Column: Newport Beach city manager should stay on the job as long as he wants

Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff
(Courtesy of city of Newport Beach)

The only thing missing were the pitchforks and torches as angry Newport Beach residents stepped to the podium in public comments at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Residents praised their beloved city manager, Dave Kiff, begging him to stay and not take early retirement in one breath and chastising council members Scott Peotter, Will O’Neill and Kevin Muldoon and Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield in the next. Speakers claimed those men played a behind-the-scenes role in Kiff’s premature departure.

At the heart of many comments were the same issues I raised Monday regarding the allegations of how some council members pressured Kiff into announcing his early adios in a news release Sunday night.

Kiff originally had planned to retire in mid-2019 after this fall’s council elections, as he wanted to transition new council members before he stepped away.

My column questioned the rush of the news release, the circumstances leading to Kiff’s decision and whose agendas may benefit from his early retirement.

I wasn’t the only one who thought something wasn’t adding up, which was apparent Tuesday night.

I’m not going to go into the rudeness Muldoon exhibited from the dais to former state Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer as she made her strong feelings known on the subject.

Or how former Mayor Nancy Gardner’s emotions overtook her and she abruptly left the podium.

Or how eloquently former Mayor Mike Henn skewered council members with his biting comments.

Watch the video for yourself here.

Kiff prepared a statement he was going to read at the end of the council meeting, announcing his early departure. That didn’t happen.

So in reality, firming up his retirement timeline is still open.

I figure he has few options.

He could just quit, leaving city staff and government in chaos, but I don’t see that fitting his strong moral compass.

So that leaves him either retiring before the end of the year, as the news release states, or sticking to his original timeline and leaving in mid-2019.

In light of the community sentiment in Kiff’s favor expressed Tuesday night, any council member who would even think about trying to make Kiff’s life miserable would be crazy to do so.

Personally, I’d like to see him take his original road because Kiff’s pathway to retirement has been handled so poorly by city officials that someone needs to hit the brakes here.

There needs to be a clearer exit strategy that ensures optimum results for residents and a smooth transition for city government — minus any personal agendas.

And since the council never took a formal vote directing members to have discussions with Kiff about his employment situation, and there was nothing on the agenda Tuesday night to deal with Kiff leaving, council members haven’t yet talked about any of this formally in an open meeting.

They will soon.

“The mayor has asked to have a sixth amended and restated employment agreement for Mr. Kiff placed on the agenda for the next City Council meeting,” City Attorney Aaron Harp tells me. “This was reflected on the tentative agenda distributed prior to last night’s meeting.”

Amend his agreement in two weeks?

Councilman Jeff Herdman, who strongly supports Kiff, said that without prior council authority to even start talking about Kiff’s contract, how could he even be asked to vote on an amended contract?

The whole thing is a mess.

I believe council members Diane Dixon, Brad Avery and Herdman were kept out of the loop regarding Kiff’s early retirement.

And I believe Duffield, Peotter and O’Neill want Kiff gone to satisfy their agendas.

I’m convinced something went on here, and maybe we need to rephrase the question since everyone on the council seems to be denying there was an unauthorized “meeting” with Kiff and certain council members were urging his early exit.

On Wednesday, I asked Peotter, Duffield, Muldoon and O’Neill whether at any time they’d had individual conversations or sent emails to Kiff asking or suggesting that he retire early.

As of deadline — no word back. I’m not holding my breath.

Moving forward, I feel the poor handling of the Kiff situation will affect this year’s re-election campaigns of Muldoon, Duffield and Peotter.

Politics is all about optics, and based on what I saw Tuesday night, the public has lost trust in those officials, with some calling them an embarrassment to the city.

It’s tough to come back from something like this.

Maybe Kiff won’t be the only guy leaving City Hall before January.

BARBARA VENEZIA is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at