SP Fire Chief/B&S Director named new development ombudsman
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: December 27, 2013
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula Times
The fire chief/building director will now be handling complaints and concerns of developers after the City Council approved Rick Araiza becoming the city’s ombudsman.
One councilman at the December 16 meeting urged that one hat Araiza avoid is that of a licensed attorney, his former profession, while another wanted assurances that Araiza’s departmental duties would not suffer.
Araiza will be the ombudsman for new development for a period of one year, duties that can be extended annually for up to three years.
Developer fees will pay the 10 percent increase, approximately $16,000 in salary and benefits, Araiza will be paid for taking on the job.
City Manager Jaime Fontes noted that in 2004 then-Fire Chief Paul Skeels had held the same position, which was eliminated but the authority still remains.
There has been “an up-tick” in projects that Fontes said require attention that formerly would have been handled by the community services director, a position that is now vacant.
Assistant to the City Manager Elisabeth Amador was handling such responsibilities but Fontes noted she now is employed by the city for only about 15 hours a week.
Araiza, Fontes added “was essential” to the negotiations to bring Spears Manufacturing to the former International Paper building, which will create new employment.
“As we move into the new year,” Fontes said he expects more such interest in Santa Paula.
With Araiza’s multi-faceted city experience “He is an employee uniquely qualified to fill this role,” and Fontes said the salary supplement would be culled from development fees.
Mayor Rick Cook noted that rather new development, Skeels’ 2003 appointment resulted from “numerous complaints we had about building and safety...I thought it had continued.
“It was beneficial to us, solved a lot of issues...”
Vice Mayor Jim Tovias worried about fire department staffing and Fontes noted that Araiza has “administrative command” and those that can act in such a capacity below him in both departments.
“...so the public would be taken care,” asked Tovias.
Fontes said Araiza “filling this role” as an ombudsman for a year and the needs of the public were met.
Araiza, said Councilman Bob Gonzales, has been doing a “phenomenal job” and noted mention of Skeels’ being a licensed attorney.
“We don’t want to be down the road,” and have any instances where Araiza would be thought to be wearing his “attorney hat when being the fire chief or building director...”
There could be liability involved and Gonzales said the city already has an attorney.
“I want to make sure we all understand his role as a fire chief, building director and ombudsman but not as an attorney.”
“...because he is an attorney he can engage in the art of the deal,” said Fontes, also a licensed attorney, but he noted that Araiza’s actions would be subject to the approval of the city attorney.
Araiza has shown he has professional “capacity and capability” but Councilman Ralph Fernandez said his concern is taking him away from his role as fire chief that would create the need to “backfill” using another employee.
Fontes said Araiza has already been working many extra hours and is “Valuable to the city and myself...”