Oxnard Council Initially Approves Major Reduction of City Treasurer Functions, Molina Attacked

By George Miller

The most significant item of Oxnard City Council business for the evening of May 5 was accusing Treasurer Phil Molina of improper conduct (no corruption), stripping him of most duties and restructuring/gutting the Treasurer’s responsibilities. No one even mentioned Cinco de Mayo.

The Council also approved a fiber optics master plan to help provide high speed services to both businesses and residents, who were said to be underserved and overcharged in some areas of the city. It wasn’t clear what cost to the city would be and how costs could be recovered. It involved making broadband infrastructure mandatory in development and charging fees.

The City Manager went over the pandemic response and anticipates the state approving the County’s Phase II reopening authorization plan (see our articles on county actions for that). The Council voted to approve placement of canopies and tents for organizations authorized to provide curbside service. County CEO Mike Powers told us on Tuesday that although the state will authorize a considerable loosening of shutdowns on Friday, they still haven’t received state requirements for conditions those organizations must meet.

Item M-1

Amendment of City Treasurer Functions; Persons Authorized to Sign Financial Instruments and Initiate Electronic Bank Transactions; Oversight of Payroll Functions; and Adjustment of Future Benefits and Compensation of the Office of City Treasurer Beginning in December 2020.


This was a first reading of a proposed resolution which would basically remove nearly all of the Treasurer’s duties and reduce his salary by about $120,000 annually. His duties would be distributed to Finance, the Assistant Treasurer and Human Resources. The justification was his alleged misdeeds, but the Treasurer’s duties would be permanently changed.

City Mgr Nguyen  was allotted 10 minutes to summarize his case, Treasurer Molina was allotted 10 minutes and the public speakers 3 minutes each.

City Mgr Nyguen

Nguyen said the City initially received complaints from 2 employees on workplace harassment and from more later on sexual harassment. Molina was given notice of investigation and told not to interfere with the process, which he says Molina ignored and even outed one complainant. He claims Molina attempted to intimidate witnesses. Nguyen said the report confirmed 7 of 9 allegations, which Nguyen used to remove his duties permanently. He said if Molina was an employee and not an elected official, he would have been terminated. 40+ employees from many depts. were interviewed and numerous relevant documents were review ed. He claims Molina tried to makes this all about Nguyen.  Mr. Molina’s attorney alleged that this is a vendetta. Nyguyen said Molina consistently violates the rules.  An 83 page report, he said, confirmed the allegations. He said a preponderance of evidence showed Molina interfered with the investigation, committed sexual harassment, did an improper investigation himself re: a shortage of parking lost revenue and  engaged in “keyboard warfare,” via mass emails, while making confidential information public. Molina was exonerated on two scope of authority charges for check review. The report concluded that he exceeded his position scope by weighing in on procurement and injecting himself into accounting dept. matters. He then read allegations from the report that he said supported these charges. He said Molina communicated with assistant CFO against orders. Nguyen moved him into a different office across the street, reorganized the department. He said that Molina will not supervise it.

City Attorney Fischer

Fischer said that the City Manager is doing with legal authority of ordinances 2-168 and 2350(?).  Fischer went through the proposed changes described in agenda materials. He attempted to use  a precedent from Solana County to support their actions, which would take effect permanently in December.

Phil Molina

Molina said it would have been nice to be given copies of what the city manager was going to read.  A valid claim of harassment must be an objectionable environment that a reasonable person would find. Molina described this evening’s proceedings as a trial- Nguyen and Flynn strongly objected to that characterization.  He admittedly commented that he liked some employee’s shoes, shirts, ties, which the investigator found to be harassment. Molina said I interviewed 16 employees (but in groups of three and told them to tell the truth and  I will get you a lawyer if the interrogater bullies you), but you (Alex) had fired 20 people based on false information. The $5.9MM was improperly booked and improperly separated money from the general fund (Molina has previously claimed that the actual General Fund deficit was far lower because millions of dollars were wrongly booked to an Enterprise Fund project account). (The investigator had labeled that a misdeed because he said it wasn’t in Molina’s job scope). You said I scared  the 16 people interviewed. I figured they were scared by the layoffs. He said that only 30 minutes of his 4 hour interrogation was about harassment, You are trying to take me down to scare other employees.  You are a dictator and people are beginning to understand that. He said an email, ostensibly from the Mayor asked him for the password and code to wire city funds. It turned out that someone else may have sent it. He said both he and PD were concerned about security in one of the offices, which is why he was involved. City Attorney thought he was divulging confidentiality by releasing name, hire date and salary of employees, which he said is public by law. Nothing the in CPA’s organization says you need to remove full time elected Treasurer. Nguyen said nothing about improving professional standards. He said city paid out money on expired contracts. What are statutory duties and rattled off a host of govt codes  which he said covered the Treasure’s responsibility to handle things such as  outgoing wires and payroll signoffs., cash handling, overseeing cash disbursements and more.  You (Nguyen) may have already violated law by removing my duties. I am disappointed in you (Nguyen).  He concluded that people  constantly tell him to keep it up. and that something is drastically wrong the way Alexandrian Nguyen operates the city,

Four of the seven public speakers supported Molina and opposed the restructuring, but the Council voted the opposite.

Public Comments (via telephone)

Daniel Chavez, Jr- Very troubled by this decision. Let us not forget that Molina won a settlement with the city, but displayed a vendetta against the city. City Manager’s report is very troubling.  Agrees with designation of sexual harassment. Wants to know terms of Molina’s settlement. Supports stripping admin duties. Wants Molina to resign.

Larry Stein-  Was candidate for City Treasurer. Saw many questionable transactions done by the city over the years, abuse of funds, no backup, etc. Many  accounts with negative balances. Need to keep these controls in place to avoid what has happened in the past.  He still sees problems and cannot get info he asks for. Molina has saved the city millions of dollars. Finance has had very high turnover -ran out of time, Opposes resolution. Has known Molina 25 years and seemed to think highly of him.

Manuel Gonzales- Very disappointing to watch you people . Molina divulged all prior corruption., Tim (Flynn) you supported Nyhoff all the way to the bank to pay for all of his consultants. Now you are trying to limit the next Treasurer too. I do not understand what is going in in our city. You laid off all those people. I suggested 20% pay cut and no one would have to be laid off. Open your eyes, look and see what your govt is doing. Alex, I have loved and respected you but cannot go along with this.

Barbara Macri-Ortiz- Molina is not civil service, this is not a trial. I support (the resolution) 100%, appalled by Treasurer’s conduct. Received 568 emails from Molina on city business, inappropriately. Hasn’t put detail on utility bills as asked. Molina had issues with city way back and won. But let it go and move forward. Molina has done everything to spread misinformation and confusion. Abused power and position.

Michael Gleason- I think you have been doing a good job to clean up city, but it may seem abrasive to those he is working on, Efforts to restrict him. I have known Molina to be a principled many. City suffered from lack of ethics and internal controls. Molina addressed much of this. This was led and supported by City’s executive leadership, who were let go with no consequences.

Ruben Martinez-  Concerned about part time Treasurer. Strongly believe in checks and balance and answer only to the voters. City residents should have a say at the ballot box. Removal from billing dept- a bank for the city, will let things fall through the cracks. Any investigation can have any result for the people who pay for it $126,000.

George Miller (the writer of this article, received and read the consultant’s report on this day)- Constraining/eliminating/reassigning the Treasurer functions is a mistake, especially since some are state-mandated.  It will reduce checks and balances, which is harder to do in a single non-independent organization. Treasurer was elected for transparency, reform, fixing audit findings, responsiveness and he did much of that. What Molina uncovered generated opposition, turf battles. Emails at least exposed a lot of problems that never see the light of day. Molina did do some things wrong, but not termination offenses. Charges were mostly trumped up- some ludicrous. Molina may win still another settlement from the city.

Council

MacDonald- If you get info, check out the source. He gave an example of an invalid one. Watch out for cut and paste emails- verify.

Basua- Molina is an elected official. Someone decided he was to be a dept. head. No harassment charge is ever laughable. “You look nice today” can be “uncomfortable. Need to be professional at all tines- not done, Dept head has overstepped his boundaries. Re: transparency and checks and balances. We have auditors. If we hear something, we address it.  Anyone  can complain about anyone, anytime.

Madrigal- Something like that in any workplace is not right. Molina doing what he thinks is right. Have to treat others with respect.

Ramirez- Really sorry it has come to this. Molina has a lot of talent and ability, but those were not totally well used. She encouraged people to get copy of report. There was something really grievous done to the city. Nothing to gain by hiding things- nothing to hide. Supports resolution. Molina will continue statutory duties. City Manager has right to remove duties to someone misbehaving. Any employee would have been fired.

Flynn- Primary Treasurer duty to safeguard our investment- $200+ million, will remain with Molina. He is one of the most capable individuals I have ever come across. Has done a very good job as Treasurer- safeguarding the public’s investment. Known him personally for over 20 years.  A series of things have happened to Molina that compromised his professional abilities. Something has really gone wrong with him. I would help in any way I can. I’m trying not to make this personal. Hope this a learning experience for Molina and the organization.

(So, even though he was castigated and his ethics questioned, he will safeguard over $2900MM. Got it.)

Vote: approved  7-0, 6-1, No by Madrigal or 3rd recommendation. This will require more work and another vote, since it was a first reading of a proposed ordinance.

 

Item D. Fiber Master Plan Adoption. 

The council also heard a plan for a citywide fiber optics system for communications, control and high speed Internet, They are taking this on even with the crushing burden of many other city problems, including chronic deficits, mismanagement, systems, crime and development.

There is already a $10 MM 38 mile TCS (Traffic Control System) in place.

Vote- Approved Unanimous 7-0

 

City Manager Report

City attorney has an order needing ratified. 20-09 4-22-20, temporary usage of canopies and tents to use for retailer curbside service,

Approved 7-0 unanimous.

 

 


George Miller is Publisher/Co-Founder of CitizensJournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant residing in Oxnard.


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Tom
Tom
5 months ago

Mr. Molina is scheduled to present a quarterly investment report at the May 19 city council meeting. The first panel of his power point presentation contains the statement:

Prepared by: Phillip Molina, Oxnard Full time Treasurer

Dennis ralph
Dennis ralph
5 months ago

The city manager wants to cut expenses, Molina is a good target. If you are the purchaser of a report, it’s goin to say what you want. This is not due process. Why didn’t the city manager go to the state or the county?after all he is an elected official! It doesn’t pass the smell test. The real mystery is why, this is shades of Ed Sotello and Holden!