A floor plaque inside the Vista Civic Center, which serves as the city of Vista's City Hall. / Photo by Tigist Layne
A floor plaque inside the Vista Civic Center, which serves as the city of Vista's City Hall. / Photo by Tigist Layne

After nearly 11 years as Vista’s city manager, Patrick Johnson submitted his resignation on Thursday, Oct. 13, one month after the City Council voted to limit his authority to hire and appoint department leaders.  

The change now requires the city manager to get the approval of a majority of the City Council before hiring or appointing department heads. Before the council’s decision, the city manager had sole authority. 

“This was a fundamental change in the city manager position and authority by removing my ability to create and manage an effective management team,” Johnson said in his resignation letter. “I advised you in advance that this action would be taken against my wishes and result in my involuntary resignation as city manager.” 

In his letter, Johnson said he was “involuntarily resigning,” meaning there were unwanted changes to his job that weren’t consistent with the contract he agreed to when he was hired. Therefore, his contract allows him to involuntarily resign and still receive severance pay, which includes a lump sum cash payment equal to 12-months’ base salary. According to Transparent California, Johnson made $258,075 in 2021.

And because he involuntarily resigned within 120 days of a city election, he is also entitled to be placed on administrative leave through March 2023, his letter states. 

Andrea McCullough, the communications officer for the city, said the separation agreement will be discussed at Tuesday’s closed-session City Council meeting. 

The new hiring approval policy went into effect on Oct. 14, one day after Johnson resigned, but it has a sunset clause, which means it will expire in six months if the council doesn’t iron out the details within that time frame. 

A workshop is planned for Oct. 27 to develop the policy with feedback from staff and the public. 

Several residents spoke against the policy during the council meeting, saying council members were overreaching, and that Johnson was more than qualified to maintain his authority. 

Johnson is a credentialed city manager through the International City/County Management Association and has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in public administration. He had been with the city for 24 years. 

“He’s given decades of service to our city and he will be sorely missed and not easily replaced,” Deputy Mayor John Franklin said via email. “I urged Patrick to stay and wish he would have, but ultimately it was the right decision for him and his family and I respect that.” 

The council approved the measure 4-1, with Mayor Judy Ritter as the sole no vote. She and the other members of the council declined to comment. 

Johnson could not be reached for comment. 

Tigist Layne is Voice of San Diego's north county reporter. Contact her directly at tigist.layne@voiceofsandiego.org or (619) 800-8453. Follow her...

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  1. Dumb move, City Council. You hire experts for…wait for it…their expertise. Are you all more qualified than the expert? Doubt it.

  2. Isn’t the city council bound by the city charter, which could only be changed by a vote of the public? Making such a policy change, effectively changes the way local government works!

  3. Small time, power hungry thinking by the Vista Council. Patrick Johnson was the smartest guy in the room, far more qualified to run a city than the elected officials who insulted his position. I’m surprised but not surprised.

  4. “Therefore, his contract allows him to involuntarily resign and still receive severance pay, which includes a lump sum cash payment equal to 12-months’ base salary…., Johnson made $258,075 in 2021.” So.. this is where all of Vista’s Taxpayer’s dollars are going? Well deserved, but wow….. Thanks a lot City Council..

  5. Good riddance. Very undemocratic attitude. The city council represents the voice of the citizens. City managers are not above the voters and this former one thinks he can be an unelected ruler. Why not just do away with elections?

  6. It’s not the Council’s job to hire and certainly not manage. This situation, no doubt, has many threads of information to pull that expose the full story. Must have been be=ad for Pat to resign. The form of government t is the the Council hires the manager and the attorney, Manager hires exec. Staff, they hire management staff, supervisors, and on down. Not hard to make happen but not something to be messed with either. They need objective level help to work through this before they try to hire another CM.

    1. All power stems from the Council. City managers disregard that at their own peril. Hiding behind the rouse of the “city manager form of government” won’t save them, and disrespects the rights of voters to make change in how they are governed.

  7. It’s about time City Councils recognize the disparity in severance pay between City Managers and their department heads. This CM has a contract with the Council that allows him to leave and receive a $260k lump sum payment. Prior to this Council action Department Heads served at will, meaning the CM could fire them without cause, and a DH with 11 years of service would only receive 2 months of severance pay. Requiring the City Manager be subject to oversight for the hiring and firing of DHs simply provides for a reasonable review of administrative actions taken against long-term professional staff.

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