City of Port Hueneme “Team Building” session ends in bitter conflict, open warfare, walkouts- but why?

By George Miller

Because of the City of Port Hueneme Council’s failure to work as a team, the City Manager engaged a psychologist, Dr. Bill Mathis, to conduct a team-PortHuenemeemblembuilding session in  a special meeting (agenda) on Saturday, October 31, 2015. He was reportedly selected as the low bidder and received a “pro forma” approval by the City Council, per Councilman Jim Hensley. We were told that the meeting was initiated in response to Figg and Hensley’s behavior at a recent closed meeting. The Halloween session didn’t go well with Council members Tom Figg and Jim Hensley walking out after two factions traded accusations and insults–the majority faction claiming Figg and Hensley were intimidating and harassing employees and blocking council progress, while the two claimed the majority repeatedly violates transparency and ethical rules. Hensley told us that both he and Figg suspect that the meeting was a setup.The session looked more, someone told us, like a political assassination attempt on Hensley and especially Figg, than a team-building session. All of this may result in review/investigation by the VC District Attorney and/or Grand Jury and possible litigation. It looks like both sides would have accusations to defend against.

CitizensJournal.us did not have a reporter at the meeting, but read relevant documents, interviewed several participants and watched the KADYTV video of the first and pivotal part of the meeting. We were unable to reach Tom Figg, who, we were informed, has been advised by his attorney not to discuss the situation.

From the meeting Agenda:

CITY COUNCIL TEAMBUILDING: “Conversations about the Future and Working Together,” Facilitated by Dr. Bill Mathis – Topics:

– Basic Communication Agreements

– Creating a Decision-Making Model to Deal with the Challenges Facing the City

– Dividing out the City’s Challenges (Discussion Items) 1. Replacing City Manager 2. Vision for Future 3. Budget Deficit

– Vision Outline for City Moving Forward

– Basic Services Outline

 

In addition to this written report we have a link to the first meeting video below.

Notwithstanding Dr. Mathis’ facilitation skills, within minutes, the insiders (Mayor Munoz-Schnopp, Council Members Sharkey & Breeze, City Manager Haas and City Attorney Mark Hensley (no relation to Jim Hensley) were (figuratively) at the throats of Council Members Tom Figg and Jim Hensley, making statements or reading questions that sounded like accusations, some of them possible alleged criminal behavior or ethical lapses. It appeared to us that Dr. Mathis took on an advocacy role in favor of the majority faction of Munoz-Schnopp, Sharkey and Breeze, assisted by Haas and Mark Hensley. That might have been because he believed that Figg and Hensley were violating ethical conduct norms or rules. But he did not weigh in on the counter-accusations from Figg and Hensley. Mathis said “improprieties” had occurred.

Jim Hensley and Figg maintained that items are regularly discussed in closed sessions that should be open and transparent, per the Brown Act. Hensley maintained that the two are “directed and intimidated” to conform on votes and discouraged from talking to city employees to learn what is going on and gather information.  Hensley also said that issues are discussed outside of officials meetings in violation of the Brown Act and that he has objected to this repeatedly. Hensley said it was one of the biggest conflicts he had ever been in and that he was very uncomfortable. The two have bucked the council majority on multiple issues and sometimes prevailed. 

Addition- 11-8-15: Hensley said he was told more than once that they should discuss the issues and what the vote should be vote in advance, then go out and vote in unison, to show strong support. But Hensley wants to vote his actual preference. This accusation, if true, would be a violation of the Brown Act, as well as an abandonment of representation of the public. He said he and Councilman Figg  attended the City Manager’s briefing and the  City Manager  told him that we vote as a team here. We discuss the agenda before the meeting and you vote your way, but the majority rules; when you go out to the dais you vote the way the majority of the Council votes to show the public this council is a  team  

Later, Hensley told us, Mayor Sylvia Munoz Snopps said on 4-5 occasions that the Council and City management should present themselves as a team to voters by voting in unison.

Council Member Doug Breeze said he was excited but apprehensive when Figg and Hensley were elected and joined the council. He now feels that they both “have an agenda” which includes casting aspersions, finding fault and that they make very little attempt to work together. He said he could attribute that to a lack of experience with the workings of government, but can’t say that about Tom (Figg). He said he has real issues that they seem to feel their job is to shoot holes in things. He feels Jim is huddling with other local agencies to cast aspersions on the city.  He feels that Figg and Hensley’s comments include accusations of fraud, inappropriate behavior and concealing information. He further remarked that Figg brings things out on the dais that could be worked out in private beforehand. He doesn’t know where to go with this now.

Mayor Munoz-Schnopp said to do nothing about the situation is not an option, with the undermining of the city, and the work of the City Council, which she seemed to equate with her own position. Without mentioning a name, she said one Council Member is undermining the city and  went after another member in a closed session, with “fighting words,” “bullying tactics… dividing… conquering.” She said Figg was challenging Sharkey and she feared violence, But Hensley told us that his fear of violence was from Sharkey, not Figg.

No analysis of the meeting would be complete without examining the Munoz-Shnopp Press Release 11-2-15 put out by the Mayor in her official capacity. It is interesting that the VC Star quoted excerpts of it in their 11-2-15 edition, which was printed during the previous night of 11-1-15.

In short, the press release was on official City of Port Hueneme Mayor’s stationery, highly accusatory and partisan and obviously did not represent any of the positions of the two Council Members targeted. We quote: “Three of us felt it was in the best interest of the citizens of Port Hueneme to confront some very destructive behaviors we were seeing more and more frequently, and with that abrogate the effects of the two members who have stymied the City from moving forward in a positive and meaningful direction,” said Port Hueneme Mayor Sylvia Munoz Schnopp…”

Sharkey’s next statements basically blew up the meeting, when he lamented the upcoming retirement of City Manager Haas, said it will prompt other staff departures and attributed the problem to Figg and Hensley. He made some accusations about no one in particular, but it was obvious he was referring to Figg and Jim Hensley. Hensley denies these accusations. At about 50:00 on the video, Sharkey said there are some serious questions and asked if any member of this body ever violated state disclosure laws, did any member of this body ever threaten the employment of city personnel, has any member ever leaked closed session information to third parties, have any members of this body ever given out employees personal contact information, have any members of this body ever been advised that that their behavior could lead to claims of a hostile work environment, have any members of this body attempted to physically intimidate a female constituent at a public meeting, have any members of this body ever been cited as a cause of work-based stress by female employees, have any members of this body when speaking to a female employee ever used words to the effect of: I know how to get in touch with you- I saw your number on a restroom wall, have any members of this body when speaking to a female employee ever used words to the effect of: now I know why women should not be in positions of authority?

Sharkey’s words were in the form of questions about non-specific persons, but clearly were intended as accusations against Figg and Hensley.

PH10-31-15Confrontation

Sharkey (mustache) : “You’re leaving, but you’ll never get out alive.” Tom Figg (blue shirt):” it was you who threatened to take me outside,” as police officer grabs him. Video frame grab: KADYTV

Sharkey started saying more, but was interrupted by multiple voices, with Figg’s prevailing, saying “stop right here. I’m leaving right now I’m going to the D.A. and ….the Grand Jury.” Sharkey then said: “you’re headed for the door, but you’ll never get out alive.” At about 52:00 on the video you can see/hear this and see Figg shake his finger at Sharkey on the way out, saying: “it was you who threatened to take me outside.” and then was grabbed by a police officer and escorted out. We couldn’t see all of it on the video, but Sharkey said Figg made threatening gestures, Hensley said he just shook his finger at Sharkey on the way out past him.

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Jim Hensley later told us he believed that Sharkey was reading in public excerpts from a confidential City Attorney’s letter. When we asked Sharkey about that later, he said no, it was just a list that he had compiled on his own. Given that the City Attorney reports to the whole City Council, it would seem that any advocacy for one side in such a dispute would need to be handled very carefully.

We leave it for the readers, city officials and and maybe the courts and District Attorney, to sort this out and draw their own conclusions.

PHTeamBuildStephanie

Resident Stephanie House (on right): “The old way of doing things hasn’t worked… there may be two MORE council members defeated in November (2016).”  Video frame grab: KADYTV

“Head-shrinking”

There is a branch of the discipline of psychology which addresses organizations. The City’s problems are far from unique and this is widely utilized.

In February, the first team building session was held, conducted by Organizational development practitioner Jan Perkins, of Management Partners (same firm being used by Oxnard for other tasks). Councilman Jim Hensley said “the session did a lot of damage, but not as much as this one (10-31-15).”

Psychologist Jim Mathis, who says he does a lot of work with municipalities, was retained to run the team-building session. He was introduced and laid out the meeting approach. He described the situation as one of conflict between the two newest City Council members vs the incumbents, City Manager and City Attorney. He described what he said were accusations of improprieties by Figg and Hensley. He described boundaries he thought should be observed and invited participants to make their comments. Whether or not he intended the commenters to instigate a major breakdown of the process or it just spun out of control is unknown. After the departures of Messrs. Figg and Hensley, the discussion turned to how they could operate the council by working around the departees, via majority votes, changing rules and removing them from committees. It remains to be seen whether the public will see that as thwarting the will of the voters, or support it in the interest of moving ahead with council business.

PTHuenemeTeamBuildMathis

Psychologist Bill Mathis leads team-building session. Framegrab: KADTYV

 

PHTeamBuildAtty

City Attorney Mark Hensley (right) speaks, while City Manager Cynthia Haas looks on at 10-31-15 Port Hueneme special City Council meeting.

Mayor Munoz-Schnopp’s impressions

The Mayor later told CitizensJournal.us that they (Figg and Hensley) were “sabotaging everything we want to do.” She said (Councilman) Doug (Breeze) tried so many times to talk to them about it and talked to Jim (Hensley) about threats to staff, without success. She said “abusive behavior will not be tolerated.” At the meeting, it was claimed that one of the council members had allegedly told a woman city employee that a woman shouldn’t have that job, but didn’t mention who said that to whom. She later indicated to us that it was Figg, to departing City Manager Haas. He denied it. Hensley said it is very unlikely that Figg said that, as Figg’s wife is the City’s compliance officer and surely made him aware of the rules. Figg has also worked many years as a well-regarded and competent municipal planner and consultant.

We asked the Mayor what specifically they seemed to disagree with and she said “everything.” A review of their voting records shows that not to be the case. She only named “budget items” without specifying which.

Council Member Jim Hensley’s impressions

We asked Jim Hensley where he disagreed with the majority bloc and he rattled off a list and way more detail than we were prepared to document in this article, so here’s just a summary:

– Measure “M” business tax. Figg and Hensley opposed it, thought it would be bad for business, that it was unfair and had a very high cap with no guarantee it wouldn’t be exercised. It also charged a per head employee tax. They led a very successful campaign to defeat it, which created  a major rift with the surviving incumbents.

– Kicking out the Boys and Girls Club from a city-owned facility, a move opposed by Hensley and Figg. The club had been there and successful for a long time. Hensley said the opposition rigged it, negotiated in secret and that he and Figg had no idea what the deal was, only that their council opposition claimed “it was a much better lease.” Well, Hensley said, it turns out that the city now pays YMCA $9000/month, instead of Boys and Girls Club paying the city $1/year rent. (11-8-15 Correction: This motion was stopped by Figg, Hemsley and Breeze).

– Funding for crossing guards. The majority wanted the school district to pay the needed $65,000, while Hensley and Figg wanted the city to pay. A 50-50 compromise was the result after it became a campaign issue. Hensley was even out on the street acting as a crossing guard.

– Meetings were very brief and not transparent. Now they are longer, more is discussed and more public input results.

– Hensley said he was told more than once that they should discuss the issues and what the vote should be vote in advance, then go out and vote in unison, to show strong support. But Hensley wants to vote his actual preference. This accusation, if true, would be a violation of the Brown Act, as well as an abandonment of representation of the public. He said Haas said on 4-5 occasions that the Council and City management should present themselves as a team to voters by voting in unison.

– In response to a question about the majority objecting to their ‘no” vote on a water grant, Hensley stated that was in objection to repeated awards of no bid contracts to a friend of a council member.

– They disagree with the majority who want to outsource the police dept to Ventura County.

– They were also opposed to the termination and maligning of police chaplain volunteer Chuck Swankowsky, who spoke out on matters that the PD and majority did not want to be made public- undermanning of the police department and rising overtime expense to help make up for it.

Background

All of this occurred in the midst of major city financial problems and resulting deficits. A highly controversial business tax pushed by outgoing City Manager Cynthia Haas and the previous Council and other things inspired opponents Jim Hensley and Tom Figg to run for Council. The taxing plan was soundly rejected in a public vote last year.

Hensley and Figg were elected as reform candidates, with more votes than the remaining incumbents. Two others were voted out. The city is now facing a $1.8 million deficit (covered by reserves). Some attribute that to the defeat of the initiative, which might have generated up to $600-800,000 annually, while others to the poor management of the city. But there are plenty of other reasons. There is a $2 million shortfall due to unreimbursed expenses for the beach erosion problem, as well as a $300,000 “bump” due to increased CalPERS pension assessments.

The city was demanding $8mm from the port too, based on a dispute about calculating gross revenues, which the port pays a percentage of to Ventura County cities.

In addition, a staff member had an audit done of housing dept. expenses, which resulted in act ion by HUD, followed by a letter from HUD demanding a refund of $2.4 million in grants. The City Attorney had reportedly advised not releasing it, but it got out to the press. City Manager Cynthia Haas turned in her resignation the day after the letter was received, but at this session attributed her departure in part to harassment from Figg and Hensley. We have also heard that the main reason is that she wants to reunite by year-end with her husband, who had to relocate to Memphis quite a while ago for business.

KADYTV

 

Http://kadytv.net

City of Port Hueneme Team Building session- 10-31-15. Below: Foreground-L-R: Councilmen Doug Breeze & Tom Figg; Left side- L-R: Council Members Jim Hensley, Mayor Sylvia Munoz-Schnopp, Council Member Jon Sharkey,; Background-L-R: City Manager Cynthia Haas, City Attorney Mark Hensley

Added Note:

At the Monday 11-9-15 council meeting, it is likely that the majority faction will attempt to strip away Figg’s and Hensley’s committee assignments:

AGENDA item:

9. CITY COUNCIL: A. REQUEST OF COUNCIL MEMBER BREEZE: CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ASSIGNMENTS Action: Discussion and possible action to change Council Members assignments and appointments to Boards and Commissions.

______________________

George Miller is Publisher of Citizensjournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant, active in civic affairs, living in Oxnard.

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Roger Muir

As my mom often used to say, “Temper, temper!” I’ve known Tom Figg from 1970 when he was a catcher on the Sacramento Big League/Little League team, where at age 17 he demonstrated excellence in team leadership.

William "Bill" Hicks

WELL, I guess Thousand Oaks City Council Meetings are mild in comparison.