A Palm Springs City Hall power struggle involving freshman Mayor Rob Moon and longtime City Manager David Ready seems like a classic David vs. Goliath battle.
In this case, the mayor is playing the underdog role of David, while the role of mighty Goliath goes to Ready. Since 1994, according to the city charter, Palm Springs has basically been run by the city manager, while the role of the mayor is largely ceremonial: He’s just another City Council member who also gets to cut ribbons, greet dignitaries, attend events, give speeches and so on.
However, that does not mean a mayor has no power whatsoever: A mayoral term is four years long, which offers plenty of time for a motivated mayor, if he so chooses, to put the pressure on the City Council to use its power to fire the city manager.
That’s exactly what Moon proposed, more or less, back in April, when Moon called a special meeting to evaluate the performance of Ready and Doug Holland, a contractor who serves as the city attorney. Moon’s proposal came in the wake of a turbulent year during which the city was dragged into an FBI investigation.
However, Moon soon learned that he was the only council member who supported removing the city manager. After a closed session on April 13, the City Council voted unanimously to keep Ready.
Today, the power struggle continues—and Moon is now saying he wishes he’d stood his ground and voted to fire Ready.
“I wanted the City Council to go on the record,” Moon said. “I did then vote to endorse the city manager, but I regret that vote. I should have stood my ground and at least made a symbolic vote against it.”
Since becoming city manager in 2000, Ready has largely reigned unchallenged during the terms of four mayors: Will Kleindienst, Ron Oden, Steve Pougnet and now Moon.
Ready offered a diplomatic response to the “evaluation” of his job performance that Moon initiated.
“It is the prerogative of the mayor and any member of City Council to discuss my employment contract,” he said, “and as always, I serve at the will and pleasure of the City Council.”
Ready earned $421,221 in pay and benefits last year, making him the highest-compensated city government employee in the Coachella Valley—and one of the highest-paid city managers in the state. I asked Moon what he thought about capping the city manager’s salary.
“That’s probably a good idea,” Moon said. “… But if there is a cap, perhaps a person who has been around a long time would not like it and would go to work in a big city, like Chicago.”
While Ready’s salary has increased over the years, he said he’s made some personal sacrifices when it comes to his pay.
“With regard to salary increases, in several years, I have refused to take increases outlined in my contract as we went through the recession,” Ready said. “Hence, salary or salary caps are not an issue for me, personally.”
Both Moon and Ready said they’re awaiting the results of the ongoing probe into city affairs—apparently involving the conduct of former Mayor Steve Pougnet.
“The FBI, the IRS and the (district attorney) seized certain documents, servers, cell phones etcetera,” Moon said. “I’ve no idea what they were looking for. … I expect that sometime by end of this year, my guess, we’ll hear what the outcome of the investigation is.”
Ready said the city has been transparent throughout the investigation and added that documents removed during the raid have been returned and posted on the city’s website for public review.
“Those agencies were doing their jobs,” Ready said about the law enforcement agencies investigating the city. “The city is fully cooperating with the investigation, and we are committed to keeping our citizens and the public updated on any information that we receive.”
However, the city has indeed suffered from some lapses in transparency. Shortly after the Sept. 1, 2015, FBI raid, former Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco—despised by some members of the community thanks to his hard-line role in a 2009 Warm Sands area sex sting that was tinged by homophobic remarks—was hired to “assist” the City Council in the matter. However, that information was not released to the public until this spring—after Ready at one point told The Desert Sun that the city had not hired outside legal help.
Moon said he was shocked when he learned the city had hired Pacheco.
“Right after I was sworn in, we had a closed-session meeting, and Mr. Pacheco was introduced to the new council,” Moon said. “Once I found who he was, I felt that it was inappropriate for us to be employing him, even indirectly. I was one of those people who very strongly led a movement to cut any ties with him.”
Ready said it was not his idea to hire Pacheco in the first place, and instead pointed a finger at City Attorney Doug Holland.
“The city attorney decides to hire outside legal services,” Ready said. “In this case, in order to fully cooperate with the district attorney, the city attorney indicated his decision to hire Mr. Pacheco was based on his extensive knowledge and understanding of the operations and procedures within the District Attorney’s Office.”
Moon is now leading a charge to replace the existing contracted city attorney with an in-house city attorney. Moon is on a city subcommittee working with recruiting firms to find a new city attorney.
“It’s been approved by the City Council, and it’s in the budget,” Moon said. “I’ve strongly felt that we need a city attorney to be a member of our team—actually employed by the city. I would like to get it done in six months.”
Ready said he is indifferent regarding the issue, and added that the matter is out of his hands.
“As with the city manager’s position, the city attorney is a position that is hired by the City Council,” Ready said.