The City Council has refocused its sights on an apparent second top candidate for the city manager position this week after “community opposition and concerns” prompted it to renege on its offer to its initial preference.
After planning to formally approve and introduce Christopher Jordan as the new city manager at the Wednesday council meeting, the city announced Tuesday night that it would now pursue the unnamed second candidate and conduct the background check and negotiations. The council seems to have made this decision at a special closed session meeting Tuesday.
“The City Council will not consider approval of an employment agreement with Mr. Jordan and will now direct its attention toward the other candidate,” the city manager’s office wrote in a statement.
Ten responses from 13 residents and one local organization filed to the council this week cast doubt and criticism of Jordan’s prospective hire, consistently highlighting his time as city manager for Los Altos that ended with his resignation in November.
The Los Altos Town Crier reported in November that Jordan’s resignation almost immediately followed a City Council election there, which prompted questions among residents and officials there about its timing. The newspaper also reported that Jordan had, among other informal disagreements with his council, apparently defied a 4-1 decree to relocate council meetings.
Resident Alan Ehrlich, who last year ran for a City Council seat, also drew attention to Jordan’s 10 years as a city manager in Oregon, during which Ehrlich — citing a 2020 article by the Washington Post — said Jordan was complicit in the hiring of an “unqualified” police chief who was described as “a fishing buddy” to Jordan. This police chief, Ehrlich wrote, ultimately provoked a federal probe and a $600,000 settlement from the city toward a Black man arrested by that department under false pretenses.
“I’m just guessing, but I don’t think this is the type of national exposure South Pasadena wants or needs while our own department and former police chief are under investigation, during the national awareness of Black Lives Matter and now with the [Derek] Chauvin trial in the hands of the jury,” Ehrlich wrote this week, prior to Tuesday’s conviction of Chauvin. “I don’t know how this council might expect to tap dance around your decision to hire the applicant who hired that police chief.”
More conservatively, resident Rich Elbaum conceded there was no “smoking gun” in Jordan’s past tenures that would normally preclude his endorsement — “In fact, I’m sure he is very capable of doing a great job carrying out many of the duties of City Manager,” he wrote — but nevertheless advised the council avoid hiring a candidate who even had the appearance of past impropriety.
In the opinion of some, the development represents a stumble out of the gate for a City Council that aims to begin repairing public trust in City Hall after a handful of political scandals boiled over midway through last year. Whoever is ultimately hired as city manager will be tasked with stabilizing the city’s administrative apparatus after years of a porous turnover among city departments has helped erode confidence in the operation.
That candidate will replace Stephanie DeWolfe, whom the council booted in September after public scrutiny of City Hall had reached a zenith. Her relatively brief tenure with the city had been marred by claims from residents that she closed off access by the public and mounting criticism from the council that she skirted council consent requirements by hiring consultants under contracts not quite expensive enough to need a vote.
Her attempts to staff the city’s Finance Department also backfired, as her chosen department head Karen Aceves found herself under a magnifying glass during last year’s budgeting period for seemingly making last-minute changes to proposals and failing to complete a long-overdue audit from the 2018-19 fiscal year that would have backed up her financial projections. Aceves resigned in October.
These vacancies were both preceded by the resignation of then-Councilwoman Marina Khubesrian in August after she admitted to using pseudonymous email address to defend DeWolfe and Aceves in council meeting comments and attack the credibility of a resident and former city employee who were critical of both administrators.
Sean Joyce, a former city manager here, has held the reins as interim city manager since September. The council ramped up its recruitment efforts for the long-term replacement after November’s election, which seated three new members among its five seats.