Thirteen seek Oxnard City Council seat

By David Courtland 02/28/2013

With 13 people already joining the race to fill the City Council spot Tim Flynn vacated when he became Oxnard’s mayor, the June 4 special election is shaping up to be as contentious as November’s.

Several of 2012’s City Council candidates are back for a second try, as are city clerk candidate Larry Stein, treasurer candidate Martin Jones and mayoral candidate Don Thibeault.

The special election comes as the Council faces a number of difficult decisions that it lacks a critical swing vote for, including replacing a city manager and other fallout from Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten’s April 18 report on the public integrity of Oxnard city officials.

In that report — often mentioned as a reason for running by candidates — Totten concluded that former Mayor Tom Holden, City Manager Ed Sotelo and other officials had committed improprieties, but due to city staff’s sloppy record keeping, he couldn’t prove it.

“There are a lot of issues that need to be looked at, and I think if I’m on the Council I can start yelling and screaming,” said Thibeault, a retired real estate agent who finished last among the four people who sought to replace Holden in November.

Thibeault cited many of the same reasons for running now as he did in running for mayor last year, including the city’s looming pension burden and other financial obligations.

“We haven’t investigated the DA’s report yet. We need to get pension reform started,” said Thibeault, who has consistently argued the city’s pension debt puts it on the brink of bankruptcy.

Other issues candidates were challenged on during voter forums last year include:
• The controversial SouthShore Project, a 1,545-unit residential project on Hueneme Road, approved 3-2 by the Council in June 2011. A recent ruling on a lawsuit filed by opponents punched holes in city staff’s environmental analysis, sending the project back to the council for further approval.
With Flynn and Councilmember Carmen Ramirez opposing the project in the past, and supporter Irene Pinkard no longer on the City Council after losing her bid for mayor, the open seat is critical to the efforts of both developers and environmentalists.
• Replacing Sotelo, whose contract runs out at the end of this month after having been on paid leave since Feb. 2, 2012.

The Council could decide to simply promote Interim City Manager Karen Burnham to the job — a move sure to anger critics of Sotelo, who say Burnham was too close to him to be trusted — or begin a search for a new manager.
• How to pay for planned community development projects now that the state has eliminated redevelopment agencies, taking away the property taxes that were the funding source for them.
• Whether the Oxnard Police Department needs a police commission to handle complaints from residents. The issue surfaced in October after Oxnard police killed an innocent bystander thought to be a fleeing suspect, an incident coming on the heels of the June death of a man overdosing on methamphetamine who was being restrained for paramedics. In November, a Ventura County medical examiner’s report called that death a homicide.
Most of the prospective candidates are still gathering the minimum of 20 signatures needed to earn a place on the ballot. Signatories supporting candidates must be registered Oxnard voters; signatures have to be turned in by 5 p.m. on March 8.

So far Thibeault, Orlando Dozier and Jo Ann Olivares have turned in signatures, which were still being verified by City Clerk Daniel Martinez’s office on Feb. 27.

Dozier, a financial management analyst at Naval Construction Battalion Center Port Hueneme who lives in Oxnard’s RiverPark subdivision, was one of 13 people running for two City Council seats last year. Olivares, an administrator at San Miguel Produce, declared her intent to run last year but changed her mind.

Only incumbent Bryan MacDonald scored an easy victory as the vote was largely split among the other candidates, with CLU administrator Dorina Padilla claiming the other seat by a slim margin.

Besides Dozier, Thibeault and Jones, others who ran unsuccessfully for elected office in November and making another try include postal worker Bert Perello, American Cleaners owner Vince Behrens, former Oxnard High School District Trustee Dick Jaquez, substitute teacher Oscar Madrigal and tutoring center program director Manuel Vasquez Cano.

Along with Olivares, newcomers include substitute teacher and campaign consultant Elizabeth Wolfel, Arthur Valenzuela Jr. and Mario R. Quintana.

Wolfel managed Tony Strickland’s campaign for Congress last year, which Strickland lost to Julia Brownley. Olivares sits on the board of directors of local nonprofit El Concilio Family Services with Jaquez and former city councilmember Andres Herrera.


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