Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Police Chief Steve Frazier, who will become interim city administrator.
Madera Police Chief Steve Frazier, still in uniform, was appointed interim city manager by the Madera City Council at the end of an almost two-hour council meeting Wednesday night.
The appointment comes after weeks of controversy over senior city staff salaries and the unexpected resignation and retirement of longtime city administrator David Tooley on Dec. 16th.
Mayor Andy Medellin said he wanted to thank the city staff for their efforts and support during this time of transition.
“Obviously there has been some uncertainty, and a lot of negative press over the recent retirement of our city administrator, Mr. Tooley. But as we discuss next steps, and the future of Madera ... and these outstanding opportunities (now) before us ... it’s vital we choose our interim city manager wisely and carefully,” Medellin said.
“Personally, I believe there is someone within our organization that can fill this role. Someone that understands our city budget, and the intricacies and complexities of that budget.
Somebody that has excellent leadership qualities, with experience with management and the support of his colleagues, someone who is local ...
“With that ... and there would be further discussion if need be, I would like to make a motion to nominate our current chief of police, Mr. Steve Frazier,” Medellin said.
The nomination of Frazier had been long rumored but appeared to take some City Council members by surprise. After a brief pause, the vote was unanimous. An ad hoc committee was formed for the selection of terms and conditions for a new, permanent city manager.
Its members will be Medellin, and City Council Members Charles Rigby and William Oliver.
The meeting was attended by an overflow crowd of residents, some of them protesting with signs that read “Madera Deserves Better,” and chanting “excessive wages have to go”, and “put Madera before greed,” in the cold, along 4th Street before the meeting started, as some motorists honked and waved in support.
Multiple residents said they felt the council had still not adequately addressed in public the situation with city salaries, instead meeting privately with some residents and not others, and or hiding controversial items on the consent calendar, which allows the items to be passed en mass, typically with little public participation.
Resident Vicki Sloan said she felt the public had not had a say in the decision, and the council had overlooked several better-qualified people that might be a more appropriate choice for interim city manager, and who allowed for significant savings when she asked, “Were there any alternative solutions considered? We do have a retired city manager living here, and the retired county CAO. But it appears ... this current plan (just implemented by council for interim manager) was the only one entertained,” Sloan said.
“Mr. Rigby, did you bother to share any of the information you were given? You were given the perfect solution to provide Madera with a qualified individual who was previously an executive level employee here. He’s willing to take on the challenges of the city administrator for a salary equal to basic expenses, saving the city between $275,000 and $300,000 a year,” Sloan said.
“Mr. Mayor is it your habit to ignore requests when people would like to speak with you?” The person I am referring to tried to contact you ... and this offer would have been given to you personally, had you returned the call,” Sloan said.
Sloan said the council was now facing many things that would require strength and clarity of action, and she wondered further aloud:
“We need to know that you all are ready to do the right thing, and not the easy thing. If you are willing to ignore this savings potential combined with the experience of the person I mentioned earlier and failed to make inquires about alternatives, what other situations needing good decisions would you be willing to ignore? And why?" she asked.
“Without a lot of digging there is an abundance of (public) information available that brings up questions about a lot of decisions (made) by the council, Mr. Tooley, and executive level employees of our good town. Council members, you were elected because people trusted you to make smart, fair, good business decisions — to better our community and the lives of the people that live here. All of us, not just the select few who have been given generous salary adjustments increased benefits, or grandfathered into positions for which they may or may not be qualified,” She said.
“The people of Madera are watching. We are paying attention and waiting to see what you do. We are not going to go away. I can promise that if you continue down the current path I’ll take that information and sing like a bird...
“And lastly if the actions dictate that the good people learn more about the things that have been done, or allowed to be done, getting the signatures for a recall shouldn’t be too difficult. Don’t make us go down that ugly path. Do the right thing. Don’t let me down.” Sloan demanded, as many residents applauded her comments.
The mayor, most city council members and senior city officials have repeatedly refused to speak on the record, answer questions or be interviewed by print or television news media.
Joanne Torres and others also spoke up and implored the council to do the right thing now, put Madera (residents) first and spend tax dollars on services not city salaries.
Medellin and Rigby took time at the end of the meeting to praise former Tooley and thank him for his reportedly long list of accomplishments in Madera, and claim recent press coverage of the city council actions and salaries received by senior city staff was negative and unfounded.