Column: Newport Beach council majority doesn’t realize what it has in City Manager Dave Kiff

Newport Beach council members Jeff Herdman and Diane Dixon met with City Manager Dave Kiff Monday morning after a weekend of speculation about Kiff’s unexpected announcement that he plans to retire.

Kiff confirmed the meeting, saying he explained some of the processes to Dixon and Herdman and that he is ready to move on after 20 years with the city, nine as city manager.

But Herdman contends certain council members put undue pressure on Kiff to speed up his departure before his contract ends next year.

And that this wouldn’t have occurred if those who want to see Kiff go didn’t have support of a majority of the council.

What troubles Herdman is council members who would have spoken to Kiff about leaving did so without prior authorization from the council as a whole.

Herdman plans on bringing this up at Tuesday’s council meeting, and I’m sure there will be differing opinions as members hash this out.

Getting rid of Kiff isn’t new news. In January 2017 I wrote about how Herdman, then recently elected, met with Councilmen Marshall “Duffy” Duffield and Scott Peotter. Kiff came up in the conversation.

“They both expressed their dissatisfaction with Dave,” Herdman said, though he wouldn’t get into specifics.

When that column ran, and word got out getting rid of Kiff might be in the wind, reader response was overwhelmingly in Kiff’s corner, as he’s always been a popular and well-respected city manager.

Even though talk of removing Kiff died down, the underlying feeling that he needed to go by some on the council remained, apparently heating up recently, according to Herdman.

All weekend long my phone was blowing up about Kiff being allegedly forced to retire before the end of his contract. Several former mayors weighed in.

Rush Hill calls Kiff a “qualified city manager” and the idea of removing him “immoral and just plain stupid.”

Former Mayor Keith Curry says hiring Kiff as city manager was the best decision made during his 11 years on council.

“We would not have the financial stability we have today if not for Dave,” he says. “He managed the city through one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression.”

Former Mayor Ed Selich tells me Kiff is one of the best city managers he’s ever worked with and feels there will be a mass exodus of seasoned city staffers once Kiff leaves.

On Sunday evening I received the official city press release about Kiff’s Tuesday retirement announcement, stating he would leave by end of 2018.

I found the timing odd.

Why rush a statement out on a Sunday?

Did city staff have to be called into work on the weekend to produce this press release?

Couldn’t this wait until Monday?

Or after Kiff made a formal announcement at the Tuesday meeting?

There’s a lot here that just doesn’t add up.

Kiff tells me he was planning to retire mid-2019 so he could transition council members after the November election.

And that seemed like good reasoning.

So why fast forward to retire if he wasn’t being pressured behind the scenes, as Herdman alleges?

Let’s look at the political chessboard.

I don’t believe council members would threaten to fire Kiff if he didn’t retire early. It’s an election year and the optics would be disastrous for reelection campaigns.

I do believe they could make the guy’s life miserable if he stayed.

I feel Team Newport is looking for a more amenable city manager for its political agenda.

Are the powers that be that support Team Newport members for re-election looking to further their reach into City Hall?

Now, if some are not reelected, the dynamic of the council changes. I would imagine a new council’s criteria for hiring Kiff’s replacement would differ from those there now.

And if the current council hires a new city manager more along the lines of their political ideology, what could that mean for residents?

Residents should be questioning how this scenario tilts the balance of reasoning as city provides recommendations to council for its decisions.

It’s no secret Kiff hasn’t always seen eye to eye with the majority on this council.

I get that Kiff has put up with a lot since Team Newport came into power in 2014, and he’s probably at the end of his rope.

Remember that whole anti-gay marriage rant of Peotter’s that caused quite a controversy in July 2015?

At the time Kiff put out a statement:

“As the city manager, who happens to be a married gay person, I will continue to administer the city’s detailed personnel policies and rules in a manner compliant with state and federal law.”

He took the high road.

I can’t imagine how he’s kept on working in a position where he knew basically one of his bosses opposes what he stands for.

The circumstances surrounding Kiff announcing his retirement this week leaves many unanswered questions, which will certainly linger far into this election season.

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