Oxnard public to council: move ahead on City Manager recruitment

By George Miller

A special City Council public meeting,  attended by about 130 people, was held on April 3 to present the two finalists (photos- below) for the City Manager recruitment. What was supposed to be a candidate “meet and greet” event turned more into public expression of dissatisfaction with the recruitment process, although candidates later spoke one-on-one with residents. The crowd was too large for this to be effective. The message from the public was: move ahead with the recruitment, but some understood why there were complaints and they were not thrilled by the process.  Many residents, with greatly varying opinions commented.  The Council kept a very low profile and let residents and candidates do almost all of the talking. Each candidate spoke to the crowd for a few minutes.

Name Date Duration Agenda Minutes Video
Special City Council Meeting* April 2, 2014 Agenda
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Greg Nyhoff

Chandra Wallar

Chandra Wallar

Transparency

The council has attempted to make the process more “transparent”/accessible to the public than past efforts, partially because of public anger over the corruption in city hall.  Ed Sotelo, the previous City Manager, was investigated for corruption by the District Attorney and put on paid leave of absence for the duration of his contract, which was not renewed. No convictions were ever obtained, but state fines were levied on multiple city officials, including Sotelo. Some have left/retired, others are still in office.

 

Consultant Brett Freeman remarked on the unusual process

Consultant Fred Freeman remarked on the unusual process

Oxnard has had an interim City Manager, Karen Burnham for two years. The city council finally moved on starting the recruiting process for a permanent city manager months ago, hiring a consultant and hammering out the process.  Consulting firm Bob Murray & Associates was engaged to set up the process and conducted the search. Fred Freeman, a consultant from the firm who spoke said they started on 10/10/13 and that the “open” process being used by Oxnard is rather unusual. There have been public meetings to discuss and solicit input on the process.  The public and the Council had expressed some dissatisfaction and wanted changes, such as visibility of all candidate resumes, checking of candidates other than the final recommendations, visits to candidate cities and more. Providing public visibility of all candidates’ information presents significant confidentiality and legal problems.

 

 

Public comment

Nearly 20 residents commented …. examples:

Brian Bettino- “I just served my country for eight years….  want to know the candidates’ intent and desires of the heart.”  It is his first meeting and he wants to get involved.

Jim Lavery (frequent speaker at Council meetings)- Choose candidate with no connections to what has been going on. The plan not followed. End the Sotelo/Burnham era, restore ethics and transparency. Address the arrogant, incompetent staff, starting with Burnham.

Margie Miller (retired former criminal justice)- Regrets there was no Latino woman candidate, but let’s focus on the recruiting effort with what we have. City Mgr. must serve city, be effective executive. Does not like what she has learned about Ms. Waller.

Martin Jones (former City Council candidate)-  Expect honest service from officials. Offenders should have been removed.

Larry Stein (most frequent and assertive speaker at council meetings)-  Was under the impression that this was supposed to be a “meet and greet” meeting- want to meet/talk to candidates.

Michael Rhodes- Make requirements clear. Salaries are too high.

Harold- We are sitting on a keg of dynamite. This was not racist. Karen’s doing te  job, but we need new people.

Mr. Gonzales- 75 year old Latino native- Move ahead, hire a new City Manager

Al Velasquez- 75 year old Oxnard native- Many African-American dept. heads. Go forward with the process-way overdue. Start w/clean slate, new people.

Rebecca Grau- Resent racism charge- a “Trojan Horse” to stop progress, preserve status quo.

Dan Pinedo- (Community activist, on various Oxnard committees/boards)- Prolonged delay in the process, want open process, which has not happened, should meet at least 5 candidates, why can’t resumes be made public on the web, salaries too high, do not want candidates with “baggage,” should go back to the drawing board.

The candidates

Chandra Waller was most recently the Chief Executive of Santa Barbara. She has solid civil engineering and public works credentials, followed later by city management experience  in major city assignments, such as Decatur, Il, Jefferson City, MO, Little Rock, AR, San Diego, CA and of course, Santa Barbara.

She stressed her skills and priorities of competent and effective use of city resources, ethics, transparency and Business Process Reengineering as “cornerstone philosophies,” and cited success in changing organizational cultures, improving customer service, establishing street standards, livability. She is very proud of her role in helping to direct the recovery from the disastrous San Diego wildfires.

She was discharged by the Santa Barbara Council with a 5-0 vote, but reasons for her dismissal have not been presented to the public.

Greg Nyhoff was most recently City Manager for Modesto (CA).  He started by remarking on the passion exhibited by residents over the recruitment effort- “as high as I’ve ever seen,” he said.  He was City Manager for 20 years and had to cut spending $20 million dollars, which was about 20% of the general fund, a very difficult task. He has already visited Oxnard three times, starting before he even sent his résumé.  He stressed his abilities in visioning, strategic planning and execution, using teamwork, commitment and being results-oriented.

Bias in the recruitment process?

The NAACP has complained multiple times about bias in the hiring process, culminating in a well-publicized press conference on April 2, when the President of the Ventura County Chapter accused the council of “racist moves” in the hiring process. This likely helped result in the large attendance at the Wednesday meeting.

Much of the meeting focused on resident discussion of the accusations of racism and the hiring process, rather than the candidates themselves. A really diverse cross-section of people from all walks of life attended.  The consensus was there did not appear to be racial bias in the process, but it seemed evident that the City Council did not want interim City Manager Karen Burnham as the permanent City Manager.  It was pointed out that Oxnard has quite a few black department heads, including Police Chief, Fire Chief, Housing Authority Director, Library Director, Interim City Manager and a former Acting Mayor.

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NAACP-VC Vice President Regina Crawford

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Rev. Ralph James

However, several black residents, including former City Council candidate Orlando Dozier, NAACP Vice President Regina Crawford, Rev. Ralph James and NAACP President John R. Hatcher III felt that there was probably bias in the recruitment process.  Dozier, who is also the River Ridge Neighborhood Council Chair, stated that bias can be present even if there are other African-American officials in place. He also said that the Council and Mayor were elected to do the hiring and that “pure democracy” is just a dream. He remarked that the Greeks were overwhelmed by the Roman Empire, because they couldn’t make a decision on what to do. Crawford said that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act suggested to her that bias could be present in this case and reiterated her call for a postponement until after the election and installation of officials. Rev. James believes Ms. Burnham to be experienced and competent. So far, the public has not received an explanation of why Ms. Burnham was not even interviewed. CJ was told that this was under confidentiality requirements for closed meetings.

We await further action from the City Council, after this meeting and when recruiting due diligence now underway moves along sufficiently.

_______________________________________

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

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