On February 15, 2023, the Los Banos City Council approved, in a 4 to 1 vote, a settlement agreement that reinstates Josh Pinheiro to his former position of City Manager. After his termination last summer, Pinheiro filed a claim against the city alleging retaliation and wrongful termination. According to the terms of the settlement, Pinheiro will receive a payment of $1.8 million, a raise in salary to $215,323.00 ($17,943.58 per month) and a 4% step increase each year starting on February 21st. The $1.8 million is to be paid to Josh Pinheiro using the City’s unallocated general funds, The settlement also requires a 5-0 vote to terminate him early from his 4-year contract. Deborah Lewis was the only councilmember to vote against accepting the agreement, citing the agreement as immoral, potentially illegal, and would effectively make the City Manager invincible.
As the meeting started, Deborah Lewis tried to remove the entire item from the agenda, citing concerns that the 0-5 vote requirement did not abide by the city code and was thus potentially illegal. No other city council member seconded the motion and the meeting continued. In the Public Forum sentiment was mixed, some were happy to see Josh coming back and found the settlement a necessary payment. Some in support drew on their previous positive experiences with him as proof of his character. Others were unsure, finding the 0-5 vote requirement to be undemocratic and potentially unlawful, as well as the settlement too much. Other concerns came from where the funds would be coming from and why insurance hadn’t covered it.
Notably, during the readout of the written-in public comments by the city clerk Lucy Mallonee, five city workers who remained anonymous for fear of retribution, found the rehiring to be morally wrong. The five comments echoed each other stating that the reason he was fired was for unprofessional, bullying, and overbearing conduct. The workers also expressed concerns that the 5-0 vote requirement is unfair, that Pinheiro is unqualified, and that rehiring him showed a lack of consideration for the voices of city staff members.
When the Council finally reached the agenda item, all council members gave their views on the matter. Deborah Lewis of District Four found the entire agreement to be immoral, giving a nay, she felt that the 5-0 vote would make him invincible and the settlement funds would be better used elsewhere. Council Member Lambert defended the decision stating that on the same day as his firing, Pinheiro helped craft a budget which included 1 million for the animal shelter; money that has been stagnant since the firing of Mr. Pinheiro. Councilmember Jones said that this situation never should have happened, and he looked forward to future progress. Council Member Begonia Jr. defended his position, stating he was standing up for his beliefs with this hard decision.
Mayor Paul Llanez was happy that such a big decision was being made in the public and not behind closed doors. He noted that the other 10 applicants for city manager were not local and he expressed concerns whether they would hold the values of the local community. Llanez found the settlement worth it, stating the city saved more in valuable time than it’s paying through the settlement. He also noted that the raise for Pinheiro is lower than the 10% raise given to all City Employees. Lastly Llanez revealed that he personally researched the complaints which proceeded Pinheiro’s termination. In his opinion, based upon his previous investigative expertise while in law enforcement, the complainants were uncooperative and the complaints unfounded. The vote was 4-1, in favor of the settlement and rehiring of Josh Pinheiro.
The outgoing City Manager Stacy Elms was Interim City Manager for less than two months and presided over the Sewer line break on the Canal Trail and the inclement weather that flooded the state early this year.