Why Manhattan Beach’s City Manager Was Placed on Leave

A few more details have come to light about Manhattan Beach’s sudden decision to place City Manager Mark Danaj on paid administrative leave. Here are a few things we’ve learned so far:

The decision surprised Danaj.

An employment attorney hired by Danaj, Alison Berry Wilkinson, has confirmed that the council’s decision to place Danaj on leave took the administrator by surprise.

"We find it perplexing," said Wilkinson. "I've never seen anything like this in the jurisdictions I've worked in."

The council told Danaj the decision was related to his handling of the elimination of the assistant city manager position.

As City News noted previously, the decision to place Danaj on leave followed the sudden and rather quiet elimination of two high-level city positions: that of economic vitality manager and that of assistant city manager. Now, it appears the two events are directly related.

The Beach Reporter explains: 

In October 2014, previous city councilmembers gave Danaj approval to create four new executive positions. A few weeks later, Danaj backed off the move due to public outcry, saying he would take more time to evaluate.

But Danaj a month earlier had hired an assistant city manager, Nadine Nader, who previously worked with him in Fremont, California. While the city had an assistant to the city manager in the past, the position paid considerably less than the roughly $200,000 salary and $2.3 million low interest home loan afforded Nader…

Earlier this month, Nader, the assistant city manager, announced she would be leaving Manhattan Beach for a job in Santa Clara.

Nader, who begins her new job in January, said the loan was a bridge loan which she paid back this summer. "It helped me stabilize my family," she said. Nader would not comment further on the circumstances of her position being eliminated or on Danaj's situation. So far, no initiative has been made to refill the assistant manager position.

Wilkinson said Danaj was especially shocked given that he executed the council's directive. Given that Nader was under an annual employment contract, the city could not legally eliminate her position without cause, she said.

"Rather than thank the city manager for correcting the issue, they put him on administrative leave for not following their direction," Wilkinson said. "The goal was being achieved, but just with a slightly different time frame."

According to Wilkinson, it was Danaj who was in the legal and ethical right. He wants people to know his client did not commit any acts of misconduct.

"This is a man of the highest integrity who simply wants the best for the city,” the attorney said.

The performance of the economic vitality manager was an issue of contention too.

Most of the city council was opposed to the hiring of an assistant city manager and an economic vitality manager in the first place. So it didn’t help that the economic vitality manager Danaj hired, Andy Sywak, reportedly clashed with some members of the North Manhattan Beach Business Improvement District.

A source who spoke with the Beach Reporter describes Sywak’s actions behavior as “disruptive.” (Sywak has denied that characterization.) The source said the council brought the problem to Danaj for resolution and that he did not respond to their satisfaction.

Danaj’s attorney is now in talks with the city.

Danaj’s attorney is trying to work out an agreement with Manhattan Beach officials. A return to regular employment or a departure accompanied by a negotiated severance package are both options on the table.

If Danaj is terminated without cause, he is entitled to the equivalent of one year’s salary: $250,000.

UPDATE: The Manhattan Beach City Council has terminated its employment agreement with Mark Danaj.


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