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Hollister searches for new city clerk

Council fired veteran clerk Christine Black ‘without cause’

The City of Hollister is on the search for a new full-time, long-term city clerk after the city council voted to fire former City Clerk Christine Black without stating a reason.

A majority of the city council voted 3-1 in closed session June 21 to approve a “motion to terminate City Clerk Christine Black without cause,” City Attorney Mary Lerner reported when the body returned to open session. Councilmember Tim Burns made the motion in closed session, and Councilmember Dolores Morales seconded the motion.

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez voted against the motion. Councilmember Rolan Resendiz was absent from the June 21 meeting.

Councilmembers and city staff have been silent about the specific reasoning for Black’s termination, citing the issue as a personnel matter that is protected from public disclosure. State open meeting laws allow city councils and other elected bodies to discuss certain topics behind closed doors—including personnel, litigation and real estate negotiations.

“That’s a personnel matter, and as a result I have no comment,” Burns said in a voicemail responding to a phone call from this newspaper.

City Manager Brett Miller said city staff have appointed Bonnie Gawf as Hollister’s interim city clerk. Gawf, who will start this week, has previous experience as a city clerk for the cities of Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Morgan Hill.

By September, city staff hope to have appointed a more long-term replacement for Black. City Hall has hired the executive search firm Beckham & McKenney to recruit for the position, and that search is underway, Miller said.

The city clerk is responsible for keeping legislative history for the city, such as retaining records of Hollister City Council decisions. Clerks also create meeting agendas, keep meeting minutes, process public record requests, post public notices, give oaths of office, accept claims and subpoenas, and more.

Black has worked in various clerical positions for the City of Hollister over the years, including as support services assistant, deputy city clerk and assistant city clerk. In 2017, she was hired as the city’s Interim City Clerk, and was later appointed to the position on a long-term basis.

Velazquez and Resendiz said while they couldn’t comment on the council’s decision on Black’s employment, they didn’t have any concerns about her job performance leading up to the June 21 meeting.

The mayor said the firing of Black—who has obtained an encyclopedic knowledge of the city’s records and elections over the years—makes City Hall’s job more difficult.

“It wasn’t a wise decision,” Velazquez said. “The city manager has to find a temporary city clerk to handle things until a permanent one is found. The issue is, you lose all the knowledge of what was going on (from) the city clerk’s background.”

Resendiz was absent from the June 21 council vote, but he declined to comment out of a concern that doing so could open the city to litigation. When asked if he had any issues with Black’s job performance, Resendiz said, “No, she did a fabulous job.”

Morales and Councilmember Rick Perez did not respond to phone calls requesting comment.

Black could not be contacted before this newspaper’s print deadline.

Gawf’s total pay and benefits in 2019, when she was Monterey City Clerk, totaled about $182,000, according to the website transparentcalifornia.com.

In 2020, Black earned about $180,000 in pay and benefits from the City of Hollister.