Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By ED MERRIMAN

Baker City Herald

The City Council voted 4-2 Friday to offer the city manager job to Tim Johnson.

Johnson, who splits his time between Portland and Sacramento, had been the leading contender for the past month.

Although Johnson has never worked as a city manager, he did serve as assistant to the city manager of San Diego from 1994-98.

Councilor Beverly Calder made the motion to hire Johnson and to

authorize Major Dennis Dorrah to negotiate a contract with Johnson.

Councilors did not set a salary, although they have discussed a range

of $80,000 to $100,000, as well as moving expenses of up to $5,000, and

guaranteed severance pay of three to six months' salary.

Johnson would be the first Baker City manager in at least 25 years to have an employment contract.

He could not be reached for comment in time for this story.

Calder, Dorrah and councilors Clair Button and Aletha Bonebrake voted for the motion to offer the job to Johnson.

Councilors Andrew Bryan and Sam Bass voted no.

Councilor Milo Pope had another commitment and was not able to attend Friday's meeting.

With the exception of Pope's absence, the Council's vote Friday mirrored that from June 9, when the Council voted 4-3 to fire city manager Steve Brocato.

Bryan, Bass and Pope voted against that motion. All three councilors later joined the campaign to recall Calder and Dorrah.

City voters rejected the recall effort by more than 2-to-1 margins in an Oct. 27 election.

Although Pope did not attend Friday's meeting, he did write a letter which interim city manager Tim Collins read excerpts from during the meeting.

Pope, citing the background investigation on Johnson which the city paid for, urged councilors to delay a decision until next week "so that the public may participate."

"We hired Mr. Freeman (who did the background check). . . . He concluded that Baker City should not hire Tim Johnson as City Manager. There is no point in paying for background investigations if the information provided is ignored," Pope wrote.

The city has not made public Freeman's background check.

Pope also compared Johnson's experience with Brocato's.

"Mr. Brocato has extensive managerial experience that Mr. Johnson does not have," Pope wrote. "Baker City employees were nearly unanimously supportive of Mr. Brocato. We have learned that that has not been true of Mr. Johnson."

Calder harshly criticized Collins for reading Pope's letter rather than submitting it to the mayor to be read into the record along with several other letters from former colleagues who think highly of Johnson.

Calder said a summary of Freeman's background report, which councilors discussed during Thursday's executive session "was presented in my opinion in a rather biased way" by focusing too much on comments made by a handful of disgruntled workers at one job, where labor disputes predated Johnson's arrival.

Calder, Bonebrake, Button and Dorrah all said that the majority of information in Freeman's report was complimentary of Johnson, citing his ability to work with others, his economic development prowess and his honesty.

Bonebrake said Pope's complaints in the letter about how the Council proceeded with Brocato's firing were essentially the same as what he has expressed during previous meetings.

"Anything negative that came up in the Freeman report is simply the opinions of a small group of people," Bonebrake said.

Button contends that Pope, Bryan and Bass, along with others who opposed Brocato's firing, have delayed the process of hiring a new city manager.

"I think it is time to move on," Button said. "Johnson has the skills we need. None of us is perfect."

Button said he doubts anyone who attended Friday's meeting could undergo the depth of background check that Johnson did without the investigator finding someone who had something negative to say.

Dorrah read several letters of recommendation submitted to the Council supporting Johnson, including a 1996 letter from Jack McGrory, San Diego city manager, extolling Johnson for his role as an assistant to the city manager in helping the city convert a naval training center that was closing into a business center, as well as his successful efforts that prevented further closings of military installations in San Diego.

He said Johnson "received from my office a variety of tasks and exposed him to a variety of experiences to make him an outstanding candidate for a city management position. Tim is a dedicated, conscientious and enthusiastic manager."

The Yuba (Calif.) City Council passed a proclamation praising Johnson for his work as executive director of the Yuba-Sutter Economic Development Corp. from July 1999 to December 2006.

Johnson led Yuba and Sutter counties with an aggressive economic strategy known as the Blueprint for Success, along with corresponding budget actions that reversed the downward spiraling economy, added 100,000 square feet of commercial and industrial space annually, and supported business expansion and retention activities.

The proclamation also credits Johnson with helping establish a business lending program, along with programs aiding women- and disadvantaged minority-owned businesses.

"Whereas, due to the efforts of Tim Johnson, the Yuba-Sutter Economic Development Corporation has made great strides in improving job growth and economic conditions of the region. Unemployment has fallen from a high of 19.3 percent in March 2000 to 9.8 percent in March 2006. Public-Private investment has climbed nearly $3 billion. Since 2000, nearly 5,000 jobs have been created, and ... whereas the region has been named not once, but twice, as one of the top 10 best places in rural America to do business."

Dorrah read a resolution from the City of Sacramento dated May 3, 1994, crediting Johnson with helping create the city's first economic development agency and formation of its first Economic Development Commission and Economic Development Agenda.

"During his tenure Tim Johnson is also credited with the attraction of over 200 businesses which have created 28,000 jobs, and the retention of nearly 3,000 jobs in Sacramento," according to the resolution.

He is also credited with helping create Sacramento's One-Stop permit programs for businesses.

A May 1985 letter from Mike Rose, former mayor of Bend, said as executive director of B.E.N.D., Inc., Johnson brought a breath of fresh air to the bureaucratic establishment, and his "boundless energy and enthusiasm," and his "positive thinking and creative ideas made a change in the thinking of the oldtimers."

Calder said those letters prove to her that Johnson has the skills, experience and energy be a good city manager.

"He said there won't be a door on his office," Calder said. "He's got a lot of energy, he's got a lot of ideas."

When Dorrah opened the public meeting Friday, Peggi Timm was the only person from the audience who spoke.

Timm said she was disappointed with the lack of information and public involvement prior to the meeting.

Timm said she has heard some negative comments about Johnson's background, although she said the letters Dorrah read allayed some of those concerns.

"It is very difficult to make a comment from the public when we heard very little about him," Timm said.

Timm said she believes the city is struggling economically and politically, and that the city needs help from whomever is hired as city manager.

She also criticized divisiveness among the City Council, saying the "Council needs to be working in concert."

After Timm spoke, Calder made the motion to offer the job to Johnson.

Dorrah called for Council comments on Calder's motion. Bryan said there were several people in the audience who should be allowed to comment.

Bryan said that while he agreed the information contained in the letters read by Dorrah indicated Johnson had a lot of energy and experience in economic development, some of the negative information in the background check raised questions.

"Mr. Johnson does not have the experience to manage a city," Bryan said, especially a city the size of Baker City that is dealing with many complex issues.

While he found Johnson to be very charismatic, Bryan said, "Unfortunately, in my mind, this is not a time to take a risk on someone with Mr. Johnson's liabilities."

Button said that although Johnson has not worked as a city manager, he believes Johnson has the right combination of skills and experience to be a successful city manager.

"My impressions from interviewing him and from reading the entire background report - not just the executive summary - is the people who know him confirmed what I thought I saw," Button said.

Collins said after the vote that the references made to Johnson's background check in Pope's letter, and in comments by Bryan, Bonebrake and others, were generic enough that they did not violate the terms of confidentiality.

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