4:15 p.m., Thursday — Ed Sotelo stood near the right wall inside the City Council chamber. He looked sharp in his suit, left hand gripping his right wrist as he occasionally glanced over his left shoulder, carving out occasional smiles as Oxnard residents began filing into the chamber minutes before City Council was to begin a special session evaluating Sotelo’s performance, as well as that of City Attorney Alan Holmberg. It was similar to the special meeting last December where the outcome of the evaluation could have resulted in Sotelo losing his job as city manager. Even though this time around, when it was speculated that job termination wasn’t a possibility, there was a strange tension in the room among the 40 or so citizens as they took their seats for the 4:30 meeting. On one side of the divide there were the beleaguered citizens licking their chops at the possibility that Sotelo, whose total annual compensation is more than $381,000, could finally, after 13 years as city manager, get the axe. Pulling on the other side were Sotelo supporters who wanted no more controversy in their litigious city until the District Attorney’s 13-month probe of possible malfeasance by Oxnard officials is finally resolved.
But Sotelo appeared cool and confident just minutes before Mayor Tom Holden began the council session because standing next to Sotelo was his attorney Bill Seki.
Prior to the special meeting, Seki, the public would learn, had delivered a letter to council members asking that Holden be barred from Sotelo’s performance evaluation.
"Mr. Mayor, we’re asking for your recusal and removal from the evaluation process," Seki said during the public comment period. "We believe that based upon the claims that are presently being investigated that you are not in a position to be fair and objective regarding any performance evaluation."
Holden and Sotelo have had a rocky relationship over the years. On July 27, 2010 Holden publicly reprimanded Sotelo for spending $150,000 of city money without the council’s approval to redesign the administration building of the city’s innovative Advanced Water Purification Facility. Sotelo would later file harassment claims against Holden and former Councilman Andres Herrera.
Seki continued. “An evaluation form has been circulated by you Mr. Mayor, which you indicate …” But Holden interrupted Seki. “That is not true,” responded Holden. .
Seki countered. “Well it was circulated, I believe, under your name, or at your behest, which indicated that the criteria on that form had been agreed to by Mr. Sotelo. That is completely false.”
Seki explained that pursuant to Sotelo’s agreement of employment with the city of Oxnard, there must be agreed upon specific criteria on which to evaluate him.
“Until that point in time comes there can be no performance evaluation,” said Seki. “If you intend to come to some sort of final evaluation tonight, that can’t be done. That would be in violation of contract that the city entered into and obviously we know the consequences of a breach of contract.”
While Seki was speaking, a person in attendance audibly whispered, “This guy is good.”
He was right. Holden reported out from the closed session that a new evaluation form would be distributed, and Sotelo and Holmberg should expect to have their evaluations by next Thursday’s meeting. The time of the next meeting has yet to be announced.