Candidates Once Secret Now Known In Desert Hot Springs Search
DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA – The job of city manager is not well understood. It is the top position in city government. It pays a hefty salary.
It can be a job filled with controversy or a quiet position which creates no waves. In the case of Desert Hot Springs, the departing city manager created a political tsunami.
The city manager position also manages city finances and in Desert Hot Springs the city council is dealing with the equivalent of a financial monsoon looming on the horizon.
Six candidates have applied to take over the city manager position in Desert Hot Springs on an interim basis until the city council can find a full-time city manager, a process that is expected to take six months. It will be a decision left to whatever council is in place after the upcoming November elections that find two council seats and the Mayor’s seat to be filled.
All six interim city manager candidates have experience in government work.
The council set up the interviews in closed session with the six candidates. Each took their turn in interviews in front of the council. Before they talked to the city council, we got to talk to them first. Every candidate had to filter through the open room where we and other media reps were waiting.
We met all of them. All but one was willing to talk to us. Some were very willing, giving us their names and were very open. Others were very reluctant to talk to us. Some carry baggage from their previous positions.
We have no idea what the city council asked each candidate. But here is what we learned from our interviews with them. We took note that Mayor Parks was not happy about our talking to them. She was overheard appologizing to one candidate for the presence of the public and the media, as if transparency were an awful burden.
We make no apologies. The public has a right to know. Here is what we know.
Bob Adams is the former interim city manager for Vallejo, California. He took that job with the Bay Area city in 2010 after it went into bankruptcy due to out of control city expenditures. He did the heavy lifting on the financial turnaround leading area media to label him a “turn around” man. Adams was left to wrest control of a stranglehold of high city salaries and skyrocketing employee pensions. He left the city just as it pulled out of bankruptcy. Adams was also city manager for Manteca, another bay area city, for ten years.
Adams, at first reluctant, was forthright and freely spoke with us.
Mystery Bald Man
The second candidate, a bald man wearing a meek and nondescript suit besotted with brilliant yellow power tie, declined to give his name. Instead, the mild-mannered man in glasses with no name entered the interview as a complete mystery. Upon his completing his interview he escaped out a back door. We were lucky to catch a glimpse of his fast fading black BMW convertible skedaddling out of the parking lot.
Whether the man’s rush to depart was due to avoiding questions by the media or expressing his relief for finishing the interview will never be known.
The third candidate had the confident manner of telling us his name was Henry Garcia. This is not the same Henry Garcia who I went to high school with in the 1970 graduating class of Jordan High in Long Beach, California. It would have been quite a surprise seeing Jordan High School Henry Garcia at the meeting as he is now an architect in Laguna Hills but it was equally surprising to see Moreno Valley Henry Garcia as he carries some heavy baggage.
Garcia resigned only a couple months ago (May 2013) after the FBI came into city hall using dolly’s to cart away files in a corruption probe. Thanks to Garcia’s contract, Moreno Valley is still paying Garcia through Dec. 1, 2013. The ex-city manager “shall be on a paid leave of absence entitled to the compensation and benefits provided for by the employment agreement” to the tune of $229,234.97. He regular Moreno Valley earnings were over $350,000 a year. Garcia was willing to talk to us but we got an uneasy feeling he was parsing his words. To be fair, it could be a practice he has recently developed. Being questioned by the FBI will cause some people to choose their words carefully.
It is not known exactly home much the DHS temp job actually pays but Daniels was paid $257,000 including benefits.
The next candidate was Walt McKinney, a man well-known to longtime city council watchers. McKinney is the city’s former police chief (two times) and served as city manager for one day in 2006 before relinquishing that position. When questioned about the allegation that he was a convicted felon prohibited from carrying a firearm while serving as police chief, McKinney explained it was only a misdemeanor that was now expunged and that he now holds a permit to carry a concealed weapon. He seemed to us quite affable, friendly and willing to talk to us.
McKinney also spoke about his own firm, Clean Technologies, which turns trash to energy and is a business on the threshold of receiving funding from the Department of Energy. Although this perfectly dovetails with the story of Rick Daniels arriving here to dump trainloads of LA trash in an abandoned desert mine, the parallels are worrisome that McKinney’s mind would be trashed instead of focusing on city business.
While certain citizens might welcome having an armed city manager, the idea of the return of Walt McKinney remains a worrying threat that the city would be moving backward instead of forward.
Arriving next was Randy Narramore, a former Huntington Park police chief who now lives in Coronado. Narramore also served as a police officer who worked his way up to city manager in Ridgecrest where he was employed for ten years. Narramore spoke with confidence about issues that all cities face, ranging from economic development to the escalating costs of public service retirement benefits. He was by far the most forthcoming. He seemed to us to have nothing to hide.
In order to avoid a negative impact upon his retirement package, Narramore would be limited to a temporary position. Several of the candidates are in a similar position, having retired with high pensions earned by past employment paying more than the job with Desert Hot Springs.
The final candidate was Patrick Pratt, who retired in 2011 as Rancho Mirage city manager. Pratt has held the top job since 1990 and worked for Rancho Mirage since 1976. “I think I was the sixth employee they hired,” he said.
Pratt, 60, has overseen the city as it grew a stronger retail base with the development of The River and annexed the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa area. Pratt gave no reason for his for retiring, but did say he hoped to do more traveling once he retired, “and maybe do some consulting if I get bored,” While Desert Hot Springs has never been described as boring, the city is entirely different than Rancho Mirage and a very serious challenge.
The colloquial process chosen by the city council to fill the position formerly occupied by Rick Daniels was to interview candidates in secret behind closed doors in closed session. This is common procedure and the council has no obligation to share background info with the public. But we got the information anyhow on behalf of our readers.
Credit The Desert Sun for also making the commitment to assign a reporter for doing the waiting necessary to find out the names of the candidates.
A special meeting has been called for tomorrow, August 22 at 5:30 P.M. to announce the decision of who the city has hired.
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.