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Mayor Pushes for Ethics Code After Name of City Manager Finalist Leaked

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By Jorge Casuso

June 4, 2021 -- The City Council on Tuesday will consider whether to adopt a "Code of Conduct and Ethics" after confidential information was leaked during the closed-door search for a new City Manager.

According to the item placed on the agenda by Mayor Sue Himmelrich, "the current Code of Ethics for city employees does not clearly apply to council members and contains no enforcement provisions."

Himmelrich said she was prompted to introduce the item after the name of a leading finalist, Montebello City Manager Rene Bobadilla, was publicly revealed ("Council Expected to Hire Montebello City Manager," June 1, 2021).

Jones of the Bay

"It was very clear to me that the confidentiality of our closed session had not been maintained," Himmelrich said. "There's been little respect for these processes.

"We need the rules to be very clear, and we need to have a way of enforcing the rules," Himmelrich said.

Enforcement could include everything from referring an official's conduct to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) to hiring a consultant to launch an investigation, she said.

Himmelrich's item provides samples of the Code of Ethics and Conduct for the cities of Vallejo, Sunnyvale and Oceanside.

The codes are used to guide the conduct of elected and appointed officials with one another, with City staff, with the public, other public agencies, boards and commissions and with the media.

All three codes address the issue of "confidential information."

The City of Oceanside's code requires officials to "maintain the confidentiality of all written materials and verbal information provided to (them) which is confidential or privileged.

"Members shall neither disclose confidential information without proper legal authorization, nor use such information to advance their personal, financial or other private interests," the code states.

Like most other California cities, Santa Monica strives to maintain complete secrecy when conducting a search for top posts, especially that of city manager.

In the past, only the name of the chosen candidate has been revealed and only when the Council's vote is reported in open session.

But with the current search, Bobadilla's identity was revealed during the public comment section of the May 23 special closed session by Vernon Creswell, a former Motebello fire captain.

Creswell said his testimony was "solely based on rumors that the current City Manager for the City of Montebello" was "in the final running for the position of City Manager for the City of Santa Monica."

After the testimony aired live, the video was not linked on the City's video archive. It was not linked as late as Tuesday night, when the Lookout checked before posting the story.

Rumors of the missing video fueled speculation in local political circles that Bobadilla could be Santa Monica's next City Manager.

The Council will hold a special closed session meeting Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. to consider hiring a permanent City Manager.

According to the agenda, the Council also could consider hiring an Interim City Manager "to address any timing contingencies."

The two items also appear on the closed session agenda for Tuesday's meeting.

Himmelrich's request that the City adopt a "Code of Conduct and Ethics" was the second time she makes the request since joining the Council in 2014.

In July 2015, she and then Mayor Kevin McKeown placed a similar item on the agenda directing staff to come back with proposals for a “a comprehensive City of Santa Monica ethics code."

Although it was approved 6 to 0, a code was never adopted ("Council Wants Santa Monica Government Ethics Code," July 20, 2015).

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