On Tuesday, the Antioch City Council agreed to hire Cornelius Johnson as Interim City Manager contingent on a background check.
On a 3-2 vote with Councilmembers Mike Barbanica and Lori Ogorchock dissenting, Johnson was hired on a 1-year contract at $20,137 per month and was given full authority to hire and fire department heads—meaning he can hire the next Antioch Police Department Chief of Police.
During the meeting, Thorpe stated in closed session he agreed to limited authority, but changed his mind in open session to allow Johnson to have full authority of the city managers office.
If officially hired after background checks, Johnson would replace Antioch City Manager Ron Bernal who announced in September the intent to retire at the close of 2021, ending a thirty-six (36) year career in public service.
During the meeting, the council did not discuss public concern over campaign donations made by Johnson to Mayor Thorpe. Nor did they address the fundraiser Johnson held at his home for Mayor Pro Tem Monica Wilson during her county board of supervisor campaign. Finally, they also did not address or correct information regarding Johnsons resume/staff report where they call him a police captain–records show he is a retired Lieutenant III from San Francisco Police. Finally, they did not address the relationship between Johnson and Thorpe as Johnson has been serving with Thorpe on his mayoral transition team pushing police reform.
Councilmember Mike Barbanica said he would not say anything negative about Johnson by calling him “a friend” while they have had coffee several times and discussed the community. He also believed he does want better for the community but had reservations about pushing forward to quickly.
“My concern with this, we have an assistant city manager who has been in the community for several years and has quite a bit of experience. She is Spanish speaking and getting to be well known in the community and its my opinion she should have been brought up into the interim city manager position,” stated Barbanica. “She is familiar with the things going on in the city. We have some issues going on in the city.”
He noted they have an interim police chief, losing the city manager, down 24% of employees within the community, projects such as the desalination plant going on.
“When we are looking for the next person to come into this, that experience is invaluable,” said Barbanica. “I do believe this is premature and I am not saying when all the vetting is done, that Mr. Johnson won’t be the right person for the job, I am not saying that, but I do believe we have rushed this and overlooked well qualified people that are currently being groomed for those positions and well aware of what is going on within the community. I would ask this council to put this on hold, not say no to this, but go through the vetting process.”
Barbanica further highlighted the questions brought up by the community admitting there would always be questions no matter who was put there.
“But in this case, these are serious questions and I believe its not fair to the applicant and not far to the community to rush this and put this through, lets take a step back and let human resources do what they do, let them vet the resume, vet the candidate and understand this is what we are getting as a city manager,” said Barbanica who called this premature and look at possibility of other candidates. “If Mr. Johnson turns out to be our best candidate and goes through the vetting process and everything is fine with that, I have no problem with supporting that, I just believe we rushed this, this is not the way this is supposed to work. Human Resources should have been involved with this or a consultant from the start to vet the resume, the qualifications and to make sure we and the community are getting into.”
Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock stated she appreciated Johnson applying for the position and did not feel his qualifications aligned with the position of city manager.
“I would ask that we put this on pause and come back to this at a later time,” stated Ogorchock.
Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker said she has heard from the community and they believe Mr. Johnson would do a good job and that it was an interim city manager to get them through to a permanent city manager to take up the “new vision” being cast in the city and do it objectively.
She stated her concerns about his background being limited to law enforcement.
“I think we can all have concerns with close relationships that people have with individuals whether its campaign donations or not. But I think if we look throughout this city someone has hired a brother or a sister or cousin so I don’t know if I would call it cronyism or whatever folks are calling it,” said Torres-Walker. “As long as Mr. Johnson can work objectively with every city councilmember to hear us, hear our thoughts and ideas, to move the city forward in a more sustainable manner to get us to a permanent city manager, then I am ready to support him.”
Mayor Pro Tem Monica Wilson said she has heard all the comments from the “good to not so great” but called it wonderful they had a community member who wanted to step up who was already apart of the community and worked hard, who was objective.
“I honestly believe he would do a great job,” said Wilson. “This is somebody we are looking at to just get us through the transition period.”
She continued by stating she was impressed with his background and would work objectively.
“We hear all this stuff about campaign donations, people just make all these accusations they pull out of the air so I am going to leave it at that and not give it any more credence than they already have,” said Wilson. “I believe Mr. Johnson would do a really good job.”
Mayor Thorpe said the contract would be 1-year with a starting salary would be Step A of City Manager at $20,137 per month and would be contingent on background check and other hiring layers.
“From my perspective, as soon as possible,” said Thore who wanted to ensure transition time between city manager and interim city manager.
“After hearing some of the comments by my colleagues, there are some things related to contract in closed session specifically related to full authority of the city managers office, I no longer agree to those terms. I think its disingenuous for us to do. City manager or interim, they should maintain full authority of the office so I am not agreeable to that,” stated Thorpe.
Wilson then made the motion to adopt the resolution and terms of the contract contingent on the background check. Torres-Walker offered a second.
Ogorochock questioned the limiting of hiring department heads and that was not in the motion.
“Just to be clear, I am not supporting that,” said Thorpe.
Ogorchock said Thorpe stated that in the meeting.
“I made it public hear I would not be supporting it particularly after hearing some of your commentary and Barbanica’s commentary,” said Thorpe.
Barbanica shot back at Thorpe stated he didn’t like the “inference” that there was something else here other than qualications, background and seems to be an underlined inference that there is something else here causing questions.
“I want what is best for this city and what my District and that is the only thing I am concerned with. It has nothing to do with anything else,” said Barbanica.
Thorpe requested he clarify what inference he was talking about.
Barbanica asked if he could reveal closed session discussion which he was cut off.
Ogorchock asked about the contract and if the interim city manager could hire the next police chief.
Antioch City Attorney Thomas Smith confirmed under this motion and contract, the interim city manager could hire the next police chief.
Torres-Walker said she had concerns about the interim city manager hiring the police chief and it should be part of the duties of an interim city manager.
“We should go through the process that we discussed in the oversight meeting around a more public community process and to think about moving forward differently than we have in the past. I did raise concerns about that originally,” said Torres-Walker. “There were concerns about hiring department heads and should that be an interims job in the first place and these are all reservations I had as well regarding this appointment but given all the background noise, but what I will say after further reflecting there was nothing to show me in the past that there has been any limitations of an interim city manager, historically, of this magnitude which made me think differently because if we did this now we would have to continue to doing it in the future.”
She said she didn’t want to set standards over rumors about someone she didn’t know while urging they give Mr. Johnson an opportunity to prove if he could will the power of city manager objectively and effectively and equity among the councilmembers.
The council then voted with Thorpe, Wilson and Walker in support of the appointment with Barbanica and Ogorchock voting against. The motion passed 3-2.
According to the Staff Report
Although the City Manager position is an existing budgeted full-time position and funding is available in the current budget, with the impending retirement of Ron Bernal, the current City Manager, the cost of the Interim City Manager position will be $xxx,xxx of this amount, $xxx,xxx will be the cost to the General Fund
With the impending retirement of City Manager Ron Bernal at the end of this calendar year, City Council began taking steps to initiate a search for a new City Manager and to maintain continuity of leadership by appointing an Interim City Manager to serve in that role until a permanent City Manager is selected.
The City has significant current and ongoing projects and initiatives. Obtaining a transfer of organizational knowledge from the current City Manager to the Interim City Manager is paramount to maintaining momentum and continuity.
Mr. Johnson has extensive managerial experience. He is a former San Francisco Police Captain. Some of his career accomplishments include:
- Collaborating with various departments in creating the first African American Community Police Relations Oversight Board, San Francisco Police Department.
- Developing and implementing Cultural Awareness, Cultural Competency and Racial Bias in police training for staff
- Providing monthly updates to the Board of Supervisors, and Police Commission relating to San Francisco Police Department community-policing strategies and efforts
- Collaborating with the Department of Health, Department of Youth Services and Juvenile Hall Center developing, planning, administering, overseeing the San Francisco Police Department city-wide Violence Intervention Program with a budget of $20 million and a staff of 60 mid managers and supervisor.
- Collaborating with criminologists to develop, implement, and manage the first of its kind gun violence reduction initiative “Operation Cease Fire”.
Mr. Johnson possesses a Master of Public Administration and Bachelor of Public Administration from the University of San Francisco. He also possesses a POST Management Certificate.
Antioch Mayor Releases Statement
Antioch, Calif., (November 5, 2021) – Today, the City of Antioch has announced that Cornelius Johnson has been nominated to serve as Interim City Manager.
Having 17 years of managerial experience with the City and County of San Francisco, most recently as a captain in the San Francisco Police Department’s Field Operations Bureau, Johnson managed a $300 million budget and oversaw 600 staff members
Having risen up the ranks within the San Francisco Police Department, Johnson was the architect of San Francisco’s community policing efforts having established San Francisco’s Director of Community Policing position within the police department. Throughout his career, Johnson has devoted his career to establishing strong bonds between his agencies and the residents he has served.
Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration, and a Master in Public Administration from the University of San Francisco.
The City Council will vote on Johnson’s contract at their Tuesday, November 9th meeting. If appointed, Johnson will become the first African-American City Manager in the history of the city of Antioch.