In the end, Bill Widmer didn't have to decide if he was going to resign from his seat on the Atherton City Council to take a job he had been offered in the Southern California city of Rancho Palos Verdes.
The offer to become the new city manager there was rescinded on Monday night, Dec. 22, less than a week after the council there had unanimously approved a contract with Mr. Widmer. In a press release the city said it was "unable to come to an agreement" with Mr. Widmer over the contract and had therefore rescinded the job offer.
The Rancho Palos Verdes council, in a closed session with its city attorney voted 4-1 to rescind the job offer and continue with its search for a new city manager.
Mr. Widmer surprised many on Dec. 17 when it was reported he had been named the new city manager in Rancho Palos Verdes. Then he surprised them again when he said he didn't plan to immediately move from Atherton or resign his council seat. The new job was to start Jan. 1.
That decision raised a bit of a flap in both cities. In Rancho Palos Verdes the City Council was flooded with emails saying that if Mr. Widmer couldn't commit to their city he shouldn't be hired.
In Atherton, the new mayor, Councilman Rick DeGolia, asked Mr. Widmer to resign. "If Bill knows that he will have to resign at some point over the next year, then it is in Atherton's best interests for him to do that now," he said. "I have communicated that to him."
Other than his four-year term on the Atherton City Council, Mr. Widmer has no experience working in the public sector. He has worked in management for private sector high-tech companies locally and internationally, and currently has a management consulting practice. He has a bachelor's degree in computer sciences and an MBA from Texas Christian University, and completed an executive program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Mr. Widmer's council colleagues found out about the new job only because Atherton City Manager George Rodericks was contacted on Dec. 17 by reporter Megan Barnes of the Daily Breeze, based in Torrance, California, for a comment on the $215,000-a-year contract with Mr. Widmer that had just been approved by the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council.
Mr. Widmer did not mention his new job at the Atherton council meeting that night, but told other council members after the meeting, after Mr. Rodericks told him he knew about it.
The contract posted online by Rancho Palos Verdes said Mr. Widmer "will relocate from his current residence to another residence that is within or near the city" but also offered him a "temporary travel and housing allowance" of $3,000 per month starting Jan. 1 for a maximum of nine months.
The contact also stated that Mr. Widmer was not allowed to "spend more than an average of four hours per week in ... non-employer related business without the prior approval of the council." Mr. Widmer said he now spends 20 to 30 hours a week on Atherton council business.
When the mayor and others started asking for his resignation, Mr. Widmer said he was not ready to do so. "I'm not going to be bullied out of office. I'll make my own decision in my own good time," he said.
When asked if those who supported his election had pressured him not to resign, Mr. Widmer said in an email: "My supporters have sent congratulations and want me to do what's best for me and my family. They have expressed appreciation for all I have done for the Town. I have also received comments on how disappointed they are in those who are using the situation to make unpleasant and uncalled for comments."
Back in Rancho Palos Verdes, reporter Barnes wrote in the Daily Breeze that Councilwoman Susan Brooks had said: "He should have resigned his position immediately upon accepting this ... to do anything other than that would be like trying to be in two marriages at the same time. ... You can't have your allegiance to two cities."
Mr. Widmer said that part of the reason he did not plan to immediately relocate was that his Atherton home is currently under construction and he has a son in college who still lives at home. Also, he said, the Rancho Palos Verdes council had agreed he could remain a resident of Atherton.
"I'll have an apartment down there and I'll come back when I can," he said. "I've got nine months to decide what I need to do."
According to a staff report to the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council, Mr. Widmer was chosen from among 49 applicants for the job.
"Some (Atherton council) meetings I'll have to attend by phone," Mr. Widmer said. "If it becomes a problem, the mayor and I will decide what to do. Probably sometime in the future I'll step down, but that's a time that's not been determined."
Mr. DeGolia said, however, that if Mr. Widmer's contract required him to move from Atherton that he should have resigned immediately.
"I strongly believe that if he is going to have to move, or if he will have to cut back on his time as a council member, or if he will have to be on the phone for our meetings, then whether or not he is legally required to do so, he should resign now," Mr. DeGolia said. "This would be in the best interests of Atherton, so that his replacement can get up to speed right away, because we have very important issues in front of us that are complex and we want someone involved in these issues who will be here for the long haul."
Mr. Widmer said he didn't see it that way. "I need to assess what the job requirements are. I need to assess the workload," he said. "I'll make the best decision for me, for the town of Atherton, for the town of Palos Verdes. That's what I'm going to do."
Mr. Widmer said a recruiter contacted him about the Rancho Palos Verdes job. "I've looked at a couple of other city manager's jobs before," he said. The Rancho Palos Verdes City Council is "a unique organization of business executives. ... They value private industry experience and good communication skills."
Mr. Widmer said he had applied for the job before filing for re-election "and then nothing happened." Only near the end of October was he interviewed, he said. He was called for a second interview on Nov. 5. "Nothing was finalized. You don't know what you've got until you're there," he said.
In the Nov. 4 Atherton election, he came in third in a four-person race for three open council seats, 29 votes ahead of losing candidate Rose Hau.