Council Accepts Murray's Resignation, Will Pay About $76,000

Times Staff Writer

The San Diego City Council on Monday formally accepted the resignation of City Manager Sylvester Murray and agreed to give him nine months' severance pay--more than $76,000.

With Murray nowhere to be seen in City Hall, the council voted, 8-0, to accept his resignation and end more than 13 months of turbulent relations between San Diego's first black city manager and its increasingly assertive elected officials.

Joining the vote was Councilman William Jones, who represents the predominantly minority 4th District and who was openly critical of his colleagues' decision to oust Murray. Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer was absent because of Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day.

The task of running the day-to-day operation of city government now falls on an interim basis to Assistant City Manager John Lockwood, considered by Mayor Maureen O'Connor and others to be a leading candidate to succeed Murray.

Council members are scheduled to meet in closed session this morning to discuss the possible selection of Lockwood, 55, a San Diego native who has worked his way up through the ranks of city government over 30 years, O'Connor said.

Monday's action by the council was quick and lacking the kind of emotion that marked Murray's exit last week, when the City Council voted, 7-1, in closed session to ask for his resignation.

A news leak pierced the veil of secrecy surrounding the vote, ruining the council's plan to give Murray three months to quietly look for other employment before paying him six months' severence pay. Murray tendered his resignation immediately.

The only resistance to the council's action Monday came from David Begin, who said he was representing Opportunities Unlimited, a coalition of community groups and individuals. Begin handed over petitions bearing 650 signatures showing "concern and displeasure" over the way Murray was treated.

O'Connor, who previously characterized the differences between Murray and the council as a matter of style, declined Monday to elaborate on why Murray was let go.

"He's in the unfortunate position now of having to look for work, so what we say could be misconstrued and have a damaging effect on his right to seek employment," O'Connor said. "I'm not going to do anything to affect that."

Murray was hired July 23, 1985, by the City Council after a nationwide search for someone to replace Ray Blair, who left the city manager's post for health reasons. Hailed as an excellent choice, Murray's salary was increased from the $85,000 he received as Cincinnati's top administrator to $102,000 a year.

Then-Mayor Roger Hedgecock praised Murray at the time as a "professional, dedicated human being" who was the "cream of the crop" among city managers throughout the country.

"Nothing will happen to him in San Diego that will be new to him," Hedgecock said.

He was wrong.

Within months, Murray's outspoken style clashed with council members, who, through Blair, had become accustomed to a city manager with a low profile. Ever jealous of their constituencies, council members became concerned with Murray's speeches and meetings with community groups. His private disdain for working with council aides rankled other officials.

The simmering ill will flared into the open when The Times published an interview with Murray in June. In it, the city manager remarked on the lack of outrage from the local black community over revelations of police conduct in the Sagon Penn murder trial. He also said that he had an "orgasm" being boss of police.

The comments prompted irate residents to deluge the council with telephone calls complaining about the comments and demanding that Murray be fired. The council, in turn, took the city manager behind closed doors for a reprimand.

The warning wasn't enough, though, and council members continued to stockpile their dissatisfaction with Murray, leading to last week's vote.

Murray on Monday did not show up at his City Hall office, and his secretary said he had cleaned out his desk last week. He declined requests for interviews.

His assistant and friend, George Penn, said Murray is "leaving all of his options open" for future jobs.

"He's gotten a multitude of calls from all over the country from friends and associates who are concerned about him and what he'll do next," said Penn, whom Murray brought from Cincinnati. "He will not be lacking for employment."

The man who made the motion Monday to accept Murray's resignation is likely to be the next to leave city government--Councilman Uvaldo Martinez, who is scheduled to resign next month immediately before sentencing on two counts of misappropriating public funds.

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