IRVING (CBS 11 NEWS) – Irving’s search for a new city manager may take a lot longer than expected.  The council had settled on a lone finalist, Steve Sarkozy, of Bellvue, Washington.  But he withdrew over the weekend, citing what he called a “toxic” atmosphere on the council, according to Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne.

Van Duyne said Sarkozy was concerned that while most council members supported him, at least two—among them Joe Putnam—were so insistent they wanted the current interim city manager to stay on that they didn’t participate in the in-person interviews of finalists.

“I think Joe Putnam is very destructive for the city of Irving,” Van Duyne told CBS 11 News.  Irving’s mayor says Putnam effectively dropped out of the search process, sending a clear message he wants the current interim city manager, Steve McCullough, to remain.  McCullough has prior experience as Irving’s city manager.

“The poisonous atmosphere that Putnam has created is awful.  It’s awful for the city of Irving and it’s unnecessary,” according to Van Duyne.

Sarkozy has not returned our requests for comment, but told the Dallas Morning News the situation at the Irving council was “horrible.” And it has what he called “deep problems” with people “not interested in the good of the community.”

As of Tuesday morning, Councilman Putnam said he had not spoken to Sarkozy.

“Well, I’m sure people were telling him all sorts of things, and who knows whether people were telling him my view or not,” Putnam told CBS 11 News.

Putnam readily admits he essentially dropped out of the search process once he and another councilman decided they wanted McCullough to stay on, even though they hadn’t asked McCullough and McCullough did not apply for the permanent city manager job.

“We really weren’t in a position where we wanted to bring in someone new,” Putnam said, adding he felt the city needs a manager already familiar with issues in Irving.

Some Irving residents CBS 11 News interviewed are split over whether the council can work together.

Carl McCommis said, “It’s organized, it’s well run, seems like the city council meets its requirements and does very well.”

Mark Atteberry added, “They don’t go in lockstep like they agree on anything but I don’t think it’s necessarily dysfunctional.”

But when Jackie Limberg was asked if she’d heard about friction on the council, she replied,”Oh, yeah.  Hornets’ nest.  Right.”

McCullough had no public comment on the turn the city manager search has taken.

Mayor Van Duyne said the council has to make a decision on its next step.   One option would be to hire one of the two semi-finalists besides Sarkozy, candidates she called extremely qualified.  Another option might be to ask the recruiting firm that provided the city with candidates to add new names to the list.  The city could potentially start all over again, but that would likely entail hiring a new search firm…not to mention throwing out months of time, effort, and taxpayer money spent so far.

The Irving City Council meets this week.