Oxnard, Santa Paula: What the heck is going on?
By Shane Cohn 06/14/2012
I was in Vegas this past weekend, so understandably I returned back to work with a hazy head. Hence, when I came back to the office and learned that the Oxnard City Council was going to consider giving interim City Manager Karen Burnham a 10 percent raise this past Tuesday night, I had to ask my colleagues if what I was reading was true. Maybe there was a mistake in the copy, or perhaps that ill-fated run on the craps table did some permanent damage.
But no, I was seeing things straight. If approved, Burnham’s pay would increase by $20,000 annually, resulting in a salary of $228,917. Combined with a benefits package, her total compensation would be in the ballpark of $305,391, retroactive to Feb. 7.
That’s a great idea for the city of Oxnard, right?
Just a couple of months after the embarrassing results of the investigation by the Ventura County district attorney’s office revealed the many ways city officials have been partying and fattening their wallets with taxpayer monies for more than a decade, and while City Manager Ed Sotelo is on an unexplained paid leave raking in a total compensation package worth about $411,850 a year, the most logical thing to do is give Burnham a raise?
What the heck is going on?!
While I was in Vegas, people were up in arms about the Manny Pacquiao/Timothy Bradley fight, saying it was absolutely rigged, and if the sport hadn’t already been completely shamed and discredited, well, now it should be. And as I write this, I can’t believe I’m comparing arguably the nation’s most corrupt sport to the city of Oxnard. It’s a loose and unfair comparison, but, at this point, it’s begging consideration.
With the fallout from the investigation, it seems preposterous any top city official would be considered for a pay raise. Sure, Burnham has taken on a new position with more responsibilities, but as the acting city manager, she can now take this opportunity to show quality leadership by declining this salary increase. Because the Oxnard City Council decided Tuesday night that her contract agreement would be discussed in closed session at a future meeting, Burnham has time to reflect on what taking a raise during such sensitive times means for the city. This comes at the same time of stalled labor negotiations with city employees who haven’t seen any raises in six or seven years.
The city even issued a statement, with Burnham listed as the contact, in the wake of the district attorney’s investigation that read, “As we move forward, our ongoing efforts will be to focus our attention on providing services to our residents and maintaining the city’s fiscal stability.”
Good one, Oxnard.
But lapses in common sense seem to be trending around here, from my housemate leaving the oven on overnight to 75 percent of county residents not voting in the primaries. One can say that perhaps there is just something in the air. And most recently it has carried over to the city of Santa Paula.
Jaime Fontes, Santa Paula’s city manager, recently fired arguably the most popular and successful police chief in recent times because he tacked on 19,000 miles to a city-issued car and made $2,814 of unauthorized purchases with a city gas card.
Fontes called it a waste of city resources and said that Chief Steve MacKinnon “exhibited a pattern of conduct and misjudgment that is incompatible with city management’s purposes and policies.”
Yet Fontes’ decision to investigate MacKinnon, rather than figure out behind closed doors what seems to be a trivial misunderstanding, has cost city taxpayers more than $15,000 and has also paved the way to what could be an expensive lawsuit. MacKinnon’s lawyer Ron Bamieh has said that an investigation has already been launched on MacKinnon’s behalf that targets City Council members, city staff and former Chief of Police Robert Gonzales, who is also the city’s mayor. There is clearly more to this than meets the eye, and it seems as though longstanding vendettas and bruised egos may now be threatening to sour Santa Paula’s encouraging development.
Anyhow, on Monday, June 11, a 52-foot mechanical shark named Sharkzilla tore a sailboat in half at Ventura Beach. At least we got that going for us. F
Slapshot is a monthly column/op-ed piece on various issues around Ventura County.