NAACP objects to Oxnard City Manager recruiting process, demands postponement to January.

By George Miller

The Ventura County NAACP has made multiple objections at City Council meetings to the City Manager hiring process in past months. They scheduled and held a press conference on April 1 outside of City Hall to discuss it and take questions.

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NAACP-VC President John R. Hatcher III at podium, with other officials and local leaders in background (Photo: Citizensjournal.us)

NAACP-VC 1st Vice President Regina Crawford (Photo: CJ)

NAACP-VC 1st Vice President Regina Crawford (Photo: CJ)

Spokeswoman Regina Crawford, 1st Vice President, said that they have not been in contact with any of the candidates, that the process lacks transparency, that “black and white” and race was not the issue, that all candidates should be given a fair shake. She said a letter was sent to Mayor Tim Flynn in November asking for a fair, transparent selection process, that community leaders and neighborhood councils should be involved in it.  This would provide the best chance for all stakeholders. However on 3/27, an article in the VC Star said that two finalists (Chandra Wallar, ex-Chief Executive of Santa Barbara County and Modesto City Manager Greg Nyhoff) had been selected.  We were told that two year incumbent acting City Manager Karen Burnham, who is black, was not even given the courtesy of an interview, although a half dozen of the 54 candidates were interviewed. NAACP wants the process to be postponed until January 2015, after city elections are decided and officials installed.

CJ’s observation at City Council meetings in the last year revealed that the council  was attempting to balance transparency and stakeholder input to the process vs. candidate confidentiality and manageability.  There was even a special meeting to discuss the process.

Rev. Ralph James, well known Oxnard community leader, said “the decision should be for the most

Rev. Ralph James

Rev. Ralph James

qualified City Manager.”  But, what has happened “took a little piece of my heart.”  In referring to Karen Burnham: “has had an inability to get information…. there is a groundswell of emotion, questions, anger, outrage, disbelief” over what has happened. He said that Burnham had many years of executive experience and is a highly competent professional.  He is frustrated that he doesn’t even know what the council vote had been.

John R. Hatcher III, NAACP Ventura County President, said that the City Council “went in a room (in a closed meeting) starting with 54 candidates and came out with only two,” that they must have made a decision a long time ago, since they couldn’t have done it that quickly. (Note: Council had already interviewed about a half-dozen top candidates before that). He said he “wouldn’t call it racist, but what does it look like?”  He said Mayor Flynn didn’t apologize for a comment he made to Ms. Burnham, without saying what the comment was.

He also claimed that during the election campaign, certain people made deprecating comments about Ms. Burnham and that someone (no names mentioned) said it would be good to return to the good old days… and …. the good old days were when there were all white people in charge.

NAACP-VC stated that the Santa Barbara candidate turned down a $275,000/yr. job, so it was unlikely that she would accept this job, leaving only one candidate, by default, that the leading candidate had been to Oxnard three times and this might indicate that he thought he had the job in the bag.

Press Conference video from community activist Dan Pinedo’s youtube channel

Citizens Journal asked the following question: since Oxnard has a black Police Chief, black Fire Chief, black Housing Director, black Chief Librarian, black former Mayor and a black acting City Manager, how is it racist?  The response was that the treatment of Ms. Burnham could be biased and also that the City Council doesn’t hire most of the positions referenced- the City Manager does and that the “black Mayor” (Pinkard) was “acting.”

Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn

Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn

Mayor Tim Flynn talked to us afterward, denied any recruitment bias and chalked up complaints to disappointment in not being selected. However, some complaints pre-dated the selection. He says that the council has attempted to make the process more transparent than previous councils, but must also protect candidate information, negotiations and keep the process manageable.  He said that “the public has had about a half-dozen opportunities to comment on the City Manager recruitment process and vision.” When asked why Ms. Burnham wasn’t even interviewed, he said that no process was perfect and that he could not discuss what went on in closed meetings in reference to that. He said that the top candidates interviewed all had impressive qualifications.  When we pointed out that the Santa Barbara candidate allegedly already turned down a $275,000 job elsewhere and that it may be unlikely that she would accept a lesser amount from Oxnard (leaving only one de facto candidate), he observed that “she may not want to stay unemployed forever and may recalibrate expectations.” He is not eager to have another personnel issue like the Sotelo saga (former City Manager, suspended with pay, contract not renewed and litigation ensued). He and the Council “want to do best for the city…. the city is moving forward …. there has been lots of tumult in recent years- out of that will come change.”

Some City Council members had complained about the consultant’s process and insisted on more Council visibility of all applicants’ paperwork.  There will be a special City Council meeting on the City Manager candidates on Wednesday at 5 PM:

Name Date Agenda
Special City Council Meeting April 2, 2014 – 05:00 PM View Agenda

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

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