Atascadero city manager stepping down

May 30, 2013

Wade McKinneyWade McKinney, Atascadero’s city manager, will be leaving that post soon to take a similar position with the small, opulent desert community of Indian Wells, CalCoastNews has learned.

The position has been offered to McKinney, said the  Indian Wells’ human resources director Wednesday, and a contract is being finalized. No details of the pending agreement, including salary and benefits, were revealed.

McKinney could not be reached for comment.

Indian Wells is a city of approximately 5,000, located in Riverside County in the Coachella Valley, between Palm Desert and La Quinta. It is home to numerous celebrities and some of the world’s finest and best known golf clubs.

It also is known for paying its city managers princely sums. In 2011, the city’s former top staff employee, Greg Johnson, was the highest paid city employee in California, knocking down $677,172 in salary and “other pay.” Johnson has departed as has interim city manager Rod Wood.

McKinney is one of the highest paid city officials in San Luis Obispo County at $254,693 in total compensation in 2010, including a base salary of $157,173. McKinney’s vacation, holiday and administrative leave totals more than 13 weeks a year, not including sick time, valued at $39,140.

McKinney became city manager of Atascadero in August 1997 after spending 11 years as the city manager of Shafter.


Well, look at it this way. Wade brought us Kelly Gearheart, Hurst Financial, Weyrich, a partially redeveloped downtown with lots of vacancies; let’s not forget the Diamond Adult World debacle and various other scandals during his tenure. Sounds to me that he was hmmm, not very good at his job. Lots of lip service, with little delivery to the community as a whole. Maybe when Gearheart, Hurst and the others get out of prison Wade can give them a job in their new frontier – Indian Wells. However, the same standards used to recruit and hire Wade will be employed by the powers that be and we will find ourselves in the same situation in another five years.


ABJA for City Manager…..Anyone But Jim App. (sorry, that HAD to be said)


Danika, I thought you wanted App out of Paso. Wouldn’t this be a quick way to get rid of him?


Goodness NO! I wouldn’t wish App on any town. Besides, I grew up and currently live in Atascadero…


I kind of thought that was the case but couldn’t resist a little poke. However, given the long-term political record of Atascadero, do you really think that they will hire someone much better?


I couldn’t be happier. Can he leave tomorrow, please?

Spirit Filled

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!


Mr. Holly

It will be interesting to see how a replacement will be chosen? ATown needs to get a new City Manager that has fresh ideas, is ethical and has no ties to the past doings of city officials. Or will the newly elected mayor attempt to maintain the same old thing for ATown? The city is at the crossroads to progress forward or just lay down in the old mud hole. As MikeB has stated the payout should be a wake up call to what has and is happening in ATown. I pity the mess that a new City Manager will be undertaking as the city is in a financial mess with no financial recovery in the near future.


Instead of just posting the link, why don’t you start a new thread on the issue?


Trust me, anyone can file a lawsuit, so we shall see when the day is done. This site was created in 2008 (11 years) and undoubtedly has been threatened man times with lawsuits and intimidation as I am sure The Tribune, New Times, etc. has been. We’ll all watch it play out and my money is on Cal Cast News! Having gone through a nasty legal matter, it will take quite a while to see where this goes, so it will be a wait and see game. Nothing to get to excited about except for The Tribune and CCN haters…


I am not so sure the Trib has been sued for quite some time. If a news outlet lacks the character to do real investigative reporting, it doesn’t run much risk of offending someone with enough money to file a suit.

I think CCN is less than perfect with their reporting (sensationalistic at least), but I do admire their willingness to publicly expose the nefarious doings of people with power.


Actually, TT doesn’t do much if any investigative reporting on issues. Their idea of investigative reporting is more on human interest stories. When was the last time the TT undiscovered anything?


I think the Trib “undiscovers” things all the time! I know what you meant to type, SLObird, but “undiscovered” is such a good word for what the Trib does!


The Trib gets its facts from the press releases handed out by the subjects of their articles. Their coverage of the SSLOCSD is an excellent example.


Having seen things from the inside and outside, it is my opinion that McKinney has grossly mismanaged Atascadero with the support of a City Council who refused to exercise political will.

The City of Atascadero will be paying dearly for his very lucrative contract, which included the accumulation of vacation leave in excess of the city’s own personnel rules.

As taxpayers, we will also shoulder the expense of the infrastructure improvements (i.e. roundabouts) at Del Rio and 101 because development agreements were done in a negligent manner and I predict that sewer funds will be diverted to this project and that ultimatel, the city will propose a bond measure to prop up the infrastructure supporting sewer and wastewater needs.

Indian Wells is known for tourism and in view of McKinney’s failure to successfully promote that endeavor here, I see a great irony.

As a taxpayer and advocate of good government I did not shed crocodile tears when Kelly Gearhart fled Atascadero, nor will I shed them at McKinney’s departure.


Officers of the titanic….in one form or another….keep throwing you’re stones.

In the mean time the Department of Correction is a growth industry.

I hope some day retired peace officers will help change national policy to decriminalize drug use and redirect those savings into health care and education where our young workers have a vocation upon high school that can directly serve the community. I’m talking about plumbers, carpenters, bookkeeping, culinary arts….you get the picture….I hope.

Fiefdomes all around…carefully throwing your stones wilst residing in your glass house.


MikeB aren’t you bellied up to the public trough living on a PERS pension? Seems like the kettle may be calling the pot black here knowing how lucrateive pension packages are for police and fire employees.


QUOTING MIKE B: “Having seen things from the inside and outside, it is my opinion that McKinney has grossly mismanaged Atascadero with the support of a City Council who refused to exercise political will.”

In my experience, politicians act for their own best interests. If the city council failed to use its power to change how McKinney was running the city, that means the city council approved of what McKinney was doing.

That does not bode well for the non-celebrity residents of Atascadero because, since they agreed with what McKinney did, they will likely get someone very much like McKinney for his replacement.


Over 3 months a year vacation, with unlimited stockpiling of days, any wonder about the financial problems of the state.

How many sick days a year? plus personal days?


Good riddens, let him be some other places head ache from now on…


I wonder if Indian Wells will have to continue to pay Mr. McKinney when he is arrested, tried and convicted as part of the Kelly Gearhart debacle; do they know what they may be getting in Mr. McKinney?


If/when the Gearhart case finally makes it to trial, McKinney, O’Malley, Clay and others may be (definitely SHOULD be) called to testify. The allegations of backroom deals among them and Gearhart are something that may come up in court.

Hmmm…the timing of McKinney’s departure IS quite interesting… A-town’s city government (including McKinney) has been touting their upcoming centennial for a loooong time yet now McKinney’s going to leave??? Before the hallowed Rotunda building gets re-opened? lol


I think the time of his departure has everything to do with getting the best city manager’s job in the state if not the country. $200,000/yr pay increase to run a resort city of 5,000 people with a $58.2 million/yr budget (Atascadero 27,000 & a $16+ million/yr budget) and you think he’s just skipping town?


I gotta agree. McKinney has shown that conducting business in Atascadero in unethical ways has no serious consequences so why would he run to escape that situation.

I wonder how thoroughly Indian Wells checked him out before hiring him. Do they also have a “good-ol-boys” club running that city and want someone who will go along with whatever agenda they have — without concern for the finer points of legality or ethics? Or did they get conned into it?


Oh, I think both Mayor McKinney and City Manager James App would feel right at home in Indian Wells. Indeed, I believe they would view it as better than a free pass into The Promised Land.


Welcome to Indian Wells.

Here’s one Indian Wells scandal for you.

This scandal centers on the repercussions suffered by Haddon Libby (vice-president of First Foundation, a bank in Indian Wells), a resident of Indian Wells, who simply asked, at a public meeting on 8/4/2011, about the lavish salaries and benefits going to Indian Wells city manager, Greg Johnson. According to Libby, Johnson was paid $283,020 in 2009, plus, apparently, lifetime medical coverage, an 80% pension for life, free golf and free car washes. The population of Indian Wells at the time was 5,093.

Libby spoke because of an compensation was an agenda item that night, because the topic was in the news and on the minds of residents because of the revelations about the City of Bell’s salaries and benefits.

Libby suggested it would help set the public’s minds at ease if the city council issued a full disclosure on a number of benefits. These included special VIP care privileges at the Eisenhower Medical Center, lifetime medical coverage, pension benefits at up to 80% of salary–plus cost of living increases–for life, free golfing privileges for life, free car washes, a special $14,700 fund for expenditure on discretionary expense items, payments of $50-100 per meeting which are not reported as W-2 income in city records.

The next day Libby filed a public records requests for documents.

What is amazing is how the far-reaching chain of events that followed was started by a small-town chance encounter at the local Cosco.

On 8/9/2011 (just five days following the council meeting in question), 75-year-old Indian Wells resident Vicki Blythin, and then-Mayor Patrick Mullaney, happened to cross paths at the local Costco. Their brief verbal exchange appears to have set the wheels of this scandal in motion.

According to Blythin’s deposition, she had attended the council meeting on 8/4/2011 and when she crossed paths with the Mayor at Costco, she told the mayor she wasn’t happy at all with the amount of money Greg Johnson (City Manager) was making and the huge pension he would get when he left. Mayor Mullany (an ex-FBI agent), according to Blythin’s deposition, became obviously very upset and said “That’s not true, and we’re going to call his employer and he’s going to be in a lot of trouble.”

Later that same day City Manager Greg Johnson first emailed Haddon Libby’s employer, head of First Foundation bank, CEO Scott Kavanaugh. For the next few weeks, there were a number of angry emails from Johnson to Kavanaugh and Libby, with copies to members of the city council.

City Manager Johnson also made several angry telephone calls to Kavanaugh.

Libby was fired from the bank on 9/8/2011.

The emails from/between Johnson, Kavanaugh, Libby and city council members were released to the public. (Text of some of the emails is quoted in the article at The public was very, very angry about Johnson’s nasty response to a simple question about his salary, and the public let everyone, including the city manager and city council, local news stations, etc., know about it. The message boards went wild.

Despite this public outrage, then-Mayor Mullaney supported then-City-Manager Johnson until the city council fired Johnson in November 2011. Mullaney was subsequently stripped of his position as mayor by the city council members.

According to Libby, the city manager got him fired from his position as VP at the bank. Libby also believed he was wrongfully terminated by First Foundation (an employer cannot fire an employee for political activities because it infringes on their civil rights).

In October 2011, Libby filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against First Foundation, and a complaint alleging officials violated his civil rights.

On 10/7/2011, City Manager Johnson abruptly resigned (effective 11/4/2011). On 11/3/2011, the city council approved a severance package of only $427,592.

In April 2012, Haddon Libby’s attorneys filed a lawsuit against Indian Wells claiming civil and constitutional rights violations, political retaliation and conspiracy.

Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Peter F. Schabarum, who has been a resident of Indian Wells for 20 years, is sponsoring a November ballot initiative to cut the Indian Wells’ city council’s pay to $1,000/month (no benefits).

The Indian Wells city council has an initiative on the ballot to keep their monthy pay at $2,300 (with medical and retirement benefits).

How about those other benefits Haddon Libby mentioned in the city council meeting? They are no longer receiving $9,000 a year to attend social events. Gone are the city leaders’ free carwashes and golfing.

What about those VIP accommodations at Eisenhower Medical Center? Described by the hospital as “private five-star accommodations,” they would be available to any high-profile patient. They would be free for elected officials.

In April 2012 Libby filed paperwork to run for a seat on the Indian Wells city council this November.


“In Indian Wells, banker Haddon Libby’s comments to council rattle City Hall” (July 2012)


“Simple Request for Public Officials’ Salaries Got Him Fired, Bank VP Haddon Libby Says” (2011)


City Manager Haddon Libby’s lawsuit against Indian Wells (2012)–it is a corker, even bringing up the specter of the City of Bell scandals.


Indian Wells City Manager Greg Johnson Resigns Under Scrutiny” (2011)


Desert Sun Articles:

“Indian Wells City Manager Under Fire for Calls, Emails.”

“Indian Wells City Manager Quits Under Scrutiny”

“Indian Wells Banker Haddon Libby Protests Firing in Lawsuit”

“Indian Wells Council to Interview Firms for New Manager”

“Indian Wells Councilman Doug Hanson Calls on City to Fire Greg Johnson”

“Ex-Banker Haddon Libby Sues Indian Wells”

“Ex-banker Haddon Libby Sues Indian Wells.” (4/22/2012)


Indian Wells is a political mess.