‘Duckman’ Richard Daniels Ducking City Financial Crisis
DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA – He said he was only on vacation but The Oregonian newspaper on Friday told a different story. City Manager Rick Daniels is one of three candidates selected as finalist for a County Administrator position in Clackamas County in Oregon. Daniels is clearly looking to exit Desert Hot Springs.
A meeting of the Desert Hot Springs Finance Committee last Thursday may explain why. In a presentation to the committee by city financial consultant Michael Bush the committee learned the city does not have sufficient revenues to meet expenditures and is suffering a fiscal crisis.
“Twelve months from now you have a big, big problem,” said Bush. “There is not a plan to grow. There is a plan to hope but not a plan to grow.”
Richard A. Daniels is more commonly known as Rick and often refers to himself as “The Duckman” due to his love of his alma mater the University of Oregon – and its college mascot a duck – may be looking to duck the city’s financial troubles. Those troubles, said Bush, are a result of the city “operating under a deficit for many years.”
The exit of Rick Daniels, if he lands the job, comes on the heels of the resignation of city finance director Terrence Beaman. Beaman resigned last month just as budget numbers were being presented. His departure came after less than a year on the job, a year in which Beaman took positions contrary to Daniels on key budget matters including a proposal by Daniels to use $4 million in city reserves to cover a $4 million deficit.
Reaction to that plan was fierce from the finance committee that recommended immediate cuts, including a 10 percent cut in all city salaries, a proposal Rick Daniels called discriminatory towards woman and other minorities in the city’s employ.
“It seems clear to me Rick’s proposal to burn through all four million in reserves in one year keeps the city from admitting this financial crisis,” said Pamela Berry, a Desert Hot Springs resident and activist. “That helps his search for a new job but leaves the city a big mess.”
Big Secret Now Out
Rick Daniels has been in the running for the Clackamas County position since at least May 2013 when the application process was closed. That he was bailing out of the city has been a big secret until Friday’s newspaper article in Oregon.
In the interview process in Oregon, Clackamas County commissioners plan to host a meet-and-greet on July 17 for the three finalists. Rick Daniels is in competition for the job against Dana Paul Hlavac, an interim finance director for Gila County in Arizona and Donald D. Krupp, a city manager and chief administrative officer for Thurston County in Washington.
After the public reception and interview period, the commissioners will choose a new administrator who will be appointed at the public meeting.
The last decade has seen Rick Daniels ride a checkered career in public administration. It is a job history that has dogged him with criticism, much of it on the Internet, by those that have run into him in his various endeavors.
It was Rick Daniels who proposed bringing train loads of Los Angeles trash to the Coachella Valley, making him the instant enemy of Eagle Mountain residents where the trash was to be dumped next to the Joshua Tree National Park. The Supreme Court put a stop to that scheme.
To counter the Internet articles following him from his trash train efforts, his short stint as Director of the Salton Sea Authority and by critics in Desert Hot Springs, Rick Daniels self-produced an unusually high amount of Internet articles portraying himself in a favorable light. It is clear his Internet effort was all part of his job search positioning.
The tactic has been effective, burying negative blog posts far down on the Internet search results. However, Rick Daniels recently made headlines in a series of Desert Sun newspaper articles, a paper owned by Gannett, the company that owns over 200 such newspapers across the country.
The Desert Sun chronicled Rick Daniels’ latest complaint that cutting salaries to deal with the budget deficit was “discriminatory to women, minorities and religious people.” Although the city manager axed most low-level staff positions he was never able to cut the unusually high pay of his hand-selected team of top managers including Jeannine Plute (a woman) Hal Goldenberg (Jewish) and Rudy Acosta (minority).
The Desert Sun more recently covered in two front page articles a formal complaint Rick Daniels made to the city’s insurance carrier in which he claimed he was being harassed and bullied by two city council members whose only offense was speaking up in public meetings to represent the interests of the community.
Rick Daniels complained he received emails by Council Member Russell Betts and Adam Sanchez during his non-working hours. The councilmen said Daniels was under no obligation to read his emails on his during non-work hours. The insurance company formally rejected Daniels’ claim.
As one of the poorest cities in California, Rick Daniels is credited with making a few improvements, including the paving of 34 miles of city streets and most recently the construction of a new $20 million Health and Wellness and Aquatic Center in the city. He managed to find funds previous city managers had not been able to muster for the city.
He also, however, left a mountain of debt. For example, the annual operating cost of the Health and Wellness and Aquatic Center is $1 million per year. That money is not budgeted. The city is also stuck with repaying over $34 million in bond money that was used in part to pave those 34 miles of roads. Accusations still dog Daniels that millions of city dollars were lost or misspent.
“Twelve months from now you have a big, big problem. There is not a plan to grow. There is a plan to hope but not a plan to grow.”
said Michael Bush, city consultant addressing finance committee.
Rick Daniels was also among the highest paid city managers in the state with his three-year contract totaling nearly a million dollars, an odd situation for such a poor city and now a city suffering through a fiscal crisis that according to Bush is of Daniels’ making. Bush who has been under contract with the city for five years said his reports of deficit spending were ignored. Two council members say that the Bush report was never provided them.
Prior news articles chronicle Rick Daniels leaving his home base in Oregon and first entering California via San Diego and Ventura counties working as a bagman for Waste Management, the largest trash company in America. Published reports from District Attorneys in those areas expose Daniels job was paying off politicians on behalf of the company.
At the turn of the century Rick Daniels then dumped Waste Management and re-invented himself as president of a business planning to haul trash from Los Angeles to dump at the abandoned Eagle Mountain Mine adjacent to the Joshua Tree National Park. That plan was eventually stopped by the Supreme Court.
However when Rick Daniels trash dump plan ran into the legal roadblocks he edged his way into the public sector with the job as president or CEO of the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, a business luncheon and dinner group of bank, media and land developers. That job lasted around a year when Daniels was selected for the top job as head of the Salton Sea Authority, an administrative position that accomplished nothing to solve one of the region’s top environmental problem.
Years of Controversy
Nearly a year later the position of city manager opened up in Desert Hot Springs which Rick Daniels filled by bringing along his administrative assistant, Laura Green, the wife of Rick Green, the editor of The Desert Sun.
Laura enjoyed serving under Rick in a variety of positions.
However that relationship ended after a leadership meeting in San Diego that put Rick Daniels into rehab for alcoholism and Laura Green negotiated a $90,000 settlement agreement not to sue the city.
Weeks later Rick Green was re-assigned by Gannett to Iowa as editor of a newspaper there and the Green family relocated out of town. The years Laura Green had worked under Daniels had stopped critical reporting by The Desert Sun concerning matters of city management. With Green gone, the regional newspaper slowly began a return to examining what was happening in the city.
Several indisputable reports occurred with print and television news broadcasts beginning to examine Rick Daniels spending city funds of $250,000 for a music that never happened. That was in 2010. After years of Daniels’ and his friend Mayor Parks saying they would go after the promoter to get the money back, nothing of the sort ever happened.
Recent news reports by The Desert Sun touching upon Rick Daniels published on the internet were met by a hail of derogatory comments against Daniels with few voicing any support. Discussion in the city finance committee regarding the financial mess has been unabashedly critical of past city hall spending mistakes losing the city millions of dollars.
Council Support Eroding
During Rick Daniels’ first three years of his contract he enjoyed the majority support of the city council, with his heavy handed decisions endorsed by a mostly 4-1 vote finding councilman Betts often in disagreement with Mayor Yvonne Parks who was joined with council members Jan Pye, Scott Matas and Karl Baker. Council member Betts openly stated his objections to Daniels were due to a genuine loss of confidence in the man.
The tide of discontent further changed with the departure of councilman Karl Baker who lost the 2011 election after admitting on a radio interview that he exposed himself with naked pictures on sex solicitation websites where he openly identified himself as a city council member. He indicated he found nothing wrong with that and did not think anybody was looking. Daniels characteristically remained silent regarding the behavior of Baker who referred to Daniels as a sober minded friend.
That election of 2011 was won by Adam Sanchez and the new council member quickly aligned himself with Betts in joint criticism over the manner and decision making by Rick Daniels. And that is the way the city council has remained in lockstep since that time with a stalemate of votes on controversial issues decided 3-2 favoring Parks, Matas and Pye.
“Daniels has been here too long already,” said one city resident who did not want to be named. “We’ve had enough of his goofy behavior and wasting money. The sooner he goes the better.”
With the average life span of the position of city manager being just five years it is a wonder to some that Rick Daniels is nearing the six year anniversary considering that in many cities the lack of support by even one member of the city council sufficiently brings the job to an end. With the city now openly suffering a fiscal crisis due to Daniels’ management it’s unavoidable he must sense the writing on the wall with the approach of the November election for the three council positions that have propped him up supporting his management of the city.
The Duckman Returnith …or Not
The position Rick Daniels is aiming for in Clackamas County was made vacant by the election in March of two new county commissioners, reported Molly Harbarger of The Oregonian. On the day these two were elected they marched into the office of Clackamas County Administrator Steve Wheeler with his resignation paper in hand requesting his signature. Wheeler more or less immediately resigned. This opened up the position for Daniels to apply for the next month in April.
That Rick Daniels was resigning his city manager job was not told to the public. Even council members Betts and Sanchez said they were not informed.
The Clackamas County commissioners and the public in Oregon may be unaware of the history of Rick Daniels thanks to his public relations gambit of creating three vanity websites promoting his name and accomplishments. So numerous are Daniels misstatements that it would take thousands of words to correct. Daniels’ self aggrandizing promotion should not be taken for face value but examined by independent authorities.
Rick Daniels may walk like a duck and sound like a duck but the decision to name him county administrator is in the hands of the people of Oregon.
“Not so fast. We want this guy to stick around for a little while longer,” said another Desert Hot Springs city resident who did not want to be named for fear of retribution, “It’s not fair him just slipping away while the ship is sinking. I hope the people of Oregon makes a good decision and Rick remains stuck here until after the November election. It’s too easy him just quitting. We want the satisfaction of having him fired.”
In the absence of Rick Daniels the city continues to function with no ill effects thanks to acting city manager and former administrative analyst Jeannine Plute who is paid less than one third that of the departing Daniels.
For over 40 years Dean has been published in a variety of small newspapers and magazines. As publisher he founded an alternative city weekly newspaper in 2008 and published over 200 uninterrupted issues over 4 years to over 20,000 readers via 800 locations (and online) before selling the business. Now online with over 3 million readers worldwide.
Dean is a Master Carpenter and the author of the biography of Hilda M Gray, desert homesteader. He served as Planning Commissioner for the city of Desert Hot Springs from January 2014 to January 2015 when he resigned.
Dean M Gray is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors and lives in Palm Desert, California.