The Antioch City Council on Tuesday approved the hiring of Cornelius Johnson, a retired San Francisco police captain, as interim city manager on a one-year contract.
Johnson, should he pass a pending background check, will become the first Black city manager in the city’s history. Johnson also served as Mayor Lamar Thorpe’s campaign manager in his successful election.
Johnson has no city administrative management experience. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration, and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of San Francisco.
Thorpe, calling from a conference in the Dominican Republic, said Wednesday, “The city made history last night. I’m pretty excited.”
Ron Bernal, the current city manager, has announced he will retire at the end of this year. Earlier this year, the city’s police chief Tammany Brooks resigned to take a position in Idaho.
The 3-2 vote once again followed a tense split between the three Black members and the two dissenting white colleagues.
Council member Michael Barbanica pleaded with his colleagues to put off the vote. “This is premature,” he said while emphasizing his friendship with Johnson and their common background in law enforcement. “We have rushed this.”
One public comment said, “This smells like quid pro quo.”
Council member Lori Ogorchock also wanted to put the hiring on hold and joined Barbanica in voting no on the appointment.
Thorpe said Tuesday night that he hopes Johnson can serve as a “bridge” between Bernal’s retirement and the search for a permanent city manager. Most of the council members indicated support for hiring a national search firm. Johnson will be paid $20,137 a month.