The Avondale City Council unanimously voted Dec. 23 to terminate City Manager Charles A. Montoya during a special meeting.
According to the termination letter obtained by the West Valley View, Montoya violated several rules since being hired as city manager in July 2018.
The letter stated Montoya directed city staff to pay funds that he claimed were due from the city. He also took a loan against his retirement account and failed to make timely payments.
By doing so, the letter stated he potentially jeopardized the tax-exempt status of the city’s plan and the opportunity for other employees to take loans against their retirement funds.
According to the letter, Montoya also sought and received tuition reimbursement funds in excess of the amounts allowed in the employment agreement. He received tuition payments from the city in advance of paying for or taking classes, without proper documentation, and through the improper use of his procurement card and the procurement cards of other city staff.
Montoya violated the city charter by failing to reside in Avondale during part of his appointment as city manager and did not repay vehicle allowance funds, according to the letter. When inquiries were made about Montoya’s residency, he obfuscated, deflected and misled city staff and council members.
The letter indicated that city council determined Montoya damaged the reputation of the city or city council and acted immorally, imprudently and unprofessionally, and in violation of the city charter, the terms of the employment agreement, the city’s policies, procedures and the ICMA Code of Ethics.
After city council held an executive session to discuss Montoya’s employment agreement and his violations, the group voted 7-0 to remove him as city manager. Prior to the termination, Montoya was on administrative leave.
“The council and I are confident that the organization is in the capable hands of a professional team and that the operations of the city will continue to run smoothly,” Avondale Mayor Kenn Weise said.
“The action we took was done in the best interests of the city organization and the residents we serve. I have asked all city employees to continue to fulfill their roles as dedicated public servants. The current circumstances have not changed with regard to the progress this city has made. Avondale remains strong; our financial outlook is extremely positive, and we are fortunate to have the best employees working here.”
Assistant City Manager Cherlene Penilla will serve as city manager until a replacement for Montoya is announced.
Penilla joined the city nearly 20 years ago as human resources director, after serving in the same capacity for Yuma County for 13 years.
During her tenure in Avondale, Penilla oversaw the recruitment of key personnel throughout the organization, as well as provided oversight in the areas of testing, selection, classification and compensation; employee benefits administration; organizational development and training; policy administration; equal employment opportunity and labor law compliance. She has also led the city’s risk management, occupational safety and self-funded workers’ compensation programs.
Penilla earned a bachelor’s degree from UA and a master’s degree in human resource development and management from Webster University.
She will run the day-to-day operations of the city in the interim until a permanent replacement is named.