Stockton City Manager Harry Black received support from both citizens and community leaders during the first City Council meeting since he was publicly called out by a city councilmember.
The accusation was made by Councilmember Michele Padilla, who was criticized by current and former council members for her handling of the matter.
On October 23 the first-term north Stockton District 1 representative released a two-page statement on Stockton City Council letterhead outlining her allegations of Black’s behavior toward herself and a reputed incident in which the city manager allegedly used inappropriate foul language while describing a California Water Service female employee.
Using official city letterhead for personal use or to give opinions separate from the rest of the council is considered against the standards of the League of California Cities.
In her statement, which was presented in the form of a letter to Stockton residents, Padilla condemned Black’s alleged comments and complained about what she viewed as a hostile environment at city hall.
“The severity of this issue has led me to the difficult decision of no longer engaging in private meetings with the city manager,” Padilla wrote. She also criticized her fellow council members for “refusing to stand up and put a stop to” what she saw as “the pattern of continued unprofessional behavior by Harry Black.”
Reached by phone on Friday, Councilmember Padilla declined to comment for this article.
Black’s performance and employment was on the agenda and likely was discuss during closed city council sessions on Oct. 17 and Oct.24, according to city documents.
No action was taken against Black during either of those meetings, prohibiting council members from public discussions on the matter. California Water Service did release a statement saying its employee had not authorized anyone to comment on her behalf and the matter had already been settled in April. The correspondence from CalWater did not specifically name a city employee.
However, Padilla’s use of city council letterhead to make her statement without the support of the rest of the council drew a sharp response from her fellow council members in the days following Tuesday’s meeting.
Councilmember Brando Villapudua said he was “extremely concerned” with what he described as “Padilla’s recklessness and negligence.”
“I do want to say that Councilmember Padilla does not speak for me or represent me or my interests in any form or fashion,” Villapudua wrote in an email in response to questions from Stocktonia. “I am unaware of any other councilmember giving Padilla the authorization to represent them or make such a blanket statement.”
Releasing the statement under the banner of the City Council is contrary to one of the League of California Cities principles, which states that official letterhead may only “be used when the council member is representing the city and the city’s official position. A copy of official correspondence should be given to the executive assistant to the mayor and city council to be filed in the council office as part of the permanent public record.”
Vice Mayor Kimberly Warmsley, who co-chaired Tuesday’s meeting in place of absent Mayor Kevin Lincoln, said she would not publicly discuss whether Padilla’s statement is actionable. Though, she added that she “would like to express my concern regarding the discussion of city matters or concerns about an appointee through public channels or the media, rather than in closed session meetings where such conversations should occur.”
In turn, Councilmember Michael Blower praised Black at the meeting and the community members who came out to speak. He also called the criticism of Black “unsubstantiated” and “garbage.”
Blower told Stocktonia Thursday that he also took issue with the content of Padilla’s statement.
“I thought it was totally inappropriate how (Padilla) handled the matter,” Blower said. “We aren’t always going to agree on everything as a council, but to blindside the council like that is inappropriate and disappointing.”
Black, hired in 2020, received support from a majority of speakers during the week’s public comment. Inés Ruiz-Huston, El Concilio’s vice president for special programs and civil engagement, praised Black’s administration.
“Through your help and your support, we have been able to serve the community in multiple capacities, especially when we had the opportunity to help those that are in need of rent,” Ruiz-Huston said. “We were able to help provide over $44 million for a lot of families who didn’t know where to go.”
Former state sen. Patrick Johnston and former city councilmembers Ralph Lee White and Jesse Nabors also spoke in support of Black. Nabors said, though he has never personally met Black, he was troubled with how the personnel issue was handled.
“I know there are procedures that go on, and when I see things happening like this, it disturbs me,” Nabors said. “Any time that you are concerned about getting rid of a city manager, it is done through the council, not in the public.”
Mayor Lincoln and Councilmember Susan Lenz were not in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting.