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Irvine’s Russo on Wrong End of Lawsuit over his Riverside City Manager’s Contract

John Russo, Irvine City Manager. Photo credit: OC Register

Wheeler-dealer Irvine City Manager John Russo must have wished the courts in Riverside County were closed last week.  The City of Riverside lost a lawsuit filed by a concerned taxpayer over a contract extension with generous benefits for Russo that was never formally approved by the city of Riverside because the City Council there never overrode the Mayor’s veto of the agreement.

In what Russo must consider as a cruel April Fool’s joke, Riverside Superior Court Judge Randall Stamen sided with taxpayer Ben Clymer Jr. and against the city on most elements of the lawsuit over Russo’s revised and inflated contract that made him one of the highest paid city manager’s in California.  But Stamen’s ruling doesn’t make it clear if Russo has to pay money back to the city.  The Riverside Press Enterprise reports Clymer will have to file another motion with the courts to have the city pay his legal fees and court costs associated with the lawsuit.

Under the terms of his revised contract with the City of Riverside, Russo received pay increases of 3% annually, bonuses and a one-half-of-one percent mortgage on his Riverside home — at a time when he was asking all city department heads to find ways to cut their budgets.  Stamen ruled that Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey had the authority to veto the Contract and legally did so, and the city council never cast a vote to override the veto.  Stamen also ruled against Clymer that “no gift of public funds” was made as the defendant alleged.

Russo, who applied for the City Manager’s job in Irvine the very day he was fired in Riverside, brought a few members of his loyal Riverside team to Irvine.  And while Irvine City Hall rank and file workers are getting no raise, he sought huge raises for himself and his assistant city manager — $24K for him and $51K for her that was cut dramatically.

It’s easy to see that Russo is following the same playbook in Irvine he used in Riverside.  Budget cuts across the board, no raises for staff, all while enriching his loyalists and himself.  If the judge rules that Russo has to pay back his bonuses or loses his sweetheart mortgage deal, I have to wonder what sort of “success fees” Russo might aspire to for cutting deals with developers in Irvine that he can bully the city council majority into approving.

This blog published this piece of Russo a year ago.  Sources inside city hall said he stuck around after five PM for a short period of time and he’s resumed his old routine.  Russo’s Riverside — now Irvine — team of Assistant City Manager Marianna Marysheva, Economic Development professional Kaitlyn Nguyen, and Mark Steuer, Public Works Director. All three worked for Russo in Riverside and all three were hired directly by Russo without any sort of open application process  were hired directly by Russo without any sort of open application process

It’s unclear if Nguyen has had any sort of success in directly bringing new businesses into Irvine.  If Steuer is on charge of our streets, he’s doing a lousy job repairing potholes.

Now that Russo’s Riverside Contract trial has been decided, watchdogs in Irvine need to keep an eye on him and perhaps the city council, which manages only one employee — Russo, ought to start shopping for a city manager not out to enrich himself over the taxpayers.