Throwing the Wheat, Keeping the Chaff in Vallejo

Follow along as two of our newly hired staff learn about business as usual in Vallejo city government.  For a few months they try to point out that things are not right,  while our City Manager talks as though it's just a temporary situation that they intend to fix shortly.  That never happens, and in less than a year one has quit and the other is helping Jess Malgapo make sure they don't have a quorum of the Council at their secret meeting to avoid violating the Brown Act.  From earnest new employee to co-conspirator in no time. at all. 


(Our comments in the following section will begin with Voices: )


Voices: The following comes from “About MISEDC... How It Started”  on a powerpoint presention for the August 25, 2015 MISEDC Special Meeting with Congressman Thompson as the special guest.  In the chronology they describe the conscription of our new Economic Development staffers like this:

- "We later added “City Staff” Mr. Mark Sawicki and Kathleen Diohep - both relatively new employees at the time -"

Voices:  Ms. Diohep sounds a little bewildered at being drafted by a rogue ad hoc committee with no formal sanction of the City Council as a body:

From: Kathleen Diohep - Economic Development Manager for the City of Vallejo
Sent: Monday, September 08, 2014
To: Mark Sawicki - Community & Economic Development Director for the City of Vallejo
(Excerpted from longer email)


We should discuss this.  The Congressman's office has identified a program to apply for dredging funds.   The City would need to be the applicant.   I don't know yet the complexity of the application; or what would be involved if the City takes the lead with the Corps (I know there can be matching funds).

I did not expressly agree to the City staffing this application, especially without knowing the scope of obligations.  However, Councilmember Malgapo has written up that I will be doing this.

From: jcmalgapo  9/18/2014
Mark, Kathleen,
FYI.   Thank you for your continued support.  The next step is drafting the Section 216 letter for Corps review.  Kathleen, please take the lead with Mark's concurrence.  We can share the draft letter to the committee at our next meeting on October 15th.  It will be an agenda item.
Sincerely,  Jess Malgapo 

From: Mark Sawicki - Community & Economic Development Director
Sent: Thursday, September 18, 2014
To: Dan Keen (Vallejo City Manager)
Cc: Kathleen Diohep
Subject: Mare Island Strait Dredging project

Dan -

As we discussed, I believe the direction of staff and allocation of resources for this project is really something that should come from the whole Council through you.   Staff's participation in the "ad hoc committee" to date has already diverted our limited Economic Development resources from our other priorities.   The Councilmember is further committing the City and staff to this project, without us fully understanding the implications.   The Congressman's office has also.

Perhaps Councilmember Malgapo should agendize this for discussion and determine where it fits in Council (and staff's) priorities?   If it is a priority, it may likely require contracting with an outside resource that can provide better focus and attention, including understanding the implications for the City.
Mark Sawicki | Community & Economic Development Director

Kathleen Diohep  10/03/14
Dan and Mark

Do you still want me to have a staff report for the 10/28 Council meeting on this?   My suggestion would be that it is simple, and delegates to the City manager sending a letter to the Corps...
I also got the sense on 9/17, that the Corps wanted staff, not just Council, in the loop.  My thought is to push this back quickly to the Corps (which I understand means going through Council)

From: Dan Keen - Vallejo City Manager
Sent: Friday, October 03, 2014
To: Kathleen Diohep; Mark Sawicki

Subject: Mare Island Straits Economic Development Committee Est. 4/30/14
Kathleen -
Yes, that is a commitment I made to the council member.  Plus, we need to have the rest of the council aware of what has been going on with Council member Malgapo's Committee, and make sure they are buying in to this as a Council priority.

Voices of Vallejo Note:  (Dan apparently wants to ease them into things rather than drop it on them all at once.  But instead of making the rest of the Council aware, they slip Item J into the Consent agenda for the October 28 meeting with no discussion.  The consent item makes the ACOE 216 application sound like just some initial exploratory information gathering inquiry without cost or commitment by the City.   No hint of all the intensive lobbying and resarch and staff work already done in secret. This must have been a learning experience for our new employees in how things are done in Vallejo.   But Mark gamely tries again in January:

From: Mark Sawicki
Sent: Friday, January 9, 2015
To: Daniel Keen ; Craig Whittom
Cc: Kathleen Diohep
Subject: Fwd: Mare Island Straits Economic Development Committee Est. 4/30/14


As Councilmember Malgapo pushes forward with his Straits Committee, we remain concerned with:
1. Councilmember rather than staff being point of contact with USACE
2. Indication that "we will be taking on new initiatives for 2015"
3. His directly asking additional city staff (Fiona, Roland) to attend without clearing with you and David, or clarifying what their role or need is.

Mark Sawicki

From: Craig Whittom, Vallejo Assistant City Manager
Sent: Sunday, January 11, 2015
To: Mark Sawicki
Cc: Kathleen Diohep; Daniel Keen
Subject: Next steps RE: Mare Island Straits Economic Development Committee Est. 4/30/14

What do you propose as the solution to the items you raised?  Let us know.
Thanks, Craig


Voices:  Why are you asking the new guy what he proposes to do?  You guys are the managers, and you know very well what you should do - what Mr. Keen admitted months ago you should do, and that is let the whole Council know what Mr. Malgapo’s committee has been doing.  But you don't do that, do you?  Why? 


Mr. Sawicki apparently grew tired of waiting for an answer to that question because two weeks later the following article appears in the Times Herald:


Vallejo Loses Its Second Economic Development Director in About Three Years



Vallejo Community & Economic Development Director Mark Sawicki is leaving the city for a similar position in Oakland, after a little more than a year on the job.  He’s the second person to take and leave that post in slightly more than three years.


Sawicki, whose last day in Vallejo is Feb. 6, didn’t return calls for comment Tuesday.  City Manager Dan Keen said Sawicki’s departure shouldn’t impact the city’s development plans.  


Sawicki started in Vallejo in October 2013 as the city’s first Community & Economic Development Director, replacing Ursula Luna-Reynosa, the city’s first Economic Development Director, who took a similar job in Southern California, after only about two years here,  Keen said.


Keen acknowledged a “fair amount of turnover” during his three years at the helm of Vallejo’s city staff, but said this is not terribly unusual at that level of city government. 


“I could say it’s a challenging community that’s not right for everyone, but, I don’t think that’s the case here, because there’s some pretty exciting opportunities here,” he said.  “So, it’s not for lack of pretty interesting things to do.  These are tough jobs, and people make decisions for a variety of reasons.  There is no clear pattern.”


A main reason Keen said he’s not concerned that economic development in Vallejo will suffer during the search for Sawicki’s replacement, which has already begun, is the two people Sawicki hired to manage the departments that his position oversees.  “Mark’s role was broader than just economic development,” Keen said. “He was also head of the planning and building departments. While he was here, he hired a economic development manager, Kathleen Diohep, and Lonell Butler as the chief building official,” both of whom Keen said are doing great work.

Voices:  Meanwhile, Ms. Diohep is still looking for guidance on how to respond to staffing demands coming from a private unsanctioned ad hoc citizen's committee headed by a Councilmember.


From: Craig Whittom,  
Sent: Saturday, May 23, 2015
To: Kathleen Diohep
Cc: Andrea Ouse; Daniel Keen
Subject: RE: Mare Island Straits Economic Development Committee Est. 4/30/14 ‐ May 20, 2015 Meeting Minutes


Having the 2015 RBPM plan in place will help provide guidance on questions such as this.  I don't consider this a priority in the context of your other Economic Development initiatives.  Not sure that you have the capacity to dedicate staff resources to this.  I don't have any guidance to offer that is different than your current approach.

Spend as little time as needed to manage communication with the elected official and keep open communication with the Army corps staff.  Let me know if you have any questions.

Thanks, Craig

From: Andrea Ouse
Sent: Monday, May 25, 2015
To: Craig Whittom; Kathleen Diohep
Cc: Daniel Keen
Subject: RE: Mare Island Straits Economic Development Committee Est. 4/30/14 ‐ May 20, 2015 Meeting Minutes

I concur with Craig; this is one of the many potential torpedoes that will divert focus away from Economic Development's dedicated priorities.  However, it is still important to maintain communications with elected officials so continue on that path without committing to tasks that will require a significant dedication of resources.


From: Daniel Keen
Sent: Monday, May 25, 2015
To: Andrea Ouse; Craig Whittom; Kathleen Diohep
Subject: RE: Mare Island Straits Economic Development Committee Est. 4/30/14 ‐ May 20, 2015 Meeting Minutes
     I concur with Craig’s viewpoint as well.
Daniel E. Keen- City Manager



Voices Note:  Yes, they're all in agreement with Craig, who has no guidance to offer.  Now that's management at its very finest.  We're really getting our money's worth there, aren't we?  It's hard to blame the new kid on the block for throwing in the towel and going along with what passes for normal in Vallejo city government.    By May of this year Ms. Diohep is reduced to helping Mr. Malgapo avoid an accidental Brown Act violation by inviting a quorum of our City Council members to the same secret meeting.

From: Kathleen Diohep <>
To: Jess Malgapo <>
Sent: Tue, May 19, 2015 5:50 pm
Subject: Tomorrow's meeting


I just noticed that with the Mayor, you have invited 4 of the 7 council. We can only have 3 at this meeting. Perhaps you already know that someone else is not going to make it?

Kathleen Diohep
Economic Development Manager

Councilmember Aliga will not be attending.
Thank you Kathleen.


Voices:  What a sorry state of affairs.  It would seem we have a management culture intent on weeding out those dedicated public servants with too much integrity to play along.  In other words exactly the ones we need working for us in Vallejo.



Update: From the Vallejo Times Herald

Diohep out as Vallejo’s economic development manager

By John Glidden, Vallejo Times-Herald
Posted: 08/29/16

Vallejo’s Economic Development Department is going through a major shake-up after city officials confirmed Monday that Kathleen Diohep is out as economic development manager.

Reached by phone, Andrea Ouse, the city’s community & economic development director declined to state why Diohep no longer works for the city, citing it as a “personnel matter.” An outgoing voice message left on Diohep’s direct city line on Friday only states that she no longer works for the city.

Diohep worked for Vallejo since April 2014.