The Santa Clarita City Council voted Tuesday night in favor of an ordinance that would change the municipal code rules around firing the city manager, increasing the total number of council member votes needed to dismiss him from a majority vote to a four-fifths vote.
The ordinance amending the municipal code was designed, according to the city agenda, to “demonstrate a vote of confidence” in current City Manager Ken Striplin following his annual performance evaluation held last month in closed session.
“The annual performance evaluation highlighted exemplary performance, and the City Council would like to demonstrate a vote of confidence and provide assurance to the city manager of his continued leadership,” reads the agenda item. “The second reading of this ordinance will take place in January and will include an accompanying contract amendment that will reflect this amendment to the municipal code.”
Currently, the Santa Clarita Municipal Code, Section 2.08.100, requires a majority, or three-fifths, vote from the City Council to dismiss Striplin; the ordinance, if ultimately adopted, would heighten the barrier to four-fifths.
Since being hired to head up City Hall in 1996, Striplin has been at the helm of the entire City Hall apparatus, overseeing all civic services, buildings and finances while also functioning as the primary conduit between his staff and the City Council. In addition to a number of other recognitions through the years, Striplin was given the 2021 Award for Career Excellence in Memory of Mark E. Keane by the International City/County Management Association — an international organization of local government professionals.
Weste said the change in policy was a decision the council made as a way to demonstrate their belief that he has been “remarkable during his tenure” and that the city’s success through the years is largely in part due to him being an “incredibly diligent” city manager.
“He has a remarkable career and this year he was honored by (ICMA), getting the top award in the country and he is well sought after,” said Weste. “We’re one of the top cities in the United States and we want him to know that we appreciate him, that we don’t want somebody potentially trying to steal him away. We can only offer the money he’s getting; we can’t do much more.”
“We recognize what we have here, you don’t get one of these every day,” Weste added, referencing Striplin. “And there’s a lot of cities that would really like to have that level of talent.”
During the meeting, two residents voiced opposition to the ordinance, with both worrying that the move would further insulate the city manager — thereby, diluting some of the council’s authority over the chief city staff member — and could prove problematic for future city councils.
“I’ve written to Mr. Striplin and let him know that I believe he’s a very accomplished city manager,” said Steve Petzold during public comment on the item. “But we have to look beyond Mr. Striplin and we have to look beyond you as members of the City Council to what the future might hold.”
“Given that there will be future City Council people, there will be future city managers and you should not tie the city to this,” Petzold added.
Weste responded to this argument by saying that the ordinance was drafted specifically for Striplin and the work he’s done in locally for the last 25 years.
“If he leaves, you just renegotiate the next contract the way you want it,” said Weste. “Of course, you wouldn’t probably give that opportunity to somebody new and you would just roll it back to 3-2.”
“There’s nothing that’s damaging, it’s more or less a really wonderful, ‘Hey, thank you, attaboy,’” Weste added.