Richmond Mayor Tom Butt accused his fellow City Council members Wednesday of “plotting a coup” one day after the council voted to condemn him for comments he made in recent months about the Richmond city manager.
The council voted Tuesday in closed session to approve a “separation agreement” with City Manager Laura Snideman.
The council also voted 5-1 in closed session, with Butt abstaining and Councilman Nathaniel Bates opposed, to direct the city attorney to bring forward a resolution censuring Butt for improperly disclosing attorney-client privileged information in his “e-forum” email newsletter. The vote also directed the city attorney to refer the matter to the Contra Costa County Grand Jury and District Attorney’s Office.
In a subsequent regular session, the council voted 5-2, with Butt and Bates opposed, to condemn Butt’s comments in his e-forum, in which he has, on multiple occasions, disparaged the job performance of both Snideman and City Attorney Teresa Stricker.
Butt has alleged that, among other things, Snideman has overseen the neglect of routine maintenance of city parks and opposed development in the city.
“As a City Council member and mayor, I have a duty to be critical, if warranted, of the city manager, and let her know when and how her actions fall below what I believe the community expects,” Butt said in his e-forum Wednesday morning. “I have no qualms about using both my position and my (First) Amendment rights to criticize. Indeed, the (city) charter requires this, stating that the mayor shall be responsible for, ‘providing civic leadership and taking issues to the people.'”
Butt has publicly feuded for months with Snideman and Stricker, calling on them to resign in June over allegations that they improperly used public funds to investigate whether Butt or his architectural firm, Interactive Resources Inc., received payment from the city for designing potential floor plans for the redevelopment of the former Richmond Intermodal Transit Center into a visitor center and Richmond-themed merchandise store.
Neither Snideman nor Stricker have publicly accused Butt or Interactive Resources Inc. of receiving payment from the city, and Butt has claimed he heard the accusation from at least one city employee.
The council ultimately voted 5-1 at its June 27 meeting, with Butt opposed, to retain both Snideman and Stricker. Butt, however, has maintained that Snideman, Stricker and the council’s four members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance are running the city poorly.
Stricker, Butt announced last week in his e-forum, has already resigned and will leave office on Jan. 3.
Butt and the four RPA members, who hold a majority of the council’s seats, clashed repeatedly at the council’s meeting Tuesday, as both parties called each other liars and hypocrites.
As part of his argument that he is within his right to publicly criticize the city manager, Butt noted that his e-forums include a disclaimer at the bottom, stating that the “opinions and views expressed … are those of Tom Butt and do not reflect official views or positions of the city of Richmond or the Richmond City Council unless otherwise noted.”
The five council members who voted to condemn Butt’s comments argued that a formal disavowal was still necessary to ensure members of the public understand the council does not share Butt’s opinions or his method of conveying them.
“This is about protecting the city of Richmond,” Councilman Demnlus Johnson III said. “This is not about attacking the mayor, and if we have to distance ourselves from one of us in order to protect the city of Richmond, I hope that we would all be bold enough to do that.”
While Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin echoed that sentiment, Butt challenged her to name a specific instance of something inaccurate in his e-forum or what she took issue with.
“All I can say is you have a history and your e-forum has repeatedly bashed staff, including the city manager in this case in particular, and this is a statement on our part based on if we approve it, that we do not condone that,” McLaughlin said.
In his e-forum Wednesday, Butt accused the RPA — which includes McLaughlin and council members Claudia Jimenez, Eduardo Martinez and Melvin Willis — of being more offended by his criticisms of their organization than his criticism of Snideman.
At the meeting Tuesday, Butt argued that he is the only council member “that apparently has the guts” to lodge his complaints about Snideman’s performance.
Both in the e-forum and the Tuesday meeting, Butt also said he was the only council member who did not vote to approve the separation agreement with Snideman.
McLaughlin and Jimenez immediately countered that Butt lied and mischaracterized his actions in closed session. Willis later concurred.
Bates, rather than critiquing Butt or the RPA council members exclusively, lamented the infighting among the City Council in general, saying “we’ve become the laughingstock of the damn Bay Area.”
“The voters put us in office to work together to solve problems,” he said. “All we’re doing is working against each other and creating problems.”