Will Termination of Ex-City Manager Laura Gill Become an Issue For 2018 Elk Grove Mayoral, City Council Contests?

May 16, 2018 | 

For those who observe local elections and politics, city elections usually boil down to just a few consistent issues. Typically those evergreen issues are traffic, crime, some sort of infrastructure consideration and a couple extraneous topics.

Elk Grove is no exception to this. Over the last few years, the issues have been crime, traffic, and the unfinished ghost mall, now known as the Outlet Collection at Elk Grove. Along the way, things like economic development, the new civic center pool, the proposed Wilton Rancheria gambling hall and even the alleged sleaziness of a former city council members have made their way into voters consciousness. 

For the 2018 mayoral and city council elections, there is one extraneous issue that could work its way into the fabric of voters decisions. That issue would be the termination of former Elk Grove city manager Laura Gill.

Last week when the Elk Grove City Council announced that by a 4-1 decision they decided to fire Gill, a maelstrom of controversy swirled amongst local social media commentators. Never mind the golden parachute for Gill was built into her contract from the start and thus gave her a strong motivation to be terminated and not resign voluntarily as the council had sought. 

Think about it - if you were in your mid-50s as Gill is, and you could force a termination for one-year's worth of income and benefits valued at about $300,000, would you voluntarily walk away? The rational thing to do from Gill's perspective was to dig in your heels and force the termination.

From the city council's perspective, it came down to a matter of timing. If, as they say, they wanted fresh eyes to examine numerous challenges in Elk Grove, they had to dispose of Gill because she was not going to willingly leave. Either pay now or pay later. 

So while the severance package for Gill was met with cries, the payout should not have been unexpected. It is not a good use of taxpayers dollars, but it was worked into the city manager's contract before four of the five city council members were seated, and a severance stipulation will probably be part of the contract for whoever becomes the next city manager so this scenario will play out again someday in future. 

Nevertheless, the matter could become a campaign issue for any number of people running for office this year. The biggest beneficiary could be Mayor Steve Ly.

Coming out of last week's closed session meeting of the city council, Ly was visibly or at least audibly shaken when he announced Gill's termination. Ly made a point of saying he did not vote in favor of accepting Gill's "resignation," such as it was. 

Not surprisingly shortly after the termination, Ly took to social media to state he unequivocally supported Gill.  



In a shrewd political move, Ly, or perhaps a ghostwriter, framed saying the issue that his city council colleagues acted to "waste the public's money unnecessarily and unwisely..." Furthermore, Ly commented that Gill had steered the city through the Great Recession and came out better than other nearby municipalities. 

In a sense, Ly has been given an issue on a golden platter to bludgeon one of two opponents seeking to replace him as mayor. Specifically, Ly could take a two-by-four to Elk Grove Vice Mayor Darren Suen and paint him as financially irresponsible. 


Along these lines, we can envision the sort of campaign mailer Ly will send out to bloody his council colleague. On one side of the mailer, paid for by his development and building trade labor patrons will be a postive message complete with Ly and his family espousing how much they love Elk Grove ala former mayor, Gary Davis. The only question is if they will be dressed in angelic white clothing like the Davis' were. 

On the other side, Ly could put a dark and foreboding picture painting Suen as financially irresponsible. It could look like something posted to the left.  

To add a further dimension, Ly's campaign could note the numerous financial awards the city received under the leadership of the only female city manager in the area. Never mind these awards are a dime a dozen and meaningless, but to the average voter in this year of #MeToo and anti-Trump fervor, it could appeal to just enough voters to push back Suen's efforts. 

The wildcard in the mayoral scenario is Tracie Stafford, the third candidate for mayor. Stafford could deploy the same tactics against Suen and Ly. 

Voters may know only that a capable, award-winning female city manager was fired by the Elk Grove City Council, which is led by Ly, and if effectively conveyed by a female candidate, could be a powerful message. Furthermore, Stafford, depending on her mailing and social media budget, could point out any number of deficiencies that Ly has displayed during his tenure on the city council. 

It is also worth noting other candidates, notably Orlando Fuentes, who appears to be aligned with Ly, could use the same strategy against incumbent council member Stephanie Nguyen. The question for Fuentes is how much money he will be able to raise, and if Ly offers financial support for Fuentes against Nguyen, who has already endorsed Suen's candidacy.

For 2018, the extraneous issue for voters, and some candidates could be the termination of Laura Gill.  

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Capt. Benjamin L. Willard said...

It will also be noteworthy to watch the recruitment process for Ms. Gill's replacement. If the current assistant city manager, Mr. Behrmann is hired and done so well before election day, that too could be a campaign issue for any number of candidates.

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