Oxnard Special Recall Election Candidate Forum: 3-28-18

By George Miller

The last candidate forum before the May 1 Oxnard special recall election was held by The League of Women Voters on Wednesday, March 28, 2018.

What set this debate apart from others is that recall initiator Aaron Starr and his wife Alicia Percell were allowed by the organizers to first state their case in about four minutes, followed by some questions. Then the incumbents being challenged made statements and answered questions, followed by Mayoral Challengers and finally the Council challengers.

We note that questions focused on Measure M rate rollback/Wastewater and not so much the numerous other recall justifications previously cited. Starr and Percell came across as Mr. and Ms. Smith go to Washington. 

 

Recall Intitiator Starr

Aaron Starr stated that the rate increase was merely the last straw and that the city spent about $500,000 in legal fees to say your vote doesn’t matter and raised rates again.

Alicia Percell welcomed the lawsuit since it permitted discovery, forcing the city and consultants to reveal information that would otherwise stay hidden. She said emergency repairs were already paid for. Starr said a $30MM utility intends to spend $750 million, based on advice of outside consultants who were also bidding on the work, a stunning conflict of interest. Percell said the city claimed that Starr’s plan would cause bankruptcy. Starr claimed that the city is unlawfully diverting funds from the utilities (via infrastructure fees, also being ligated by Starr, citing legal precedents).

Starr professed to be amused that the incumbents had suddenly become fiscal watchdogs complaining about the cost of democracy (recall election cost were about $200,000+ but mushroomed to $500,000 after city delayed things long enough that the County could no longer support Oxnard’s special election, because it was too close to the primary date). Percell said that “the city shot itself in the foot” with these self-imposed delays.

The moderator asked if the 2015 wastewater rate increases were sufficient. Starr said he needs to get in and see the financial and technical details to fully answer that question. He said that his efforts to work with the city were stopped by attorneys. When asked about the cost of the recall election instead of waiting until the general election, Alicia Percell said it’s a small portion of the budget. Meanwhile, they are accepting sweetheart bids for property and spending another half million suing Starr and defending other extensive and maybe unnecessary litigation.

Added comment from Alicia Percell 3-31-18: 

The attorneys stopped us from meeting with the city in November of 2016.  Rydberg testified in court that he had been told by the city’s attorneys that it was because we had allegedly issued subpoenas for city staff.  Even if that’s what Rydberg was told, it wasn’t true.  We had NOT issued any subpoenas at that time.  We didn’t sue over the IUF until several months after November 2016.  In the Measure M lawsuit we didn’t issue subpoenas to witnesses until right before the trial in December 2017, which was more than a year after the city’s attorneys stopped us from meeting with city staff.

Questions

Recalls should be done for serious offenses. Do you think  that Members under recall  had broken any laws? Starr says thy are already breaking laws by diverting funds from utilities. He added that crimes are not a prerequisite for recall and noted for example, state voters’ discontent with Gray Davis’ policies, which resulted in his recall. You don’t wait 2 years if your teenagers are acting up. Starr said he watches the Council wasting millions of dollars a week and said “the sooner, the better.”  

What happens if the recall succeeds and you later learn the rates were justified? Starr: we already know the rates were excessive. I’m really convinced we can make the rates reasonable while maintaining a safe facility. Council has mismanaged outside consultants. Someone needs to ask the right questions. You need somebody with a financial background.  The folks on the council today are just not equipped to do that.

What have you learned about this whole process and people’ priorities? Starr said that they have worked very hard on this, Alicia and he gathered 12,000 signatures personally and the effort gathered 68,000 in total. People are upset about city corruption and mismanagement. Percell said people have lost faith in the process, but people are inspired when they see an effort getting results.

With $100,000 spent on this effort, it’s obviously very important to you. Why did you feel the need to do this? Starr: My wife and I are idealists. We believe in this. If the voters vote for something, it needs to be upheld. the voters are the boss; the City Council are the employees-m and they’re being insubordinate. This is simply intolerable. It’s simple not acceptable and hugely costly, I can’t believe they spend so much to sue me personally.

 

Incumbent Mayor Tim Flynn and Councilman Bert Perello

Incumbents

Mayor Tim Flynn described the recall election as fraudulent, misrepresented. He used the corny prop of a Kentucky Fried Chicken meal to say that its price was the extent of the wastewater increase that they passed. He said that the 72% who voted for measure M were misled. He acted as if the recall was just about wastewater and not a number of other issues.

Councilman Bert Perello opined that the recall election is too expensive and an inappropriate remedy. He touted his impressive anti-corruption and transparency record, a well as efforts to improve city finances. He said that regardless of voter conclusions, outside experts said the rate increase decision had to be made to get out of default, please bond-raters and maintain infrastructure.

Incumbent Mayor ProTem Carmen Ramirez and Councilman Oscar Madrigal

Mayor ProTem Carmen Ramirez described the recall as a one-issue proposition. She claimed the council avoided financial chaos. She protested the expense of the election. She boasted about stopping the NRG power plant and taking over the recycling plant. She claimed that the city has a clean audit, which was disproven in VC Superior Court last month. She agreed with Bert Perello’s conclusions and said it was the right thing to do even if people were unhappy. She said that the increase was only $5 and would go up by about $20 (sounds higher than that KFC dinner,even for the famously frugal Ramirez household).

Oscar Madrigal said he has done what was best for the city now and in the future. He agreed with Ramirez and Perello. He said that Oxnard residents pay less than the majority of the county.

Flynn mused on what would happen if recall petition signature gatherers had told people that it was a petition to bankrupt the city. He suggested that Starr’s real goal was to bankrupt the city.

 

Mayoral Challengers

Oxnard recall election mayoral challengers (L-R): Dr. Miguel Lopez, Robert Lee Sumpter, Aaron Starr, Larry Stein, Morey Navarro

Opening Statement- Dr. Miguel Lopez spent most of his opening statement time to again describe how the ballot works and called the recall election a waste of time. He also mentioned public safety. Robert Sumpter mentioned that he has run four times and was complimented for raising interesting questions. Aaron Starr is disappointed in Oxnard’s government and is concerned about what is going on in Oxnard. He would ensure that public safety has the resources it needs and would utilize his experience as a Certified Public Accountant.Larry Stein said he’s an accountant with 25 years experience. The city is breaking the law, is setting utility rates and spending its monies inappropriately. He claimed that as long as we pay our debts we won’t go bankrupt. Morey Navarro cited 42 years experience as a business contractor to the city of Oxnard.  He added that the city is mismanaged. It needs to hire locally and hold managers accountable.

Will you fulfill Measure M rate rollback? What if it leaves insufficient funds? Sumpter said he does not know the finances and would have to review past work, including the rate setting process. Aaron Starr said the city adopted  a letter of credit agreement which prohibits rate decreases. Work he did said that smaller increases would have worked, but he would need to look at the bonks closely when he gets in. He said he can help improve productivity. Stein would stabilize rates but says money is being taken from one utility and sent to another and that is wrong. Morey Navarro would repeal rates, objects to how recycled water program is being run, injecting water which cam’t be used. He thinks we should borrow between utility funds. Miguel Lopez would proceed with increase, but possibly less than what had been passed. He wants a peer review of utilities.

What skills and experiences qualify you to be Mayor? What govt experience? Starr said he’s a manager for a profitable $1 billion company. We (Oxnard) do not use any metrics for our managers or hold them accountable- We do not get good performance from City Hall and I can help there.  I will address the issues, and have 20 years experience  doing this. Wants to see alternative budgets and options for decisions. Morey Navarro was on the planning commission for 6 years with only one overturned decision, was involved with redev. agency, wants to hire local people. Lopez has experience in private and public sectors, police dept, has PhD, , as well as community organizing experience working on local problems. Has worked local, state, federal issues. Robert Sumpter has run for Mayor 4x. Was a manager for numerous car dealerships, including Volvo.

How would you lead transition and address major issues? Larry Stein- would present ideas, lead consensus, control budget instead of being dictated to by staff. Public safety very important, takes 60% of General Fund and wants more. Bring ethics, accountability.  Navarro did a lot of work with economic development, would increase sales taxes, stop giving buildings away, hold people accountable. Lopez would work collaboratively, share resources for bigger impact. Built community partnerships while working with police dept, Has support of labor and Chamber of Commerce, work with stet and federal representatives. Sumpter- we’ll only be in office 21 weeks, are gonna have to work together. Starr says he has a reputation for getting things done, knows how to run meetings, is underestimated, can always have the council come to an agreement, Council is not even given monthly financial reports, need real budgets, metrics, not rubber-stamped.

What skills would you look for in a City Manager? What duties should CM perform vs Council?  Navarro says City Mgr. serves at the will of the Council, feels there are two staffers now capable of doing the job, no need to bring in “foreigners” (he was referring to people outside of Oxnard) to run it, use, work on unfunded retirement problem. Have worked with several City Managers; Nyhoff was one of the hardest to work with. Lopez knows what priorities are, would look at background, reputation, fit for addressing Oxnard’s problems, need team builder and conflict manager. Sumpter basically repeated what the other said in vague terms. Starr is looking for a straight shooter, give him clear goals, City Council is not managing City Manager, should be setting and monitoring goals. Staff not offering choices, options. Stein would look for someone boring, want straightforward and plain, not someone who takes 18 months to learn what is going on in the city. Don’t reinvent the wheel, take council direction,which has been ignored. Need timely information.

 

Council Challengers

Recall election Council challengers (L-R): Kari Cryder, Ambrosio Casanova, Francine Castanon, John Ragan, Daniel Chavez, Jr., Angel Garcia, Miguel Martinez,

 

Participating were: Kari Cryder (vs. Ramirez), Ambrosio Casanova (vs. Ramirez), Francine Castanon (vs. Ramirez), John Ragan (vs. Madrigal), Daniel Chavez, Jr. (vs. Madrigal), Angel Garcia (vs. Madrigal), Miguel Martinez (vs. Madrigal),

Absent: Al Velasquez (vs Ramirez) and Enrigue Petris (vs. Madrigal)

 

 

KADYTV.net

 

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


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