Jason Pedroza’s guilty plea Aug. 28 to two felony counts of sex crimes with minors ended the legal phase of this strange and painful episode in Walnut Creek’s history, but it seems to have left behind deep wounds--personal and political--in its wake.
In addition to the psychic scars Pedroza’s actions left on his young victims, his behavior set off a chain reaction that eventually led to the resignation of four top-level adminstrators. Though some say the months-long process of investigations is an opportunity to chart a new course, others say it has brought to light some ongoing conflicts between members of the city council and administrative staff that will take time to heal.
Patch asked all five members of the city council to weigh in with their views on this subject.
In the second of this series, councilman Bob Simmons gives his views on the fallout from the Pedroza case. For context, I sent the council members an email which included the following question: “Now that Pedroza has pleaded guilty, he will serve 90 days but City Hall has been left pretty decimated in terms of personnel and morale. What needs to happen to begin to mend the rift on the council and among employees?”
“I do not agree with the characterization of the issue that was in your first email, which directly tied the Pedroza investigation to 'decimation of personnel and morale,’” Simmons said. “Is there an impact on the functioning of an organization because of the resignation/retirement of three high-level people? (ed. note: Simmons wrote this email prior to the resignation of Assistant City Manager Lori Tinfow, who was hired as the city manager of Pacifica this month). Sure. However, there are also some opportunities.”
He said Mayor Cindy Silva and Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson quickly ushered in a “smooth transition” to hire an outside law firm after the resignation of City Attorney Bryan Wenter and Assistant City Attorney Katy Wisinski. Wenter accused Silva and an unnamed council member, presumably Simmons, of trying to interfere in the outside investigation of the handling of the Pedroza case. Both Silva and Simmons dispute Wenter’s accusation.
“It will be interesting to
see whether the City is better served through contract city attorney services
or in-house services,” Simmons said. “Both systems are used successfully by
different cities, and I don't know what the conclusion will be going forward.
As to the other vacancies, I would observe that the personnel decisions
of the city manager have been very good (e.g., CFO, Economic Development
Manager, Police Chief), and that, after a period of transition for the new people
(or promoted people), we will see an improved organization.”
Simmons said that staff morale is probably far more affected by the ongoing contract negotiations with three employee unions.
“If you were to ask the presidents
of those three groups what they thought (1) morale was, and (2), if it is not
positive, what the top 2-3 reasons would be, where do you think the Pedroza
investigation would fit? Assuming there is no suggestion (no references
to anything other than thinking about the issues facing the city), I think you
would hear: (1) status of labor negotiations, (2) being asked to do more work
with fewer people, and (3) lack of a positive financial future and no clear
path to a better situation. If I were a betting person, I would bet you a
glass of wine on that.”
Simmons said the council is facing a challenging year ahead as a long-term financial plan will “probably project deficits through the end of the next decade,” and struggles to balance the budget.
“My impression is that we
have about a $2 million annual deficit in the operating budget, which means
either raising revenue or cutting services and programs,” he said. “However, as
we went through the fiscal sustainability process, there was no decision to cut
services or programs, and I have not observed consensus on a path to increased
revenues. Then, you add that we have an election next year. It will be both an
interesting and a challenging year.”
Even so, Simmons insists that the city “has continued, and will continue, to function at a very high level. When you look at all that has been done in the past twelve months and is scheduled to be done over the next 3-4 months, it is pretty impressive.”