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Rohnert Park changes rules to make it easier to fire future department heads

The Rohnert Park City Council authorized a change to the city's employment rules Tuesday, making it much easier for the city manager to fire future department heads.

The decision means that all future executive level staff will be at-will employees. Currently, they work under for-cause agreements that require a lengthy process before someone can be dismissed.

City Manager Gabe Gonzalez had proposed the move saying it would give him — and his successors — the ability to react quickly when changes needed to be made.

"Significant deficiencies in performance or breakdowns in the team relationships at this level constitute a very real threat to the organization's well being, " he told the council.

The council agreed unanimously (Councilman Joe Callinan was absent).

"It gives the city manager more ability to manage his or her staff and keep the performance level of the department heads at the very highest level," said Councilman Amy Ahanotu.

One of of the city's four department heads, Public Safety Director Brian Masterson, was made an at-will employee in 2010, a change which meant that his contract was renegotiated to include a 6-month severance payment in the event he is let go.

The new policy applies only to future hires, but the three other top level staffers can now opt to become at-will employees. If they do, they must be allowed to negotiate new contracts to include severance payments or other elements to compensate for the loss of the considerable job security that for-cause agreements provide.

The council would have to approve those contracts, as well as those for future department heads.

"I think this is a natural evolution" from the change made to Masterson's employment terms, said Councilman Jake Mackenzie.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.


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