Atascadero city manager role criticized in report



A report compiled by Atascadero Mayor Mike Brennler, a retired police detective, shows that City Manager Wade McKinney knew a beleaguered employee hadn't done anything wrong even when the employee was forced to resign and was pegged as a rogue employee.

Redevelopment Agency Deputy Executive Director Marty Tracey was forced out of his position in October 2005—eight months after leaving a message with Pat and Sue Gaughan that the city had started an eminent domain process to potentially purchase their property. It wasn't until news stories about the message began to surface that the City Council forced Tracey to resign.

A month later, the City Council took back the request amid lawsuit threats.

Brennler's report includes deposition transcripts from Tracey's and the Gaughans' lawsuits, both of which the city lost. In the transcripts McKinney said that Tracey had not misrepresented the city, even though that is what McKinney had stated publicly. All Tracey did wrong, according to McKinney, was to use the words "eminent domain."

The city had, in fact, started an eminent domain process by moving forward with environmental studies on the Gaughans' property. McKinney said Tracey's use of the words eminent domain, however, was "too strong." But in an e-mail to Tracey, McKinney said, "I am very glad to see [that] eminent domain is headed forward, I think this is the real answer." 

McKinney declined to comment.

The Gaughans spoke highly of Tracey, saying he had been courteous and professional, even going so far as to condemn officials for turning Tracey into a "sacrificial lamb."

Neither Brennler nor Tracey could say for certain why Tracey had been ostracized by the city, even though he had admittedly done nothing wrong. Both would only speculate that Tracey used the words eminent domain when the issue was at the height of controversy following the Kelo decision, and the city simply severed ties to save embarrassment.

So why did the city not state publicly that Tracey hadn't done anything improper? According to McKinney's deposition, they were trying to protect his privacy.

The scene behind City Hall doors was just as ugly as in public. According to Brennler's report, Tracey was informed by McKinnney that he was being forced to resign after a City Council closed session.

"The good news is that the council is not firing me," McKinney is quoted in the report. "I have been exonerated of everything and they gave me a 5-0 vote of confidence. However, the council wants you to resign."

In a phone interview, Tracey said the report was no news to him, but it helped show how he was placed at the center of a witch hunt.

"The stuff they came up with [against me] was just flat goofy," he said.

Brennler, who decided not to run for a second term and has one more City Council meeting as mayor, said he wrote the report because "an injustice was done to Mr. Tracey" and he wanted to clear the air.

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