Newport Beach City Council denies accusations of effort to force city manager to retire before his contract ends

Newport Beach residents lined up Tuesday to praise longtime City Manager Dave Kiff on the heels of his retirement announcement — and, in many cases, also excoriate the City Council with accusations that a faction had secretly worked to force out Kiff sooner than he would have liked.

Kiff, who announced his impending departure on Sunday after 20 years with the city, and nine as its top administrator, started Tuesday’s City Council meeting by saying the council would likely discuss amending his contract at its April 10 meeting.

He plans to leave toward the end of the year. He noted in his weekend announcement that he first mentioned to the City Council more than a year ago he intended to eventually step down and move to Northern California to be closer to his family, and that he and the council have repeatedly denied accusations of a cabal forming to push him out.

Kiff’s departure was not on Tuesday’s agenda, limiting how much the council could discuss the next steps.

Residents, including former mayors, however, took to the public comment period to share their support for Kiff and criticism of the City Council.

Former Mayor Mike Henn told Kiff, as he sat in his usual place at a table to the council’s side, that one of “the foremost blessings of my life (was) the opportunity to work with you for the betterment of the city of Newport Beach.”

And he said during his eight years on council, from 2006 to 2014, that no “rogue” council members ever skirted due process or authority.

“This action, if true, is a terrible affront and is deeply disrespectful to fellow council members and to the voters who elected them,” he said.

Henn said Councilmen Scott Peotter and Kevin Muldoon, Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill and Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield owed residents explanations.

He said Duffield must ensure due process and proper treatment of colleagues and must have known that alleged machinations were afoot.

“How could you be so feckless as to stand by and allow this disrespectful and insulting action to occur?” Henn said. “Or worse yet, did you encourage it?”

Joy Brenner, who is running for council this fall and was a leader in the unsuccessful effort to recall Peotter, said she regrets that she didn’t do more to remove him because she’s convinced Kiff wouldn’t have resigned early if Peotter was recalled.

“I don’t think you understand how much this community respects Dave Kiff,” Brenner said. “If I were in one of those seats this would not be happening because a majority of us would be giving Dave every acknowledgment and appreciation for the work he’s done for us.”

Former Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer flatly accused Peotter, Muldoon, O’Neill and Duffield of violating open meetings laws

“It’s not time for Dave Kiff to go,” she said, calling Kiff one of Orange County’s finest public servants. “It’s time for the four of you to go. You have embarrassed yourself, and you have disgraced one of Orange County’s finest cities. I call upon you, based on your recent behavior, to step down from the office you hold and save this city from further embarrassment.”

O’Neill broke in to address Kiff, who had been silent until then. “Mr. Kiff, did any such meeting …”

“Oh, give it up,” Brewer said over him.

“… that she just referenced,” O’Neill continued, as the audience murmured and jeered. “Did … — Hang on. If you believe Mr. Kiff to be truthful, let me ask the question — did any such meeting ever happen that she just described?”

“No,” Kiff replied.

Muldoon said many accounts of Kiff’s situation circulating around town are untrue, including allegations from speakers that members of the council violated the state’s opening meeting law, the Brown Act.

“You come here and make many statements that are unfounded, and you do it in a very disrespectful way, and I think it’s inappropriate,” he told Brewer. “As a former elected official I would assume of everyone here you, especially, would know better.”

Muldoon later called the accusations of secret meetings offensive, and asked Kiff if they ever met about ending Kiff’s employment. Kiff again denied it.

Jim Warren, who lives across from City Hall, said Kiff was responsive to neighbors when the at-times controversial complex was being built between 2010 and 2013.

“I’m hearing rumors, but I don’t like it. It’s not class. We’re a first-class city, and I’m not seeing class, and it really, really bugs me,” Warren said. “So let’s get out of the gutter. Treat him right. Treat him first-class. If he wants to retire, let him retire a hero. He’s a hero in this neighborhood. You all are unknowns. You don’t exist. So help us out. Do it right.”

Kiff joined Newport Beach as assistant to the city manager in 1998, according to his city bio. He became the city manager in September 2009, working on water quality, Newport Bay dredging, the annexations of Newport Coast and Santa Ana Heights, the extension of the city’s noise agreement with John Wayne Airport, pension reform and construction of the Civic Center complex and library.

In his weekend announcement, he said he wants a smooth transition and will work with city leadership on key issues before he departs.

Addressing previous public statements on Kiff’s employment, Councilman Jeff Herdman said he had no prior knowledge of a scheme to push Kiff out.

“I want to say for the public record that I was not aware of any effort to oust the city manager, to negotiate an exit or assert there were four votes to accomplish this act by the council majority,” Herdman said.

Former Mayor Evelyn Hart made a measured request for more information.

“We all know that we have to hear all the evidence before we totally make up our minds on something,” Hart said. “So hopefully the City Council, the four people (who) have been accused of very serious things tonight, maybe you can give us a little explanation on some of this. It’d really be appreciated.”

As she stepped away from the microphone she sunnily called out, as if waving farewell from the front porch, “Love you, Dave.”

Twitter: @Daily_PilotHD