What does criticism of city manager even mean?

Last week, I talked about big changes in Costa Mesa's leadership with Mayor Katrina Foley steering the City Council majority in the opposite direction of the past several years.

This week it looks like Newport Beach is discussing leadership issues as "Team Newport" mulls 2017.

Newly elected Councilman Jeff Herdman tells me some members of the majority voting bloc are at least somewhat critical of City Manager Dave Kiff.

Herdman says he met with Councilmen Marshall Duffield and Scott Peotter shortly after he won election in November.

"They both expressed their dissatisfaction with Dave," Herdman says.

What dissatisfaction means here is unclear. Herdman didn't offer me specifics.

Nevertheless, Herdman, who is not on Team Newport, is definitely on Team Kiff, calling him a "top-notch city manager."

"The city would be at a great loss without him at the helm," Herdman says.

I agree. So I reached out to Duffield and Peotter and asked them what was going on.

I heard back from Peotter, who says, "Dave Kiff is still the city manager, and as Dave would say himself, as long as he is doing a good job, I suspect that he will remain the city manager."

I called Kiff as well.

He says he hasn't been approached by anyone on the council to leave.

That makes sense. Kiff is a highly popular city manager and well-respected. In fact, at last year's mayor's dinner, when dignitaries were being introduced, Kiff received louder applause than anyone else.

Former Councilman Keith Curry found him to be an "outstanding city manager."

If Kiff were to leave, Curry says, the departure could cause "our best department heads to leave" as well.

That's a potentially big problem. I don't think it would be good for the city or Team Newport to replace Kiff until he's ready to retire.

This isn't the first time I've heard tongues wagging about some members of Team Newport's issues with city administration since they took over the council in 2014.

And let's face it: Kiff hasn't had the easiest time with at least some in this group, particularly the 2015 brouhaha over Peotter's anti-gay marriage email blast.

Through that whole controversy I never heard Kiff, who is openly gay and married, complain or show anything but professionalism.

I am not sure how all of this will affect the voting bloc. Team Newport, which also includes Mayor Kevin Muldoon and Councilwoman Diane Dixon, is up for reelection in 2018.

My bet is they leave Kiff alone. Considering this group's waning popularity among Museum House opponents (the Team Newport members all voted in favor of the proposed condominium tower), taking on Kiff could be a nail in the proverbial political coffin.

And from what I'm hearing, some impressive names in town are already exploring starting council campaigns this year with the goal of winning the majority from Team Newport in 2018.

One is Mike Toerge, who ran against Peotter in 2014 and lost by 872 votes. He filed a Form 410 (Statement of Organization Recipient Committee) for Mike Toerge for City Council 2018, according to the city's website.

---------------------------------------

FOR THE RECORD

A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that Mike Toerge lost to Scott Peotter in 2014 by 410 votes. Toerge lost to Peotter in 2014 by 872 votes.

---------------------------------------

Toerge tells me he's remained involved behind the scenes in city issues and after his loss filed papers in March 2015 anticipating a 2018 run.

He says his Corona del Mar-area district hasn't been well-served by Peotter and thinks residents "deserve better."

"Every time we are faced with a hard decision, we need to look at the validity of the opposition's argument with respect, instead of calling people whiners and belittling them," Toerge says.

Toerge has a long history in Corona del Mar, serving on the residents association there for 20 years, two as president. He also served for 11 years on Newport's Planning Commission.

But there are those who feel that if Toerge had opposed Measure Y in 2014, he would have garnered the votes needed to beat Peotter. Some of them blame Toerge for Peotter's win.

Are they willing to forgive?

Will Line in the Sand, which pushed Measure Y to defeat, turn to Toerge in 2018?

He says he signed Line in the Sand's recent petition to bring the Museum House project to a referendum, and he called the antics against the petition effort "despicable."

"We should be supporting democracy," Toerge says. "Over 13,000 people signed the petition. Let them vote."

Even though Peotter hasn't publically stated whether he will seek reelection, it seems Toerge and others are busy planning for 2018.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot
72°