Riverside fires its city manager, whose contract was the subject of a lawsuit filed by the mayor

RIVERSIDE, CA - MARCH 22, 2018: Riverside City Manager John Russo is at odds with Mayor Rusty Bailey
Riverside City Manager John Russo, who was at odds with Mayor Rusty Bailey over his contract, was fired this week.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Riverside City Council has abruptly voted to fire City Manager John Russo, whose pay had drawn scrutiny in recent weeks and led to the mayor’s filing a lawsuit against the city.

The council in February had approved a contract with Russo making him one of the highest-paid city managers in California. Mayor Rusty Bailey, who argued the contract was excessive, tried to veto it, only to be told he did not have that power.

Bailey filed suit against the city in March. The suit is pending in Riverside County Superior Court.

On Tuesday evening, the council gathered in closed session to discuss Russo’s performance evaluation. When they emerged from the session, Councilman Jim Perry announced that the council had voted 4 to 3 to fire Russo. Bailey was not at the meeting.


“We thank Mr. Russo for his work, and we wish him well in the future,” Perry said.

The city has not given a reason for the firing, and Perry on Wednesday declined to discuss the matter further, saying it was a personnel matter.

The firing was first reported by the Press-Enterprise.

Russo was widely acknowledged to have done positive things in Riverside.


He was credited with helping secure the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture and Industry for downtown, which is scheduled to open in 2020. And he helped lead the city’s efforts to land the California Air Resources Board’s $419-million headquarters and testing laboratory, which broke ground late last year.

But his new contract — which came about three years into his tenure — was approved as Russo was asking all city department heads to find ways to cut their budgets.

The contract entitled Russo to receive pay and other benefits worth about $471,000 this year and a $675,000 low-interest home loan.

In a statement provided by the city, Russo said he “loved working with the great team at the city of Riverside.”

“We got a lot done, and there’s much more that will be happening as a result of our efforts. As a proud resident, I am looking forward to Riverside’s future,” Russo said.

For more Inland Empire news follow me @palomaesquivel

Get our Essential California newsletter