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Santa Maria Sun / Canary

The following article was posted on May 1st, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 8 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 8

Talk, why don't you?!

Sometimes I wonder—OK, a lot of times I wonder: Whatever happened to the public’s right to know? I mean the part of government that is a public process, in the public eye, for all to see.

Take, for instance, the closed session Buellton City Council meeting on April 25, when City Manager John Kunkel “resigned” for reasons unknown to anyone but those who were privy to insider information.

Before someone starts lecturing me on the ins and outs of the Ralph M. Brown Act, let me say that I fully realize personnel matters don’t have to be made public. But when something like this happens, I feel like the public has the right to know. City employees work for the people, right? So, technically, that makes us their bosses, and like any good boss, we like to know what the hell is going on.

And yet, here we are, wondering what led Kunkel and the council to part ways. The little reporter in me—which is especially tiny, because I’m a bird—wants to yell, “Just tell us why! We’re dying to know! We won’t tell anyone else, we promise!”

One Buellton city staff member told a Sun reporter that s/he would no longer have a job if s/he said anything more than, “It’s a mutual settlement and that’s it. That’s all we can say.”

The Sun also contacted the mayor’s office and the other City Council members for comment but no one got back to us, so that one measly quote is all we got.

That’s it.

I take that back. That much was true when I turned this story in, but I guess the mayor did get back to one of our writers to say that the council and Kunkel had a difference of philosophies on the role of a city manager. I went back and added this paragraph in, but it doesn’t seem to clear much up, does it?

Here’s what we do know: This mutual settlement resulted in Kunkel—whose contract was renewed for an additional four years in December 2012—leaving his position on April 26. He’s no longer employed by the city.

That’s rather abrupt, isn’t it? Especially since, according to city documents, the split was amicable. I find it’s standard to give two weeks when amicably resigning.

Even when I can’t stand a job—and I’m not talking about my gig here at the Sun, because they let me rant and rave and they pay me for it—I feel obligated to give at least two weeks. To only give two days seems strange to me, but maybe that’s just me. I’m old fashioned that way. Perhaps it’s the word “resignation” that has my feathers in a bunch. The word just seems to have a negative connotation a la Tricky Dick Nixon literally peacing out of the White House.

At least the severance agreement was released to the public. But it doesn’t lend a helping hand to solving the sudden resignation mystery.

“Kunkel has proposed a desire to resign active employment with the City of Buellton,” it says.

I’m not 100 percent certain that’s accurate, as I heard Kunkel found out about his impending resignation just days before the April 25 meeting.

However, it is what the document says, so I guess I should assume it’s the truth. The agreement also says the split was amicable, which I mentioned previously, and neither the city nor Kunkel admits to any “concerns or allegations of wrongdoing.”

What a relief! I was worried, but still, the suddenness of it all kind of makes me wonder, especially since the agreement also lays out that neither party is allowed to talk smack about the other.

Maybe I’m being a little harsh, but the whole situation has me feeling uneasy and like maybe we at the Sun need to get to the bottom of the mystery. Even if it was nothing but a mutual divorce, it would give me peace of mind to know that it was indeed, just nothing but a mutual divorce. Like, I want to know what philosophies the opposing sides had and how they differed.

On the bright side, Kunkel is getting a settlement of wages owed to him until April 30 and the value of his unused and accrued paid vacation balance. The Santa Maria Times—thanks, guys!—reported that he’s also getting a lump sum of $72,900, or six months’ worth of salary.

Actually, that $140,000-per-year he was making as a government employee could get me ranting and raving on a whole new set of injustices, but that’s a bit more personal, so we’ll leave that where it is for now.

The Times also reported that Kunkel said he “resigned instead of being terminated,” which piques my interest even more.

“Clearly, a majority of the council wished to move in a different direction and felt I wasn’t the person to take them there,” he told Santa Maria’s daily.

Sounds dramatic to me, especially because it’s only four months into a four-year contract. At any rate, the residents of Buellton ought not worry, because the City Council is discussing plans to move forward with an interim manager at 6:30 p.m. on May 1.

What’s that? Oh, yes. You guessed right: It’s another closed session meeting. I guess it’s for them to know and for us to find out. If we can.

The canary wishes lips—and beaks—weren’t so frequently sealed. Send comments or ideas to canary@santamariasun.com.