Newport council members Jeff Herdman and Diane Dixon rocked the council chambers April 10 as the city manager saga came to a head.
To recap, the majority of the council wanted Dave Kiff kicked to the curb, though he’d done nothing wrong, his performance reviews were excellent, and he was getting ready to retire mid-2019 after transitioning a new council.
Why the rush to remove Kiff remains a mystery.
Tuesday’s meeting brought the mess to a crescendo as his exit package, $200,000-plus, was approved by unanimous vote, but not before Dixon and Herdman blew the doors off this drama.
Dixon had harsh words for the council majority: Mayor Marshall Duffield, Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill and council members Scott Peotter and Kevin Muldoon.
“They wanted to fire him. They decided to fire him. They fired him. But they didn’t tell anyone,” Dixon alleged.
She chastised Duffield and Will O’Neill for approaching Kiff in February without asking all council members for input, advice or approval “to demand that he retire four months earlier than planned.”
She wasn’t too happy, she asserted, that “they took steps to terminate the contract of the city manager and single-handedly dictated and negotiated the terms of a new contract to end his employment,” again without full council participation.
Then she outlined a timeline of events she said Kiff confirmed for her.
I’m highlighting them here, but I urge readers to watch “Item 12. City Manager Employment Agreement Amendment and Commencement of Process for Recruitment of New City Manager” to get the full powerful statement at newportbeach.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?publish_id=6789bcdc-3d9b-11e8-8cc7-00505691de41.
Dixon, reading from a projected slide, quoted Duffield as saying, in 2015, “‘We have Kiff where we want him. We want to get rid of him.’”
She then stated several people in the community reported this comment to Kiff.
Then, in 2016, according to Dixon’s slide, Duffy, in a conversation, said “‘Dave will be fired and given a gold watch and patted on the back and retired.’”
This, according to the slide, was reported to Kiff by mutual friends.
In 2016 and 2017, according to Dixon’s slide, Peotter recommended Mark Denny, assistant city manager of Dana Point, as Kiff’s successor.
Readers may remember my last column in which Denny denied knowing anything about being considered.
And why would anyone even think he was an appropriate replacement?
In 1996 Denny entered a guilty plea for misdemeanor election fraud.
And as county CEO, controversy swirled about “the granting of nearly $1 million in questionable contracts inside the OC Parks Department he formerly ran,” according to the Voice of OC.
But getting back to Dixon’s timeline:
On Feb. 12, according to her slide, Duffield and O’Neill met with Kiff.
O’Neill, according to Dixon’s slide, told Kiff: “We want to talk some serious business with you about speeding up your retirement.’”
Kiff, according to Dixon, replied: “`I was planning to retire after the November election, as the timing might allow for better candidates to apply.’”
“‘That makes sense,’” Duffy said, according to the slide.
“‘No. That’s not going to work,’” O’Neill said, according to Dixon’s presentation. “‘We want this change during summertime. We will make sure you are whole. We will have time to celebrate your career.’”
Dixon received thunderous applause and a standing ovation. Interestingly no council members challenged her information.
Next Herdman raised concerns about the upcoming city manager search process in regards to public transparency and about the city charter revisions made by the ad-hoc council committee appointed by then-Mayor Muldoon.
Changes here, Herdman said, intentionally paved the way for Kiff’s removal “without any explanation to the entire council or the public.”
And Herdman said that when it came to Kiff’s “termination package of over $200,000 of taxpayer money, “I thought about how Peotter, Muldoon, O’Neill and Duffield all ran on fiscally conservative platforms.”
Yet they’re OK spending this kind of dough to get rid of Kiff months before he was going to retire anyway?
“Looking to the future, I hope that the result of this sad chapter in our city’s history will result in a new majority on the council that will return transparency to our city government, respect to our citizens and restore the mutual bonds of trust that must exist in a representative form of government,” Dixon said.
After Tuesday night, Dixon emerged Newport’s newest power player on the 2018 political chessboard.
Not only is she unopposed in her re-election bid, she’s raised enough funds to support candidates opposing Peotter, Muldoon and Duffield in 2018 — if she wishes. And that’s a big if since she is a member of their “Team Newport” bloc.
The actions in this Kiff debacle have obviously angered Dixon. And hell hath no fury like a politician scorned.
BARBARA VENEZIA is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at email@example.com