LA HABRA — Lee Risner, city manager for the past 24 years, unexpectedly announced Thursday that he will retire Nov. 30 for personal reasons.
Risner, 66, did not elaborate but said his decision had nothing to do with recent charges by four of the five candidates vying for two City Council seats in next week's election. They had said Risner has too much control over city operations. The only exception was Mayor David M. Cheverton, who is also running in the council race.
Candidate Kent A. Roberts, a former city councilman, has been the most vocal critic, saying Risner is too powerful. Candidate Dorothy May Rush agreed, saying Risner "has too much authority. Whatever he says is what goes. If you don't like it, too bad."
Risner countered by telling the council Thursday night, "The city manager has literally no power. I cannot adopt law. I cannot adopt resolutions. I cannot adopt policy. Only you can do that. That's where the power is.
"Those that say the city manager has too much power frankly do not know whereof they speak."
Risner repeatedly has denied rumors over the past year that he would retire soon and has said he didn't plan to leave for "a long time."
City Councilman William D. Mahoney said, "There are people who are upset with Lee Risner; that's their problem. . . . They're either misinformed or have a different agenda than the betterment of this community."
The council praised Risner for his accomplishments over the years, voting to keep him on as interim city manager until July 1.
"I want to say that (Risner) has been a tribute to this community," Mahoney said.
Councilman James Flora added that Risner has "taken a lot of lumps" from people who don't realize what good he's done by initiating programs for low-income residents, senior citizens, children and business.
Risner, who was Seal Beach's city manager for four years until he was fired in 1970, said the three council members who voted to oust him there were later recalled from office for doing so. Those recalled council members had charged, among other things, that Risner had too much power, he said.