed on the council agenda simply as a performance evaluation, leading Corbin and Councilwoman Lesa McIntosh to question whether the contract decision was legal.
Announcement of the vote came with only one observer left in the council audience. Breaking up from a long open meeting at 12:50 a.m., members went into a windowless, basement room in City Hall. Closing the door to the public, the council debated for an hour before voting.
The debate and decision was clearly agony for some members. Corbin's face was ashen as she entered her office after the vote to telephone Johnson, who was excluded from the debate. McIntosh said she could not sleep as adrenaline coursed through her body. Even Butt, who reportedly wrote a formal resolution to dismiss Johnson, called the meeting "very unpleasant."
The next step comes Friday, when the council will meet in special session to consider the resolution Butt reportedly wrote.
It calls for an interim city manager who will be barred from application for the permanent position. It would also forbid any applicant from informally contacting city lobbyists, businesses or council members during the selection process. The NAACP may present an alternative resolution at the Friday meeting, according to Barnes.
On Wednesday, many people praised Johnson, who has 16 years' experience in municipal administration and previously administered Broward County, Fla., which has 1.2 million residents. His supporters said he energized city employees and oversaw the city during a period when crime and unemployment have dropped and many new businesses have opened.
"Part of what he does is make us feel good about the work we're doing. And that's not easy in this day and age," said one middle manager for the city who asked not to be named. "He constantly reminds us that we are working for the people of the city of Richmond."
Jet Chapman, who negotiates contracts for the 570 city employees who are members of Service Employees International Union Local 790, praised Johnson's fairness and said the union is "definitely not happy" with the council's action.
Council members McIntosh and John Marquez praised Johnson's selection of highly regarded department heads, such as Police Chief Bill Lansdowne and Port Director Ron Kennedy. They argued he has dramatically improved the city's public housing, which was in danger of a federal takeover.
Johnson's downfall, said Marquez, was his relationship with council members rather than his ability to do his job.
"Some people just wanted to get him to jump when they pulled the string. I think he is just not that kind of person," Marquez said.
"When people said I want to you do that,' he wouldn't respond. He would look around and see if five (council members, a majority) were nodding their heads. I think that's what annoyed some people, that he did not respond to their (individual) demands," Marquez said.
Occupation: Richmond city manager since January 1994, overseeing day-to-day operations of city government.
Education: B.A. in political science, Hampton (Va.) Institute, 1969. M.A. in urban studies, Occidental College, Los Angeles, 1976.
Home: Carriage Hills.
Background: Native of Richmond, Va. Born Aug. 10, 1947. Former Marine Corps captain; winner of a Yale University National Urban Fellowship; county administrator in Broward County, Fla. (county seat: Fort Lauderdale); state of Florida Health and Rehabilitative Services district administrator; vice president with two private firms.
December 1993: Hired despite criticism that a visit to Richmond was arranged by controversial fire department lobbyist Darrell Reese. Johnson won contract for $115,000 annually, with five weeks vacation, up to $6,000 in housing assistance, plus a low-interest housing loan.
May 1994: Johnson hired William Lansdowne as police chief. Lansdowne was later credited with helping to dramatically reduce violent crime, particularly homicides.
March 1995: City Council votes to renew Johnson's contract for three years and raise his salary 2 percent.
December 1995: Johnson hired Alford Nero as fire chief. Nero was criticized by firefighters union, but praised by some council members for working to change work rules and trim weeds in high-fire-danger areas.
March 1996: City Council raises Johnson's salary to $123,165, plus $7,500 in deferred compensation for his retirement plan.
June 1996: Johnson successfully recommends the City Council not put a $62 million bond measure on the ballot to support recreational and other capital improvements.
December 1996: Johnson reorganizes city administration in the wake of nepotism charges against Deputy City Manager Henry Tingle.
October 1997: Richmond Housing Authority, under new management following an April 1995 fatal shooting of two people by a former employee, is taken off the federal list of "troubled" public-housing agencies.
November: Johnson successfully proposes reorganization of city bonds to pay for $12.2 million in seismic retrofitting of city buildings and a new radio-dispatch system
Nov. 19: The City Council votes 5-4 not to renew Johnson's contract.