On Thursday, March 10th, Coronado City Manager Tina Friend shared a public statement on behalf of the City of Coronado: the City’s Director of Recreation and Golf Services, Roger Miller, had resigned, following an investigation into accusations of racism against Chinese Americans in late January of this year.
The investigation stemmed from a viral video of Miller and his wife Sandra while they walked to their car in a parking structure in Newport Beach. The video was taken after the couple reportedly made racial slurs about Chinese people spreading COVID-19. In the video, Sandra could be heard saying “I love that we are not communism…I love that very much,” and “Go back to China!”
When asked by the person shooting the video if the comments were directed at them, Miller is recorded as saying “Yeah, maybe, could be.”
The Monday after the video surfaced, Miller was placed on administrative leave and an investigation into the accusations was quickly launched. Miller’s wife Sandra was terminated from her job at Linfield Christian School where she worked in Temecula.
The Coronado Times spoke with City Manager Tina Friend regarding the resignation. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
CT: Let’s get technical here: What does it mean that Roger Miller resigned? Will he get any sort of severance pay?
TF: In our municipal code there are rules that dictate how separations happen. With executive employees, there is 90 days notice plus three months severance, so that’s about six months. So in this instance we do have a severance agreement. So what was afforded was the same that was in the municipal code, and that is the six months.
CT: So Roger Miller will be receiving six months pay from this day that he resigned? And this is the same monthly salary he got working for the City of Coronado?
TF: Yes. It’s based on the current monthly salary, minus taxes and withdrawals.
CT: What would you say to people who might be upset by this, who think he went down with a golden parachute? He resigned and he’s getting six months severance. Is there anything you’d like to say to the Chinese Americans in our community who might be upset by this, or anyone in Coronado or greater San Diego who feels this is unfair?
TF: Absolutely. Yes. First of all, this is not a normal resignation. These were really challenging circumstances and we had an ongoing investigation. But when an opportunity for an exit arose, I really had to weigh all the factors. And for me, and for the city to move forward as quickly as possible, this was a way for us to move on from the situation.
Also, when you have a severance agreement, you have certain protections from the city. You waive the ability to pursue someone legally. You can really have a clean separation and move on to hiring the replacement right away.
If there was a termination, there would have to be a waiting period. I weighed it very carefully. I understand that people may (be upset) but for me, it was important to resolve this, to move on right away and protect the city legally. It made sense.
CT: As far as moving on, and rehiring for this position, will it be business as usual, or do you see things changing a bit as it comes to hiring somebody to takeover? Are you going to be looking more closely at discriminatory attitudes? How will things change in the city of Coronado given this situation?
TF: I think whenever there is a change, there is an opportunity. I’ve been here five and a half months, and I’m still learning lot. It’s my opportunity to look around the organization. I want to look at how it’s structured, look at our functions, and look at our areas for improvement. We have this clean slate, let’s take a look at how we can be even better and give better services to the broader community.
In terms of the person we hire, we’re looking for qualifications, we’re looking for someone who’s going to be a tremendous leader and will support the community. Someone who will lead staff to excellence, work really well with the employees and the city council.
But there is also time for introspection. There is time for us to look at our training and our policies and ask, is there anything more we can be doing?
CT: Will the investigation be released to the public?
TF: The investigation is concluded because Mr. Miller resigned.
CT: He actually resigned before the investigation was finished?
TF: Yes. He resigned before the investigation was completed, so I am closing it out as incomplete. Now it’s a personnel matter and it won’t be shared with the public.
CT: Were you surprised by his resignation?
TF: You know I really can’t say I had a particular emotion around it. The emotion that I had was how hard Coronado was hit, and how hard the city was hit. I’m sure you saw all the social media. We received hundreds of emails and calls. And people were ascribing really terrible intents and character traits to all of Coronado…
And it was hard talking to front desk staff, telling me about the calls they were receiving. That was physically painful.
CT: You made a very clear and concise statement that the city of Coronado is welcoming to all and does not tolerate any form of discrimination. Does the City of Coronado have any sort of published core values or defining principles that lay this out?
TF: We have internal policies as most public agencies have on this. I’ve been saying that Coronado is a welcoming place for all because that is represented in everything that I have seen and heard … I think when you have a community where people are changing and moving and it’s such a dynamic place that there really are open arms. And I can tell you as a newcomer, I have felt that very strongly.
I don’t know if we have any strong public statement; our website is more geared towards services.
But this is an opportunity for me and the city to look at and really examine our practices and our policies and our actions … I think this definitely has opened the door to help underscore the importance and attention we need in this area.
CT: Will this incident impact the training or hiring practices of the city?
TF: I don’t have specifics at this moment, other than I’m committed to examining and looking. There is a wealth of information available, because a lot of organizations are confronting similar questions, so we’re at a time where there are a lot of resources and ideas out there. I am interested in looking at this, and working with city council and the executive team and really moving in a thoughtful way that we think is the best fit.
CT: Who will be Roger’s replacement? Will he be replaced with an interim person?
TF: Now that we have the resignation and the separation in place, I have an acting director from within, and I do want to move as quickly as possible on the recruitment process for a permanent replacement … and while I’m doing that, if I can find the right fit, to have an interim director come in, so that we can let our internal staff go back to their roles.
CT: Will Roger Miller be able, or eligible, to work for the city of Coronado in the future?
TF: I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t know if there is anything in [this agreement] that would bar his eligibility to work here again.
Roger Miller was employed by the City of Coronado in June 2009 as Director of Golf Services and was named Director of the newly combined Recreation and Golf Services in 2015.