Chief hiring process, economic vitality focus of Council candidates forum
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: October 24, 2012
Hiring a new police chief and economic growth were among the issues questioned of the four candidates for City Council at the October 10 Candidates Forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters Ventura County and Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce.
Duane Ashby is a corporate trainer and financial analyst who ran unsuccessfully for council two years ago. Martin Hernandez, chief of staff to Ventura County Supervisor Kathy Long, is a first time candidate. Fred Robinson, the director of a nonprofit, and Jim Tovias, an insurance agent, are incumbents running as a slate for second council terms.
Moderator David Maron asked the candidates group and individual questions submitted by audience members.
Several questions were related to the city’s top cop, both past and future. The candidates were asked to address hiring a new chief and whether they would support a citizens’ screening committee.
A city press release was issued noting the hiring process, including formation of a five-member citizens panel that would also include the president of the Santa Paula Police Officers Association.
Tovias said three prominent members of the county law enforcement community would screen the applications. “Once they do the initial screening,” recommended applicants will be forwarded to a “panel of five citizens for their input... then the decision will be up to the city manager.” The city manager’s decision on the new police chief will be supported by the council: “We need to do it,” Tovias noted, “and it’s time to move on.”
Ashby said if the public participation issue was not resolved by the time he took office, it would be “one of my highest priorities... I do support getting citizens involved in the selection process, it’s very important.... Maybe, just maybe we need a citizens’ police committee,” as in the past, that examined issues and programs. “I don’t know,” he added, but “let’s talk about it. “
“One of my platform issues is transparency, transparency, transparency,” and Hernandez said he could not recall the last time the city did appoint a citizens committee, except perhaps for the hiring of the city manager. A private candidates forum the previous evening was the first time Hernandez said he had heard of a police chief selection citizens’ committee, information that should have been publicized. “This is exactly what we’re talking about... the council is here to serve you, I am here to serve you,” and public knowledge and input must be a top priority to help set goals and, noted Hernandez, make decisions.
Robinson said the city had a “vacancy, advertised it in all the appropriate journals and properly announced it in the media.” The city has “25 qualified finalists; three distinguished police officers and members of our judiciary will review them” before applicants are turned over to “a citizens advisory committee. “Ultimately, the decision will be made by the city manager.”
Robinson disputed remarks that the city had not been transparent with information regarding the hiring process for a new police chief. “Hernandez talks about transparency... we’ve made that very well known that there would be a citizens advisory committee,” said Robinson. “That’s what we do with your appropriate city issues.”
Ashby was asked about his previous remarks that MacKinnon’s dismissal was handled improperly and what he would have done differently. “I disagreed with how it was handled,” especially, said Ashby, as he has professional experience in personnel matters.
“There are certain ways you handle situations where employees may or may not have done something contrary to policy, contrary to regulations... companies I work for have to abide by a myriad of regulations,” and there are “good ways to handle it and bad ways to handle it... and I don’t think” the MacKinnon issue “was handled correctly.”
All the candidates were asked their views on economic vitality and the Limoneira East Area 1 development.
“Limoneira is a factor in the future,” said Ashby, “but not the only arrow in our quiver.” As chairman of the city’s Economic Development Advisory Committee, Ashby said other aspects of economic growth must be explored including ensuring “an atmosphere more conducive to business owners” discouraged by their dealings with city hall.
Hernandez said economic revitalization is a priority that would benefit from the “so many sources and resources” he already works with on the county, state and federal level. He said he is already working on local economic issues, and was contacted by the city manager to determine resources that could benefit Santa Paula.
The city is “moving forward economically out of the deep dark recession we all experienced,” and Robinson said East Area 1 “is the footprint for the future of Santa Paula... I am very supportive” of the plan. Robinson said as the then-Mayor he was also instrumental in moving East Area 1 successfully through the LAFCO process.
Santa Paula is “on the precipice of greatness,” and the council has encouraged business development including Calpipe, which Robinson said requested a fast-tracked zoning change and permitting. The council was able to give approval just two months later, and Robinson said Calpipe will be expanding and adding hundreds of jobs.
East Area 1, said Tovias, is “huge, and as we move forward” the “whole economy” must be enhanced and “jobs, jobs, jobs” created. Tovias agree with Robinson that the permitting and rezoning processes for Calpipe were “expedited” to create local jobs and lower Santa Paula’s high rate of unemployment. Tovias added he would be supportive of agreements between labor unions and developers including East Area 1 to ensure local employment.