Local News

Richmond changes city managers amid labor negotiations

Richmond has fired its city manager, Carlos Martinez (left), and appointed Henry Gardner to fill the post on an interim basis during the search for a permanent replacement. (Photos courtesy of City of Richmond)

The Richmond City Council has fired City Manager Carlos Martinez after less than one year on the job amid months of bitter negotiations with union leaders, allegations of unfair labor practices and widespread criticism from city workers.

During public comments at a recent council meeting, leaders from nearly every bargaining unit criticized Martinez, with several of them alleging that California labor law had been violated and calling on the council to terminate his contract.

At the heart of the conflict is a series of since-rescinded layoffs, including the termination of several department heads, that opponents have described as unnecessary and possibly retaliatory.

“Trust – I want you to think about that word,” Richmond Police Officers Association President Ben Therriault said during public comment. “Because the rank and file have lost it.”

“Legitimacy is a powerful tool in any leader’s toolbox,” Therriault added. “When you lose it, you have nothing.”

The council initially put off a vote on the matter, but after at least one closed session discussion the city attorney announced that Martinez had been terminated by a 4-3 vote, with councilmembers Jael Myrick and Ben Choi voting no, as well as Mayor Tom Butt.

Martinez’s leadership, however brief, inspired at least one organized protest on the steps of City Hall at previous council meetings.

Service Employees International Union Local No. 1021 President Gregory Everetts has suggested on more than one occasion that Martinez may have come to Richmond with little or no experience in labor relations.

“Being a new city manager can go two ways,” Everetts said. “Either you come in, introduce yourself and try to work with everyone, or you’re gonna fall in with the first few people you meet and go by what they say.”

“That’s what got him,” Everetts said. “He listened to the first three or four people he met and didn’t try to form a relationship with anyone else.”

Everetts said that while contract negotiations have currently come to a halt, Richmond’s labor leaders are ready to work with Martinez’s successor.

For now that person is Henry Gardner, who was unanimously appointed as acting city manager while a “more permanent solution evolves,” Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said in a statement.

Gardner, who from 1981 until 1993 was Oakland’s city manager, takes over after the council’s first choice, Rochelle Polk, Richmond’s community services director, declined the job.

In a statement, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local No. 21 accused Martinez of lying to the council, city staff and to the public.

“His leadership style was one that created fear, chaos, and destroyed morale among city workers,” union officials said. “His job was to lead our city workforce, but his behavior was antagonistic and dictatorial, and his short reign was marked by discord and mistrust.”

When asked to explain his position, Martinez agreed to an interview on the subject of layoffs and labor negotiations when confronted at a City Council meeting in June, but did not respond to a series of subsequent calls or emails, including at least one effort to schedule the interview he had already agreed to.

He was not available for comment during a call to his office following the termination vote. A staffer said he was no longer employed with the city of Richmond.