Hueneme council descends into further conflict, majority curbs newest members’ powers

By George Miller

There were fireworks at the Monday 11-9-15 Hueneme Council meeting, over deep factional divisions in the City Council and executive officers. But this was  just a secondary explosion from the disastrous Halloween “team-building” meeting run by Management Psychologist Bill Mathis, which resulted in a judicious walkout by the two newest members, after they accused the rest of them of setting them up. This resulted in the majority faction limiting the powers of the minority faction and much rancor at the Monday meeting.

 

Background

See our last article on the 10-31-15 “Team-Building” Session

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

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-building 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 […]

The voters sharply rebuked the City of Port Hueneme Council last year, by voting two of them out and giving the most votes to the two newest members, longtime Democrat activist Jim Hensley and consultant/planner Tom Figg, after a very divisive election campaign. Since then, the relationship between the old guard and new guard has been quite strained- before that, actually. The campaign issues of the Measure “M” business tax , crossing guard issue and threatened shutdown of the local Boys and Girls Club location raised passions and intensified animosity between the two groups. In fact, in all three of those issues, the New Guard prevailed or won a compromise, via the campaign, without even having Council votes.

The factions:

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Photos: CitizensJournal.us

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Photos: CitizensJournal.us

Old Guard: (top, l-r) Mayor ProTem Doug Breeze, Mayor Sylvia Munoz-Schnopp,  Council Member Jon Sharkey (also collectively dubbed “The Gang of Three” by Tom Figg) ; second row: City Attorney Mark Hensley (no relation to Jim) & City Manager Cynthia Haas (leaving in December).

NewGuard

Photos: CitizensJournal.us

New Guard: above, l-r: Council Members Tom Figg & Jim Hensley, previously dubbed “The Insurgents.”

 

At the 10-31-15 session, the Old Guard made serious accusations against the New Guard of harassment, intimidation, releasing confidential information and exposing the city to potential legal/financial liabilities. The  New Guard responded in kind with their own accusations of intimidation, Brown Act violations, sweetheart contracts and more.

Psychologist Mathis seemed to be taking the side of the Old Guard, even though he was accountable to the entire council, as is the City Attorney, who also took sides with The Old Guard. When Council Member Jon Sharkey started reading serious accusations, phrased as questions, Tom Figg quickly bailed out, threatening to go to the District Attorney and excahnging heated words with equally heated Sharkey. Jim Hensley followed not too much later. Hensley insists that Sharkey was reading from a confidential City Attorney letter- Sharkey denied that when  we asked him, saying it was a list he had compiled himself.

 

Monday’s Council meeting- 11-9-15

PortHuenemeWaterAgencyThe rest of the November 9 Council meeting was anti-climatic in comparison to item 9A, where the majority attempted to sharply constrain the powers of the new guard, via stripping them of all commission/committee responsibilities, especially the coveted and powerful water and port boards. The rest of the meeting: new police officers/awards; Info Consent agenda; approving a new, but deeply flawed budget many months late with Figg objecting and abstaining;appointing Interim Finance Director Al Burrell as City Treasurer.  Burrel, in one of the best punch lines of the evening  said the budget numbers are very accurate because they already had the actuals. However, a list of possible additional budget surprises and probabilities was reprised, such as the $2.4 million HUD assessment, higher PERS contributions and more, not to mention pending and potential litigation.

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“The budget numbers are very accurate because we already had the actuals.” Interim City Finance Director and new Treasurer Al Burrell has managed to pull together a budget despite major financial problems and deep division among Council and staff. He was lauded by both sides. Photo: CitizensJournal.us

Then they went  to the main act almost at the meeting’s end, a common government technique for annoying attendees and principals alike.

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.

 

Looks fairly innocuous, huh?  Not. This was the agenda cooked up at the Halloween “team-building” session after Figg and Hensley were driven out. The Old Guard decided to strip the two New Guard Council Members of all commission assignments.  The reason given was that it was feared they were not properly representing the city and could also cause legal and financial liabilities. Is the committee-stripping legal?  It seems so. But it means that the biggest vote-getters will be hamstrung to accomplish what the voters put them there  for.


Meeting video, by Dan Pinedo/CitizensJournal.us- 11-9-15 City Of Port Hueneme Council meeting ….

The questions are: were The New Guard members doing what the voters  wanted by aggressively pursuing that they promised to do? Did they go overboard in  their approach? Did they in fact do what the Old Guard accused them of and was it a justifiable response to freeze them out? Did The New Guard uncover improprieties/law-breaking by the Old Guard? Did the New Guard have to be more aggressive to overcome the Old Guard resistance and get anything done?

How will the voters react? From what we saw of public speakers, audience comments, moans and groans, the public present seemed to be more in tune with the New Guard than the Old Guard. But that might just be a function of who was persuaded to show up. When more of the story and hopefully, the actual facts, come out, if they come out, we will know. But, now the genie is being let out of the bottle, with the summoning of the District Attorney by both factions. It probably isn’t possible to put that genie back in the bottle now.

What will happen with the District Attorney? Will an investigation(s) ensue? What will be the results? What actions will be taken? Who will run for Council  next  year? What will the voters decide?

This will be a guaranteed major election issue next year. It also means that the New Guard priorities could be stalled until 2017, or maybe permanently, if they don’t convince the voters that they are right. Alternatively, the Old Guard could find their numbers diminished or eliminated.

While we were very disappointed that the conflicts have spilled over very messily in public and are flowing over to the DA’s office, it may be best that the conflicting and counter-accusations are weighed and evaluated in a more objective, dispassionate forum. After the failure to agree and failure to structure a workable healing process, it may in fact be necessary.

How the meeting played out:

The Old Guard  did throw Figg and Hensley off every single commission, but not before they attacked them, in an attempt to first help justify such extreme proposed action.

The Old Guard chose Councilman Breeze to first lead the assault on Figg and Hensley (watch speech on the meeting video or clip HERE). Some residents later complained about getting way off topic, but such changes could not be justified without doing it. Some feel that the standard of proof wasn’t up to snuff and  lacked any supporting detail. In a long-winded, rambling and highly repetitious soliloquy of  approximately 25 minutes, Breeze attacked and accused Figg and Hensley of disrupting the march of the City Council to its objectives, harassing, threatening and demoralizing staff as well as improperly sharing confidential information. He said that leaving Figg and Hensley on the commissions would potentially expose the city to legal/financial liabilities.  He provided very few specifics and referred to no potential witnesses except his own faction. To some extent, it was an extended, amplified version of what happened at the 10-31-15 session, but Hensley and Figg were more prepared this time and refused to walk out.

Breeze also spent a long time defending the Council’s actions in awarding multiple consulting contracts to water consultant Lyn S., attacking Hensley for challenging it and accusing him of losing large government grants. Hensley said he felt it was legally required and that the grants, approach and results were far from guaranteed. He equated it to a “Las Vegas” proposition.

Breeze accused Hensley of being an activist instead of a council member and that in doing so he had admitted that he wasn’t doing the job he was elected for. Hensley responded that there is nothing wrong with being an activist and that he was doing his job.

Breeze went out of his way multiple times to say he didn’t dislike Figg and Hensley and that he had embraced 95% of Figg’s ideas, but his behavior and the record seem to show otherwise. So it might be interpreted as disingenuous. He also said it was the first time he had told the public about his problems with Figg and Hensley, which is also untrue.

Sharkey attacked next, reinforcing Breeze and adding more, mostly similar to the 10-31-15 meeting. He also accused the New Guard of spin, person destruction campaign against the City Manager, undermining and bullying the staff. He then started shouting and pounding the table, causing Hensley and Fiig to retreat back a bit.

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Council Member Tom Figg, defends, counterattacks, while colleague Jim Hesley looks on.

Figg and Hensley both denied the accusations. Hensley admitted to a single infraction, with mitigating circumstances, which said he had publicly apologized for. They proceeded to accuse the Old Guard, in this meeting and the 10-31-15 session: of dealing in secret in violation of the Brown Act, pressuring them to “vote in unison,” letting out contracts without bid, attempting to suppress information and alternatively, even leaking confidential information.

Hensley, said, “from the get-go there was rancor.” He also said that “in tough times, you’ve got to cut expenses.” He said that the defeat of the Measure “M” business tax voter initiative (which he opposed) caused much enmity. In response to being called an activist, he said, yeah, I’m an activist, there’s nothing wrong with that. Many of you out there are activists. I think that’s commendable. … Some of the things said here tonight (referring to accusations) are typical spin. Breeze promised you he would come out with a lot of hard facts and figures. He made a lot of accusations in very broad terms. I don’t know of anyone on the staff that I harassed.” He referred to his email sent to the City manager that got to a Mr. Tyson, which came down hard on him.”

Sharkey repeatedly interrupted Hensley during his speaking, Hensley’s comments back were sharp and dripping with sarcasm.

Hensley remarked that one Council member said he was harassing staff and another claimed he was avoiding them. He said there are a lot of problems with staff. He said others are creating problems with staff. He said he ran on transparency and that he doesn’t see a lot of it.

Hensley claims Joint Powers training advised getting bids on anything over $20,000. He said some Council Members don’t like the idea of getting bids. He said he likes being on water issues, is very experienced there and dedicated to solutions there. What he didn’t mention is that he is taking aggressive action for alternate water solutions.

Finally, Hensley said he has collected his thoughts on the issues under discussion and has already forwarded them to the District Attorney.

To Breeze’s claims that he was trying hard to help the members, Figg, a highly experienced planner and consultant who has worked with multiple municipalities for decades and understands the workings of governments, stated: “actually Doug, I was working hard to help you– a little self-reflection, a little bit of what was the edict that came out of the election, stepping back from yourself and entertaining alternatives, new ways of doing things. So, I’m a little disappointed that that didn’t come across.  I was working real hard to get you more to the center and apparently, I failed.” What Figg was doing  here was responding to Breeze’s rather patronizing implied case that he was only trying to help the two what he depicted as rank amateurs who came into office clueless, with a response that the reverse might be more true. Then he said: “I agree with you that there’s a lot of liability here (implying it was the Old Guard’s), but it’s personal rather than corporate and I can’t go into it here. Some of the liabilities .” He went on about PH sky-high water rates and how to fix it. He suggested that some of the proposed city remedies aren’t so good and that the grant proposal offered no guarantee of success and that options and costs should be fully disclosed to ratepayers. Breeze suggested that his proposal would result in “free water.” Hensley disputed that and suggested it was a “Vegas” proposition.

He also commented on his involvement with the Port District and his role on brokering a settlement, following his predecessors’ rancorous interaction and lawsuits with the Harbor district. He suggested that it might be a poor idea to reinstate those same people.

Figg wrapped up by saying he is evaluating his alternatives about how to proceed.

Interestingly, Mayor Muno-Schnopp did not weigh in, except for a few very brief comments on what others said, instead focusing on running the meeting.

There is way more, but it would be better to watch the video, which almost perfectly conveys what happened at the meeting.

Not surprisingly, the vote was 3-2 to support the motion to remove the New Guard from all commissions, accompanied by a few subdued boos and catcalls from the audience, with no favorable reactions obvious.

The Mayor announced that the next meeting would cover “council norms,” which may refer to specific restrictions on mutual interactions among council, staff and access to information. In other words, it would result in more restrictions on the New Guard. This is similar to what was discussed with the psychologist Mathis at the Halloween “team-building” session.

 

SharkeyHensleytalking

Looks like Jon Sharkey’s not very receptive to Hensley’s words at 11-9-15 Hueneme City Council meeting. Photo: CitizensJournal.us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Public Reaction

Martin Jones

Oxnard resident/activist Martin Jones defended the Old Guard members. Photo: CitizensJournal.us.

Meeting attendees largely appeared alternatively disgusted and horrified at what a few told us was unseemly behavior from both sides. Some just sat in stunned silence, while others vocalized, formally, as public speakers, or informally, via cheers, catcalls, etc. Mayor Munoz-Schnopp had to reprimand members of the public multiple times, including screaming loudly and emotionally when one audience member objected to what he said were others talking.

Oxnard resident activist Martin Jones told us that he has known, liked and respected Sharkey and Breeze for many years. he heaped scorn upon Figg and Hensley to us  When he spoke to the group, he expressed similar sentiments about the first two. Resident and KADYTV CEO Bob Allen told a few people after the meeting that all the council should be put up in a new election. More seemed more disappointed or angry with The Old Guard. The majority of speakers were opposed to them, but it is typical for opponents of anything to be more vocal.

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Melissa Fuchs was not at all amused by the Gang of 3 behavior at the Halloween team building session. Photo: CitizensJournal.us

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Stephanie H. came out strongly against the majority attacking Figg and Hensley tonight and also at the 10-31-15 session. Photo: CitizensJournal.us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melissa Fuchs (depicted above) expressed disgust with the 10-31 (she said 10-30) meeting. She said “you are a Council in ruins… there is a clear divide 3 to 2.” She said  naval base “Command Master Chief’s”  she talked to wanted to know “what the hell is going on with the City Council?” “What they saw was disgusting.” She objected to the majority picking on the “newest members, with some of the freshest ideas….  We are a bit of a laughingstock in some parts of this area…. from what I saw we have some very serious allegations being brought up… violations of the Brown Act, things of that nature which were not even addressed in the special meeting . And your facilitator (holds her fingers up in mimic of quotation marks), who’s supposed to be impartial?… was a joke. I never saw anybody feed(?) into people as this man did.” She said “he put words into peoples’ mouths.” She gave Councilmen Figg and Hensley kudos for leaving the meeting when they did. She further said “I think that the three who have been here a while…  I’d like to remind you that when the time comes to vote in new members, nobody up here (gestures to dais) is safe…. You all should be working together to make this community better and safer. ” There was a big round of applause afterward, prompting an admonishment by Mayor Munoz-Schnopp.

Philip Thomas said this was “terribly upsetting” about public speakers making personal allegations, which he felt were :not constructive” and that proof was needed. Steven Gama said “The majority is the cause for the majority of the city’s problems. You can’t blame these two,” evidently referring to Figg and Hensley. He went on to attribute the attacks to their disagreeing with them.

A resident who asked to remain anonymous was more representative of the mood of the group,which does not bode well for “The Gang of Three.”  She wrote these somewhat one-sided comments:

Last night was even worse than Saturday (Ed note: the 10-31-15 “team-building” session), if you consider discussions that avoid the agenda topic and multiple human thinking errors.
 
Hensley was accused of objecting to a sole source water contract, so Breeze launched into a (20 minutes?) illogical talk about why the sole source to him was justified, because he liked the way the water expert performed on a prior water project. It didn’t seem to occur to Breeze that if they did an RFP and since in his opinion, there are no better water experts, that his candidate would still receive the contract.
 
Supposedly the discussion was on the agenda about removing Hensley and Figg (as punishment) for not going along with their priorities (not sure what those priorities are). I would think that HUD and general fund shortages would be one, but apparently the water authority and one other insignificant committee was their only priority. The attorney never asked Breeze to stay on the agenda topic, which we all know in another city is considered a violation of the brown act.
 
Another reason for ousting Hensley and Figg was because an employee complained that Hensley was abusive or something like that. The details of the employee’s interaction were never disclosed. I was told that Hensley’s request was for a public document and the employee wouldn’t give it to him. Subsequently Hensley accused the city of lack of transparency. The Big 3 accused Hensley of creating a hostile work environment.
 
The city attorney sat there and had his usual smirk on his face.
 
The Mayor was seen rolling her eyes when Hensley uselessly offered his justification against all the accusations.
 
Later when Sharkey slammed the table during his statement, Hensley and Figg backed up and asked the officers to intervene. They didn’t. (real drama)
 
Once again, Figg offered a professional list of suggestions, which the Big 3 ignored (as usual). Figg has so much expertise on water. 
 
We received a handout for Figg written by Richard Bryant, describing excellent work on contracts with Oxnard, which wasn’t discussed. On the handout topic, the Budget staff person (Ed. note: Treasurer Al Burrell) had a spreadsheet that he displayed, that was not available to the public either prior to the meeting or during the meeting (another Brown Act violation).
 
I hope the Big 3 don’t have holiday plans, they are going to be busy little beavers with all the commissions they are undertaking, which is the only consolation for their foolish decision to remove Hensley and Figg, who we are told received the highest votes in the last election. One can only hope that the Big 3 won’t succeed if they run for re-election. Actually, I still respect Jon Sharkey and don’t mind if he or Figg have emotional outbursts. It looks to me like the Big 3 are unwilling to support any of Figg’s great ideas and they are accusing Figg and Hensley to be uncooperative (duh??)
 
All in all it was a real circus.
 ““““`

We gather that at the next Council meeting, the Old Guard will attempt to put in new procedures which would block The New Guard’s  access to city employees and further constrict the flow of information.  It’s a long way to the election.

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City of Port Hueneme Council meets on 11-9-15. Photo: CitizensJournal.us

 

___________________

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

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6 Responses to Hueneme council descends into further conflict, majority curbs newest members’ powers

  1. Ernie Herrera November 11, 2015 at 11:17 am

    As it should be. Story seems to favor or disfavor one side over the other the way it’s written. Just sayin.

    Reply
  2. Eileen Tracy November 11, 2015 at 10:51 am

    We saw Brown Act violation when budget report was not available to the public and the attorney not requiring council members to stay on the agenda topic which was to remove 2 popular members from committee assignments.
    I didn’t hear any comments from old guard what justification exists for removing them from committee assignments. I heard a great deal of other unconvincing and incomplete personal opinions about dealings with staff.
    There have been at least 2 council meetings where Council Member Figg proposed excellent suggestions for strategy changes. Without any discussion, his ideas were ignored or voted down. This behavior appears that the old guard is unreceptive to ideas submitted from newer members, who we know received the majority of the votes.
    Does the old guard consider residents preferences? The voting results would indicate the majority of residents are looking for change and improvement, not same old same old.

    Reply
    • Ernie Herrera November 11, 2015 at 5:01 pm

      Budget was posted on City website, that’s where I found it anyway. Maybe you didn’t see it Eileen.

      And as to my version:

      Port Hueneme needs leadership. If Hensley is crying wolf about breaking the law, his credibility is shot. It may already be with the remarks he made about women and the mayor. My wife listened and she was shocked, until she realized he’s in his 80’s, but that’s no excuse. If Figg is under review for hostile workplace or harassment, then he does not belong in government, no matter his IQ or ideas. Lawsuits of that kind are expensive. Hueneme can’t afford it. If the “gang of three is making up these accusations just to be political, then the citizens of Hueneme should vote them out. Drum roll please!

      Reply
  3. Ernie Herrera November 11, 2015 at 8:09 am

    Seems like there is a strong view in this story that the hueneme old guard is making up these accusations for political reasons. One question to the George Miller and the readers, what if everything the old guard is saying is true?

    Reply
    • Citizen Reporter November 11, 2015 at 9:02 am

      Both sides’ accusations are listed. We’ll let the public and DA decide on their veracity

      Reply

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