VALLEJO – The Vallejo City Council looked within to find its permanent city manager, appointing Mike Malone on Tuesday night, the city’s former water director who has had the job in an interim capacity since October.
Malone's appointment wasn’t unanimous as Councilmember Cristina Arriola, District 6, voted against his appointment while at-large councilmembers Katy Miessner and Hakeem Brown were absent.
Several councilmembers, along with a handful of public speakers touted Malone’s calm demeanor and leadership skills amid significant change at city hall over the past 18 months.
“By making this decision tonight, we are allowing our organization to have stability that has been missing for some time,” said at-large Councilmember Pippin Dew.
Malone was tapped to serve as interim city manager in early October 2021 after interim City Manager Anne Cardwell left following just two months in the position. Cardwell, who was originally hired as assistant city manager, became interim city manager following City Manager Greg Nyhoff’s departure from Vallejo last summer.
Nyhoff suddenly disappeared from city hall over the Memorial Day holiday. He never returned as the council ultimately approved a $577,536 resignation and separation agreement with him.
Vice Mayor Rozzana Verder-Aliga, District 1, said Malone’s tenure as interim city manager served as a probationary period. Verder-Aliga said she was pleased with Malone’s performance so far.
“Did he meet the goals and tasks the council asked him to do? My opinion, yes he did. He had to shepherd this organization for the last six to seven months, that’s no easy feat,” she said. “He has proven time and time again that he has the leadership skills, humility, the calmness and demeanor this organization needs.”
Osby Davis, who served as Vallejo’s mayor from 2007 through 2016, spoke before the council vote and said it would be a “wise decision” to name Malone city manager. Davis further said the decision should prevent the exodus of more city staff, which usually happens when a new city manager is hired.
“He is committed to the city of Vallejo, he is committed to his job,” Davis said of Malone.
Not all comments were positive about Malone as Arriola echoed some concerns raised by several public speakers about decisions made by Malone so far.
Calling it a “red flag,” Arriola pointed to the city’s recommendation that the council approve the purchase of a property located next to the entrance to the Fleming Hill Water Treatment Plant for more than $700,000. Malone said the purchase was a security measure to protect the city’s drinking water from a terrorist attack. The property includes a 1,800-square-foot, 4-bed, 2-bath home and separate 500-square-foot in-law unit.
“It didn’t make sense then and it doesn’t make sense now and that’s money gone,” Arriola said about the purchase. She, along with Mayor Robert McConnell, voted against the purchase.
Arriola also highlighted the city’s push for the council to approve a $30 million loan from the state to renovate a two-story office building on the city’s waterfront as the new headquarters for the Vallejo Police Department. That decision was met with resistance from the community, who objected to the cost and location.
Arriola also referenced two recent scandals from before Malone’s tenure as city manager that the city has provided few answers for.
“We still don’t know about the fatalities that happened at Project RoomKey,” Arriola added. “The silence on badge bending, (and) our agendas are on steroids.”
The Vallejo Sun reported last month that at least five people died in the city’s Project RoomKey program, which was established to house vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Members of the city’s police force bent the tips of their star-shaped badges after shooting someone. Kent Tribble, a former Vallejo police lieutenant, testified in court last month that he brought the “badge bending” practice with him to Vallejo police in 2003 after he started the practice while he was an officer with the Concord Police Department.
Arriola said she would support giving Malone a one-year contract as the city looks for a new city manager. The council instead approved the recommended two-year contract which gives Malone a $278,000 annual salary, plus a housing allowance of $450 per month and $125,000 in health benefits for a total benefits package of $412,000 annually. The employment agreement retroactively begins on April 18 and will run through April 18, 2024, according to the agreement. Malone currently earned $234,000 in annual base salary as interim city manager.
Malone was also called out by longtime city council critic Anne Carr who brought up the circulation of a letter signed by most of the city hall department heads expressing support for Nyhoff in April 2020. The letter signing was spearheaded by Malone, which Carr called a loyalty test.
“For all of us, Greg is the reason we are inspired to work for the city of Vallejo and bring our best here every day,” the letter read in part. “We truly appreciate Greg’s supportive leadership style and his ability to connect with employees at all levels and spark their engagement and hope.”
Following Carr’s comments, Malone addressed the council, appearing to misunderstand Carr’s reference to the letter.
“This idea of a loyalty test to any employees has absolutely no merit or no truth to it,” Malone said. “Anyone that has worked with me in the water department or any other place I worked, will tell her point blank that never happened.”
Loera-Diaz also said Malone was unfairly blamed for issues that were present before his time with the city.
“In all fairness, we have to state some facts here. Many issues that our city is facing right now, they were there before Mr. Malone came. It’s like trying to say that I’m responsible for something that took place before I was on the council,” Loera-Diaz said. “I will answer for anything that I voted on, but don’t ask me to answer for something that happened prior to that.”
Loera-Diaz, like other councilmembers, said Malone was a much better communicator than Nyhoff.
McConnell said as mayor he never met with Nyhoff in his office, saying the two men spoke a few times by phone or zoom. The mayor said he regularly meets with Malone. McConnell also appeared to call out a lack of leadership by Nyhoff, saying Malone shouldn’t be punished for Nyhoff’s failures.
“It’s time that we recognized that old principle that ‘The sins of the father should not be visited on the son,’ but that’s exactly what we are doing here,” McConnell said. “We are labeling Mr. Malone with the sins of the dearly departed. It’s time we buried the dearly departed, believe me.”
Can you join us and pitch in for independent local news?
Our reporting takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. That's why we need a community of support: