Merced County Times Newspaper
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‘City Hall will continue to function, just in a different capacity. We will deliver services in a way that is safe for the public and for our employees. People may notice a variation in service, but there will be no change in the essential operations of the city.’ — Steve Carrigan, Merced City Manager

Merced cuts ties with City Manager Steve Carrigan

Assistant City Manager Stephanie Dietz named 'Acting City Manager'

(This story includes updates added on Wednesday, July 22, 10 a.m.)

Following a closed session discussion on Monday night, Mayor Mike Murphy reported that the City Council had terminated the employment of the City Manager by a 6-1 vote. No reason for the firing was given.

In a press release Tuesday, the city announced that Assistant City Manager Stephanie Dietz will serve as Acting City Manager, until Aug. 3, when the City Council will appoint her as Interim City Manager.

Carrigan was hired in a unanimous vote that included then Councilman Murphy back in late 2015 after serving Los Banos as city manager since 2013. He replaced John Bramble in Merced. His salary at the time was $190,000 plus benefits under the terms of a three-year contract that was eventually extended.

In recent months, the relationship between Carrigan and Mayor Murphy began to deteriorate as witnessed at a May 18 City Council meeting when the mayor voiced frustration over an assertion that Carrigan was failing to provide the City Council, or the public, with information that he was required to provide under the municipal code during a state of emergency. The mayor claimed the city’s system of checks and balances had gone off course. At the June 1 meeting, Murphy continued with his concerns in a stunning and detailed questioning of Carrigan over costs incurred during the state of emergency.

Murphy said he implored the city manager, in various ways, to get those [financial] issues on the most recent council agenda but nothing happened as a result.

“Instead,” said Murphy, “he [Carrigan] has taking the unprecedented step of telling the mayor that he will not talk to the mayor about the state of emergency.  … The city manager has taken it even further and he has instructed me that I am not to communicate with any city department head or staff member. … This is very troubling. … This is not only troubling, but entirely unacceptable and an affront to the citizens that elected this body to represent them.”

Carrigan did not respond to the mayor, only saying: “It’s a personnel matter” and “We are in disagreement.”

Councilman Fernando Echevarria raised his voice in a surprising diatribe about the situation, and offered support for Carrigan. He also got into an exchange with Monica Villa, an outspoken homeless advocate seated in the public area, who had criticized Carrigan from the public podium. The exchange would lead to a series of events that ended up in a censure against Echevarria. (See related story on front page.)

Based on comments from the dais on June 1, along with information obtained from Times sources at City Hall who wish to remain anonymous, there is indication that Carrigan may have faced disciplinary action concerning his employment at a closed session meeting earlier this summer, but the council as a whole continued to support him. It’s unclear if the most recent closed session is related to the aforementioned one.

Dietz started her career with the city at the start of 2017. Prior to that, Dietz spent 10 years with Merced County and close to three years with the University of California, Merced.

“The City Council and I have the utmost confidence in Ms. Dietz’s ability to serve in the position of acting city manager,” Murphy said. “She brings a lot of experience and a strong understanding of our community to this important position.”

According to the release, under Dietz’s leadership, department heads will remain in place and will focus on furthering the City Council’s goals and priorities, strengthening community relationships, and providing the high-level of quality services expected by the public.

As Assistant City Manager, Dietz has served as the city’s point person on issues such as groundwater recharging and legislative affairs. Raised in Winton and now residing in Merced with her family, Dietz noted about the appointment that she is, “Humbled by the City Council’s trust, and honored to serve the residents of this great and growing city.” Dietz holds a bachelor’s degree from Fresno State and a master’s degree from National University.

The transition of Assistant City Manager Stephanie Dietz to acting city manager is effective immediately. It is anticipated that the search for a new city manager will take place later this fall.

Assistant City Manager Stephanie Dietz attends a community meeting at Applegate Park.
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