Get Riehl: City Manager “Retires”

by Richard J. Riehl on October 30, 2012

HildabrandLast week Carlsbad City Manager Lisa Hildabrand unexpectedly announced her retirement, effective at year’s end. But inside information from reliable sources speaking off the record suggests the occasion won’t be marked by a gold watch and tearful goodbyes. In fact, if you listen closely, you may hear city worker bees humming a tune sung by Munchkins in the Land of Oz.

On Tuesday, October 16 Hildabrand met with city council members for her annual performance review. Following that meeting she began negotiating a separation agreement with City Attorney Ron Ball. It provides severance pay of $192,000, equaling 10 months of her current salary, to be paid in a lump sum no later than January 15, 2013.

Hildebrand will continue on leave, using up all her vacation time before officially retiring December 31.

The council has asked John Coates, current assistant city manager, to serve as city manager until an “extensive search” results in a permanent appointment. Coates will have equal consideration with outside applicants.

My sources say the city council had lost confidence in Hildabrand’s ability to take the city forward, pointing out “communication issues” with city employees and her leadership team of managers and directors of city departments.

Employees felt they couldn’t talk with her, nor could they talk to council members without being punished. The council felt they needed a city manager with more vision and leadership qualities.

I had my own communication issues with the “retiring” city manager. In a meeting with city employees a year and a half ago, she told the city’s lowest paid workers they should feel grateful for being able to live in such a beautiful city. That was the meeting she explained the one-year freeze in their wages, accompanied by a 7 percent cut in take-home pay because the city shifted its full share of pension fund contributions to employees.

Management employees wouldn’t feel the pain. The city would continue its 7 percent pension fund contribution for them and might even give them a 2.5 percent pay increase. She told the group the city was also planning to consider outsourcing, furloughs, and moving employees around as additional cost-saving measures.

I reported on that meeting in my June 16, 2011 The Riehl World column for the North County Times (now known as Big Daddy Doug’s Daily Mail). Two independent sources present at the meeting had tipped me off. Hildabrand denied she’d made those remarks and demanded a retraction of my column by then NCT Editor Kent Davy (who was canned by Big Daddy Doug, but is now freelancing for him.)

The shadowy dismissal of Carlsbad’s CEO was characterized as a retirement announcement in a city press release, which was parroted in Big Daddy Doug’s Daily Mail. I have a feeling the old North County Times would have dug deep enough to reveal Hildabrand was summarily dismissed for poor performance by a gutsy city council.

But those were the good old days, when North County journalism was more about the search for truth than advancing the financial and political interests of a powerful man.

Richard Riehl writes from La Costa. Contact him at richard_riehl@yahoo.com

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