There's a new mayor in town
Oxnard resident and Councilman Tim Flynn takes over the reins
By Michael Sullivan 01/17/2013
It’s the dawn of a new era in Oxnard. Most of the familiar faces that once were the city’s beloved and trusted leaders have now moved on or were voted out of office. All the dirty laundry of Oxnard City Hall has hopefully been aired out, now that the district attorney wrapped up its two-year-long investigation and fines have been doled out by the California Fair Political Practices Commission. In essence, out with the old, in with the new, and six-year Councilman Tim Flynn will be leading the way. He sat down with the VCReporter this week to talk about times past, today and tomorrow for Oxnard.
VCReporter: Congratulations again on your win. Now, you were the last one to throw your hat in the ring. Was there some hesitation?
Flynn: I think it was a combination of two things. I think, number one, I tend to be a person who waits until the last minute because I think by waiting — there are advantages and disadvantages to waiting — but by waiting you kind of see what the full field is going to be like because others can jump in at the last minute. And the other thing is, I have to admit I had a lot of apprehensions about running, primarily because I knew that — you know I just had an election two years prior. It’s a tremendous effort and then I just had a lot of concerns about finding a balance in my life — being a full-time teacher, being a dad, husband, all that kind of stuff. The other thing is, is that maybe it was a combination of my predecessor’s approach and the things that had taken place over the last couple of years, it was a little bit of a turnoff to me. I don’t have to be the guy in charge and I don’t have to be the guy that says, “You do this and you do that.” I don’t have to be a military general but I did realize at some point that I just had to do it.
You ran for mayor in 2008. Why did you decide to do that?
Well, I think in 2008 it was a totally different set of circumstances. I felt that anything of value that I had to offer was …. I was basically a persona non grata. I was a minister without portfolio.
It all started over this lot at Oxnard Boulevard and Gonzales Road, and when the then-majority saw that I was adamant about questioning and wanting to have a discourse over city policy, I think they kind of put me into a position that I just had to do it.
Who put you into the position?
I think former Mayor (Tom) Holden, (Andres) Herrera and (Dean) Maulhardt — they kind of consisted of the majority — I felt like not only were they against me but this was just what happens in city government, that the staff was kind of all … it was not a good situation. It was kind of like the Norwegian author of An Enemy of the People. I really felt that way. I felt they, more or less singled me out to be that enemy of the people and so I knew that wasn’t the case and I stood for things that I felt were right and I wasn’t intimidated and I was going to do it.
It was just an outrage that people could treat you that way. I mean, it is one thing to disagree with people and it’s another way that — it is the dignity of a human being. I felt that I wasn’t treated particularly well, so that just pushed me into being a fighter. They started this fight and are continuing the fight and I am going to go for it. I’m going to take my gloves off and these guys are going to get it. And if I’m going down, I’m going down with my boots on.
Do you feel like this could be a springboard into following your father into a county supervisor role?
I have to admit I, for whatever reason, I have not found county government to be as intriguing and as challenging and as interesting as city government, especially this city.
Oxnard is probably the most interesting city in the county.
There is no question. The dynamics here are, there is an element here like Dallas. It’s exciting. And it is kind of strange that a town like this, literally no one knows what a supervisor is, nobody knows what a state assemblyman is but everybody knows what a mayor is. And they look at a mayor’s position completely differently than anything else, which is pretty amazing. There is a cultural element to it. For people, especially from Mexico, the mayor in Mexico is the man. There is no question in a town that that is the guy, that’s the go-to man.
Why did you decide to run for City Council in 2004?
I lived in the historic district and there was a building right next to where I lived and the building was in horrible disrepair. It was a former hospital. I remember the hospital in its prime and grandeur days, and the developer was looking to put senior housing there and he couldn’t quite get his act together and it just languished. It just laid there and I thought, “You know what? This would not be acceptable in Ventura. This would not be acceptable in Camarillo or Thousand Oaks. Only in Oxnard can you have this type of, just, neglect,” and I thought to myself — because I’d actually previously thought about city government — and said, “Wow, it’s a thankless job. Why would I even think of that?” So it changed my mind about that. And I decided to throw my hat in the ring. I was also very active in my neighborhood council. In fact, it’s funny because when I lived in Ventura, which I did for at least about five years of my life, I started a neighborhood watch. I always had that kind of feeling about working within a neighborhood, and I had that background of public service. I knew at some point I was going to a run for public office — I didn’t know which one. It was just, was natural progression.
Next on the agenda is to get another councilmember.
There is going to be a special election. I believe the date is going to be June 4. I didn’t see any way around it. With the reputation of this city being an insiders’ club, boys’ club, cronyism, nepotism, all those things — I felt that there’s no way around the special election. No matter who we selected. It could’ve been the pope and people would have had problems with it. It’s just the price you have to pay for transparency.
So you don’t think the residents are ready yet, or have moved on from what has happened at City Hall and in regard to the district attorney’s investigation?
I think that people are hopeful in the new year. I think the new year is a time of renewal for a lot of people. And I think that people are kind of in a position that they are hopeful and are waiting to be inspired. I think they are ready to move on but you have to have something that moves them along. To answer your question, I would say, until some really good things happen, I think people will be somewhat stuck in knowing that some very bad things happened here in this town. We still have not had that broader discussion about ethics in our government. That is going to be soon — in the next month or two, it will be on the agenda. We will have a facilitator that will lead us through that process. I hope to put through some reforms that are going to deal with such sticky issues as money in politics and then what really does constitute a conflict of interest, even though, in many respects, it’s kind of made clear but it’s obvious that [some] people just summarily ignored it ….
When you look at the Bell scandal versus what happened here, yes, it’s shameful; yes, it’s unethical what happened here; but it doesn’t seem to be quite on that level.
I will say one thing — what happened in Bell, believe it or not, financially what happened in Oxnard was far worse than what happened in Bell. What the contrast between Bell and Oxnard was, here it was surreptitious. There was flaunting and I think individuals that thought they wouldn’t be called on their decisions and how they were making decisions. In Bell, it was more flagrant and more open — they were openly robbing people.
What happened in Oxnard, that was done under the table.
It was very much under the table. The people that were recipients of tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money — residents had not heard of these people until these things surfaced. And they kept it that way. Again, I can’t say only in Oxnard would something like this happen. But it is in a town like Oxnard, which is a post-agrarian community, it’s still an agrarian society, that these types of things happen.
I read recently that City Manager Edmund Sotelo, who is currently on paid leave of absence, is considering suing the city.
His contract is set to expire in about a month from now. I think there was some connection between the former mayor and that’s the direction he was going to go. That had nothing to do with the City Council. The council had to make a completely separate decision — were we going to renew his contract or, what was going to happen? He was placed on leave but there was never a termination. So basically, in effect, what the City Council decided was not to terminate him but the contract wouldn’t be renewed.
Dorina Padilla is the newest councilmember. At 24 years old, she is the youngest to be elected in the city’s recent history. Did you know her before?
I did not know her before and I think it was, to me, one of the most phenomenal things that has ever happened in this city and, arguably, in the county of Ventura. It appears that she and a group of very bright, college-educated and motivated people who went out and did the hard-school politics of door knocking and combining their resources. I think out of six who were running for local public office, two made it. One for the school board and Dorina for City Council.
When the Riverpark/Collection development came before the City Council, you weren’t necessarily in favor of it but it turned out to be quite an amazing project, one that you recently publicly praised. Has that project changed your perspective on development in the future?
The most important thing to say is that I’ve never been against development. I’ve been an advocate of infill development rather than consuming prime agricultural land. My contention was, and still is today, is that even if something can be considered a smart-growth development, if you have huge infrastructure deficiencies, you need to stop and take a deep breath and be a little more deliberate in planning. I think the Collection, in particular, is going to be a tremendous asset to the city and I think it’s going to be very appealing, especially to younger people, and it can attract people from neighboring cities that are going to want to go there because it’s new, it’s exciting and it’s dynamic. I think that is a tremendous plus for the city.
What’s the next biggest issue for the City Council?
Jobs. I ran on a platform of bringing higher-paying jobs to the city and, in particular, new economy jobs: high-tech, biotech and medical research. How to bring those jobs and attract those jobs to the city — I have already met with Jeff Gorell, who has been working more on his district level with the lieutenant governor on Gold Team California. I really want a Gold Team Oxnard that is going to bring those high-tech and higher-paying jobs here; and at the same time, I just really want to elevate the standard quality of living in the city and also in education.