San Diego City Manager Sylvester Murray, under fire for his public statements about the Police Department and the black community's reaction to the Sagon Penn murder trial, emerged with his job Tuesday after meeting with council members in a marathon closed-door session to rate his performance in office.
But indications were that, at the very least, city government's highest-ranking, highest-paid administrator was told he should tone down his outspoken, take-charge brand of management.
Several council members and their aides have complained privately that it appeared that Murray, who as the former Cincinnati city manager is accustomed to being the point man for local government, has been trying to "preempt" them politically by cultivating ties with community groups since he arrived on the job nine months ago.
"We had an opportunity to discuss in greater detail some of the management techniques that he used in Cincinnati as opposed to perhaps what we would like in San Diego," acting Mayor Ed Struiksma said after a nearly four-hour executive session, most of it with Murray.
"I think, frankly, Mr. Murray has a better sense of direction as to what the council expects of him in the future," said Struiksma.
Struiksma said the council took no vote--either a vote of confidence or to fire Murray. He said the council did not ask for, nor did Murray offer, his resignation. Neither did the council suggest to Murray that he might begin looking for another job sometime in the near future, he said. Seven of the council's eight members--Councilman Bill Cleator was absent--participated in the closed-door session.
Asked if the council were leaving the door open to call Murray on the carpet once again if he doesn't change, Struiksma said:
"The door is always open. I think that everyone understands that on any given day, the manager can be terminated simply by five votes of the council. But that's not what we're setting out to do here. We're trying to just simply establish a good working relationship because we have a city manager who came here with a very fine reputation, well credentialed, and we want him to do a very good job."
Stern-faced, Murray walked into the closed session at 8 a.m. Asked how he felt, Murray said, "Terrible. I've been feeling terrible for a week."
Murray left the meeting around 11 a.m., and the council adjourned about an hour later. After the meeting broke up, Murray declined comment.
"I would rather not speak about it, please," he told a gaggle of reporters. "I enjoy working for the city."
Later Tuesday at a meeting of the San Diego chapter of the American Jewish Committee, Murray expressed relief that he remains as city manager.
"Because I've been in the news recently, I am very glad to be here tonight; in fact, I'm very glad to be in San Diego.
"Seriously, since what happened last week I apologize to the people in San Diego for extremely, extremely intemperate remarks and for the interpretation of remarks that were just awful and that I deeply regret . . . . I make a commitment to work very hard to do the right job."
Council members spurned questions by reporters after the session. They referred inquiries to Struiksma, who held a short press conference before breaking it off abruptly to keep an appointment to greet entrants in the Miss California contest.
Later Tuesday, Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer said, "I think this was a simple discussion to clear the air. We feel unified in our support of Mr. Murray." Wolfsheimer said that Murray "has our full support and we feel very good about it. We were very satisfied with the answers he gave."
Another council member, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that the meeting was "very straightforward."
In his remarks after the session, Struiksma repeatedly characterized the discussions between Murray and the council as "positive," dwelling on the issues of the city manager's management style, his relations with city employees and his relationship to the City Council.
Part of the discussions centered on the political differences between Cincinnati and San Diego, Struiksma said.
"The system is that they do not have a directly elected mayor who acts as a spokesperson for the city. I think that's something, an obligation that was taken on by the city manager to a greater degree than it is here," he said.
Struiksma said the council did not instruct Murray to stop meeting with community groups or restrict what he could say publicly on city government issues.
The acting mayor also said the council accepted Murray's apology for his remarks in an interview published in The Times on June 1.
In the interview, Murray said he has an "orgasm" being the boss of police and that he was "very surprised" the black community had not reacted more to allegations of police brutality that have surfaced in the Sagon Penn murder trial.