The brief but tumultuous term of Eddie Johnson as Nogales city manager came to an abrupt end on Thursday after Johnson and the city council approved a separation agreement.

The mayor and council approved the deal by unanimous vote at a special session on Thursday afternoon. City Attorney Mike Massee said Johnson had already signed the agreement.

According to the document, Johnson’s employment with the city will be terminated effective immediately. As part of the deal, Johnson will receive a $35,000 payout and agree not to take any legal action against the city.

The agreement includes a non-disparagement clause that applies to both Johnson and city council members.

“After this action today, nobody really should be talking about this, we should just be moving on,” Massee said.

It wasn’t clear who will lead the city going forward and Mayor Arturo Garino didn’t immediately respond to an email asking whether the city would appoint a temporary manager or open a new search.

Johnson began work as city manager on Monday, Jan. 13, after the mayor and council approved a contract on Jan. 8.

Johnson, who previously had a 20-year career in military intelligence and most recently worked as an administrator at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, signed a two-year contract with the city that gave him a $140,000 annual salary.

“I’ve got a good feeling about him… I think he’s going to do well,” Garino said at the time.

However, the relationship quickly soured, with Johnson pushing back against Garino’s insistence on taking an active role in matters that fall within the responsibilities of the manager, and Garino and Councilman Marcelino Varona, Jr. crying foul on Johnson’s reluctance to include them in major administrative decisions, such as hiring department heads.

During a meeting on April 23 that Johnson alleged had been called illegally and refused to participate in, Varona and City Attorney Mike Massee appeared to be preparing reasons to fire Johnson, with Varona at one point complaining that the city manager “is not the dictator of this community.”

The mayor and council then met again briefly behind closed doors on May 6 to discuss Johnson’s employment. They did not take any action at the time, but during the council’s open session, council members and City Attorney Mike Massee briefly discussed giving direction to “staff” rather than to the city manager.

Johnson was the city’s third manager since Shane Dille was abruptly dumped from the post in 2016.

Carlos Rivera, who served in the position from 2016 to 2017, left the city after the council declined to renew his contract without explanation. 

Rivera was replaced by Frank Felix, who issued his resignation in July 2019 and cut his 18-month contract short by a week after Garino told him that the city was planning to open up an application process for the city manager job.

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