After just five months on the job, Solvang’s city manager resigned Monday night at the request of the same City Council that hired him.
The announcement of David Gassaway’s departure came after the City Council met in a special closed session at 5 p.m., 90 minutes before the regular meeting.
Interim City Attorney Chip Wullbrandt made the announcement after the closed session.
“Pursuant to Provision 6F of the city manager’s contract, a majority of the council requested that the city manager resign, and the city manager has provided his resignation,” Wullbrandt said.
The council waived the 45-day written notice period for the resignation in Gassaway’s contract, making it effective Monday night.
“On separate action, the council voted 5-0 to augment his severance package,” Wullbrandt said.
The announcement did not include how much Gassaway will receive for his severance package, with Wullbrandt only saying a mutual press release would be issued.
That release claimed the severance package included six months salary and benefits.
It also noted the separation had nothing to do with performance.
“Mr. Gassaway brings a lot of talent to the table with his knowledge and work ethic,” Mayor Ryan Toussaint said in a written statement. “The City Council has a different direction for the community and we mutually agreed that a separation would allow the City Council to achieve its desired outcomes. We wish David well and thank him for his time in Solvang.”
Later in the meeting, after representatives from Noozhawk and the Santa Ynez Valley Star pointed out that Wullbrandt had failed to state who asked for the city manager’s resignation, the attorney identified the majority as Toussaint and councilmen Chris Djernaes and Daniel Johnson.
The City Council — Djernaes and Johnson along with Karen Waite and Robert Clarke — hired Gassaway in February. Toussaint was absent from the meeting, but had been involved in earlier aspects of the selection process.
The contract clause referenced by Wullbrandt states that the city manager could resign at any time upon giving a 45-day written notice.
“Manager shall not be entitled to severance in the event of his resignation unless manager resigns following an offer by the City Council at a duly-noticed meeting to accept resignation for severance, or following a suggestion to resign by the City Council at a duly-noticed meeting, whether such suggestion is formal or informal,” the contract clause states.
“A suggestion to resign by less than a majority of the City Council shall not constitute a suggestion to resign by the City Council.”
Gassaway’s contract listed his initial salary at $175,000, along with assorted benefits.
The employment agreement also calls for a severance package of six months salary, or approximately $87,500, plus six months of health benefits.
It’s unclear how that payout is an augmented severance package as described by Wullbrandt.
The contract also calls for the City Council, city management staff and Gassaway to avoid any written, oral or electronic statement except in a joint press release, and says they must avoid disparaging either side.
In that press release, Gassaway said, “I have enjoyed my time in this wonderful community. During my tenure, the City Council and I were able to set the stage for a new course in Solvang’s rich history. I wish the City Council success as they lead change for the community.”
At the time of Gassaway’s hiring in February, council members spoke glowingly about their top candidate to replace retired city manager Brad Vidro.
“I, for one, as mayor pro-tem, I could not be happier that he is with us,” Clarke said.
Waite said Gassaway arrived with outstanding references from well-respected individuals in the city-administration industry.
“We look forward to the things he’ll do with us and for us,” Djernaes added. “I think the community will be well-served not just by his invaluable skill set and expertise and experience, but also by his interpersonal skills.”
But Gassaway’s role seemingly had faded in recent weeks, with the top employee left out of normal aspects of the job in favor of the interim city attorney and the special city auditor.
Before his current job, Gassaway worked in the desert city of Indian Wells at the various positions from May 2014 through early 2019.
He also worked for five years in various posts for the city of Rancho Cordova until he was promoted to the assistant to the city manager.
After Wullbrandt pointed out the staff needed an acting leader, the council voted to add the item as an emergency item, and agreed to offer the temporary job to longtime Public Works Director/City Engineer Matt van der Linden.
If he declines, the role of acting city manager will be offered to newcomer Xenia Bradford, who was recently hired as the administrative services director.