The City Council decided last week that its aggressive, pro-development city manager had outlived his era after 18 years at the helm.
The council voted Wednesday to replace Gaylord F. Knapp, who became city manager when much of Cerritos was still dairy fields.
The ouster came during a private, late-night session between Knapp and the council. His dismissal was announced Thursday morning when Assistant City Manager Art Gallucci assembled city employees and gave them the news.
At the Wednesday meeting, council members reportedly told Knapp, 48, that he was being suspended immediately, pending a formal notice. He did not return to City Hall on Thursday morning, and could not be reached for comment. The council named Gallucci, 49, interim city manager.
The change was approved unanimously by four council members at the meeting. Knapp's longtime ally and biggest defender, Councilman Daniel Wong, was absent. He is on a trip to China.
A press release issued by the council Thursday afternoon seemed to sum up much of the conflict that has been building over the past year between Knapp and the elected officials. He began to clash more openly and more frequently with them after two newcomers, John Crawley and Sherman Kappe, joined the council last April.
The council statement praised Knapp's skills as a city planner, describing him as a manager who could deal "firmly" with developers. However, it also added: "The city will soon be exiting its large-scale development phase and there will be a renewed emphasis to meet the service requirements of our residents and to maintain a healthy business environment.
"It was the feeling of the City Council that Cerritos will be better served by a new city manager with a reorganized set of priorities," the statement said.
Council members declined to discuss at length why Knapp was ousted. However, they insisted that his departure resulted from a policy clash.
"He's a fine planner. He's a fine administrator," said Mayor Ann B. Joynt. "He will be wonderful in another city. We don't have any hidden incidents. They are just not there. It's exactly what we said in the statement. It's the '90s and we feel the city needs some new leadership."
Joynt and Kappe were prepared to oust Knapp last summer, but Councilmen Crawley and Paul W. Bowlen did not feel the same way. Instead, the council made two changes in Knapp's contract that hinted he might be in danger of losing the majority's support. It raised his severance pay and allowed him to explore other job possibilities.
Knapp's termination Wednesday night reportedly came when the council was reviewing his job-performance evaluation.
Crawley said Thursday that the decision to replace Knapp "was based on, for lack of a better word, a different agenda, different sets of priorities. . . . He would be an excellent city manager for a new city because his expertise is in planning and development, and he'll give those cities what they want."
Bowlen declined to comment except to say that he "concurred" with Crawley's observations.
Kappe could not be reached for comment. He left Thursday for a National League of Cities Conference in Washington.
Council members said they had made no plans yet on how they would choose a replacement for Knapp.
The city manager earned about $101,000 a year. He became manager at the age of 30, only a year after he went to work for Cerritos as its environmental affairs director. Before that, he was assistant planning director for La Mesa in San Diego County.
During his tenure in Cerritos, Knapp presided over the evolution of one of the healthiest cities, financially, in the state. In making broad use of state redevelopment laws, he was able to lure large commercial developers to the city. Cerritos is one of the few municipalities that can continually boast of a surplus in its treasury--$20 million this year.
But as the city developed, the population aged. And elected officials have become more interested in services beyond just parks and well-maintained streets. The council recently decided to build the city's first senior citizen center, and in the past year said it wants to put more emphasis on maintaining existing commercial areas rather than attracting new developers.
Some council members worried openly that the Los Cerritos Shopping Center was losing some of its competitive edge to newer centers in other cities. But Knapp concentrated on trying to bring in an upscale shopping center to the Towne Center redevelopment area, rather than on improving Los Cerritos. A consultant's report agreed with the council, concluding that an upscale center would only draw shoppers away from Los Cerritos.
When the council started talking last year about putting a YMCA in the Towne Center, Knapp vigorously opposed it, arguing that potentially valuable land should not be used for a nonprofit organization.
Some council members also said they want the city to begin exploring ways to use some of its redevelopment profits for low- and moderate-income housing, an idea that was put off under Knapp's leadership.