Portola city manager put on administrative leave

Portola’s City Hall is packed with members of the public expressing their support of City Manager Ian Kaiser at a special meeting Sept. 5. The council decided at the meeting that Kaiser would be put on paid administrative leave indefinitely. A meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 10, to investigate further the allegations against the city manager. Photo by Carolyn Carter
Carolyn Carter

  The Portola City Council has identified a leadership problem in Ian Kaiser after he has worked two months for the city. At a special meeting Sept. 5, the council voted to put the city manager on paid administrative leave.

  The council spent four hours in a closed session meeting addressing grievances against Kaiser.

  The night ended with a four-to-one decision to relieve Kaiser of his duties as city manager indefinitely and instate City Public Works Official Todd Roberts as the interim city manager.

  City Hall was packed with city residents and concerned citizens of the county who expressed their opinions during the public comment, which went on for more than a half-hour. Fifteen people spoke in support of the city manager.

  “Ian has been invaluable to us,” said Darcy Davis, a member of the newly formed Portola Business Owners Association. “We are very supportive of him and we appreciate his efforts.”

  Kaiser has had a short but eventful experience as the Portola city manager. However, despite what he has done in the public eye, there is unrest at City Hall about his performance as a city manager.

  He officially signed his three-year contract at $75,000 per year May 8, 2013, filling former Interim City Manager Leslie Tigan’s position.

  His contract was enthusiastically received by the City Council with Mayor John Larrieu saying, “He seems to be a really good fit for our city.”

  His former job was as the city manager of Blackville, S.C. After his contract with Blackville expired, he joined Portola staff July 1.

  Since he started working for Portola, he has taken an aggressive stance on the rising water rates, and combated the issues in the Lake Davis water treatment plant and the arsenic-contaminated wells.

  He has gained a reputation for community involvement through organizing and endorsing city gatherings and First Saturday events.

  However, a city staffer, who asked not to be named, said there are major concerns at the staffing level about his conduct as a manager.

  “My ethical and moral values are being challenged here in a town that I just wanted to change,” Kaiser said.

  The staffer said Kaiser has withheld information from city staff and the City Council. According to the staffer, he fails to provide openness and transparency, and has threatened city staff with their jobs.

  “There is a level of chaos here that is beyond my wildest imagination,” the staffer said.

  “The atmosphere that he has created over there with those people is heartbreaking,” said District 5 Supervisor Jon Kennedy. “I’m glad he has presented his character in such a quick fashion so we have been able to strike before it is too late.”

  After hearing of these concerns and having some of his own, Larrieu called for a special meeting for a performance review.

  “I’m not sure that the public has the complete information,” Larrieu said. “I’m not happy with it at all, but there are enough concerns that I felt it necessary to conduct a review.”

  “I know it is a shock to people,” said Council Member Michelle Gault, “but my job is to make sure that the city manager is doing his job correctly.”

  Though the city manager was placed on administrative leave, he was not dismissed from his position. City Attorney Steve Gross announced at the end of the special meeting that there would be another meeting Tuesday, Sept. 10, where Kaiser could address the allegations against him either in public or in closed session.

  Gross said paid administrative leave is a way for the council members to further investigate concerns and allegations. He said it strikes a balance between the employer’s desire to look into the issues and the employee’s comfort and basic privileges.

  Despite the overwhelming public support at the special meeting, every council member, except for Phil Oels, voted to put Kaiser on administrative leave.

  “(The decision) made me feel like we were not listening to the people who put us in office,” said Oels. “I think we fell right back into the whole ‘us versus them’ thing that we tried so hard to get out of.”

  During public comment Kaiser said, “I’ve been here two months and I’m not going to say it’s been a piece of chocolate crème pie. It’s been difficult. Change is difficult. Change brings risk, and risk brings mistakes, but mistakes bring growth.”

  However, after a long, tense night, the council called the meeting back into open session at 10:45 p.m., and announced its decision. The solemn atmosphere was apparent as Kaiser went into his office and starting packing up his things.

  The council heard from the third parties with their allegations and from Kaiser during the meeting Tuesday.

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