We share emails of those who did
DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA – As a footnote to what has been described as an ignoble departure, we are publishing the emails of former City Manager Rick Daniels’ supporters cheering him on with letters of recommendation that appear orchestrated to bolster his efforts to get a job, any job, after his dreams were shattered in rejection for the first out of town job he applied for.
Only eight letters of endorsement tried to balance a community overwhelmingly in favor of saying goodbye to a controversial city manager. The endorsements were intended to provide Needles city council members who were in the process of selecting their next city manager with reason to do so. Ultimately the Needles city council bought it and hired Daniels.
As it all unfolded, the Needles city council had announced their selection of Rick Daniels to be their new city manager. All that remained were salary negotiations and a final vote to take place at the next regularly scheduled council meeting in two weeks.
The Needles city council received these endorsement letters from Russ Martin, Tom Kirk, Arden Wallum, Scott Matas, George Fisher, all sent during the two weeks before the final vote. All letters were supportive. All carried a recurring theme not to believe news reports about Daniels and what the endorsers termed as “fringe” political elements.
The endorsement letters are also consistent in that not one mentioned a poll of Desert Hot Springs voters conducted just two months earlier showing Daniels by far the most unpopular person in city government. Instead, the endorsers painted the picture that except for a few naysayers Daniels was universally loved.
The poll was conducted by a Denver polling company and commissioned locally. It showed Daniels popularity below 6 percent, a dismal result in a poll conducted prior to each election. In other words, the endorsement letters painted a picture of Daniels having overwhelming support in the community when exactly the opposite was true.
The endorsers went further than painting a false picture of Daniels popularity. Several made up facts through skillful distortion. One letter in particular, by Tom Kirk, executive director of the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, credited Daniels for his efforts to clean up the Salton Sea. The sly inference was that Daniels had actually accomplished the task, even though Kirk never said it directly. Kirk just ignored an inconvenient reality.
The impression left by Kirk was that Daniels cleaned up the Salton Sea when all agree the Salton Sea remains an environmental nightmare with no solution in site even after Daniels spent two years at the main man charged with solving the problem. Had Kirk been truthful, his endorsement would have noted that Daniels ultimately had no impact on solving the Salton Sea problem.
If the reader didn’t know any better but simply by reading Tom Kirk’s endorsement, Rick Daniels solved the problem of disposing the trash of the city of Los Angeles via disposal at the Eagle Mountain Mine. What Kirk failed to mention is that Daniel’s project never got off the ground. Readers in Needles did not see that.
Needles city council members did see news reports in The Desert Sun detailing a harassment complaint filed by Daniels against two Desert Hot Springs council members. That complaint, after an investigation that cost the city $80,000, showed there was no basis for the complaint. It is not known if the Needles council members ever learned that.
Those writing endorsements attributed the negative publicity Daniels was receiving over his harassment scheme to the two council members that Daniels had accused, Russell Betts and Adam Sanchez. An endorsement letter by Russ Martin, a Desert Hot Springs public safety commissioner, directly attacked Betts and Sanchez.
“The majority of the council supports Rick Daniels which makes him a target of the minority.”
The majority Martin refers to are Mayor Yvonne Parks and council members Jan Pye and Scott Matas. Betts and Sanchez – who are politically aligned – were targeted by Parks, Matas, Pye and Daniels.
Betts and Sanchez both stated their criticism of Daniels focused on Daniels’ repeated mistakes in office and that came at a cost to taxpayers of millions of dollars, the same mistakes by Daniels that gave him such low public opinion poll numbers. In support of Daniels, Parks, Matas and Pye commissioned an investigation of Betts and Sanchez that cost taxpayers $80,000 but ultimately denied Daniels’ claim.
Like Kirk, Martin provided a very selective account of Daniels’ tenure in Desert Hot Springs, failing to balance his endorsement with an accounting of the millions of dollars that had been wasted through mistakes. Martin also made no mention of the financial crisis the city finds itself in, a crisis that caused former Finance Director Terrence Beaman to resign over disagreements with Daniels’ plan to address it. Daniels solution to the $4 million deficit was simply to burn through the last of the city’s $4 million in savings – in one year.
Defeat in Desert Hot Springs
A look at all those who sent letters of endorsement for Daniels show all to consider themselves close personal friends of Daniels. Several received direct benefit from their association with Daniels in his role as city manager, including a local alarm contractor who was paid $6,000 by Daniels to install a sound system in Daniels home.
Unable to convince anyone besides political cronies he had suffered a disability and with city finances spiraling out of control, Daniels’ fate was sealed in Desert Hot Springs. He turned in his resignation, perhaps coincidentally applying for a job in Clackamas County, Oregon as a county administrator.
That resignation was kept secret by Mayor Yvonne Parks who said she was hoping he would change his mind. Parks, by the way, is not among those sending a letter of recommendation for Daniels.
After his intentions were made clear by an Oregon newspaper reporting on Daniel’s checkered past by media in the Coachella Valley and his application for the Clackamas job, Daniels hunkered down. The public in Desert Hot Springs were not quiet when the news came out.
Online public comments following articles posted in The Desert Sun newspaper were universally critical of Daniels, contentious about his conduct and unwilling to hide his mistakes.
So overwhelming were public comments that they scored the “most commented article” award several times during the story arc. Nearly all found fault, were sharply offended and critical of Daniels performance as city manager.
The problems of Rick Daniels became an even heavier issue to decision makers in Oregon when stirring comments also began showing up following online Oregon newspaper articles. When blogs up north began fact checking Daniels and the public weighing in with opinions the decision makers started questioning the wisdom of his even being considered.
The problems for Daniels were exasperated when a wired and concerned public began paying less attention to less the candidate’s application hype and more attention to researching and openly discussing the candidate’s actual record of fact.
When Clackamas ended up giving Rick Daniels a thumbs down he found himself in a troublesome pickle. Unable to withdraw his resignation after the Oregon debacle, having crossed that Rubicon, and perhaps fed up with the little windy city now suffering a financial crisis under his management, Daniels decided to soldier on and apply for a job somewhere else. Needles fit the bill.
Stars Lined Up
Needles was perfect as a small, poor and uneducated community with a population of less than 5,000 practically guaranteeing Daniels entry. There are no local blogs there to speak of and even the little city’s newspaper didn’t have a comment section following the few online articles they published online. Critical articles about city leadership or debating issues appeared nearly nonexistent.
That about guaranteed that no one there would be doing much in the way of online background checks leaving “due diligence” to Daniel’s personal and political persuasion.
The stars were lining up for Rick Daniels better when he learned the little city’s newspaper, The Needles Desert Star, published by Brehm Communications, was a connection owned by Bill Brehm of Palm Desert. Brehm Communications owns about 40 small community newspapers in small cities plus is the same company publishing the High Desert Star in Yucca Valley, the Desert Entertainer and the Mobile Home News in the Coachella Valley.
Adding another star to Daniels’ galaxy, even better, Mike Perry, the publisher of The Desert Star Weekly in Desert Hot Springs, was the former publisher of The Needles Desert Star in Needles. [The two were seen having lunch together at the Capri restaurant in Desert Hot Springs just a few days prior to the breaking of the story of Daniels being hired by Needles.]
Perhaps best of all, the firm representing Rick Daniels as his personal attorney - Slovak, Baron and Empy – was employed as city attorney for the city of Needles. Suddenly Daniels was a Supernova. How much more lucky could any city manager be? CVAG endorsement of Rick Daniels written by Tom Kirk CVAG CEO.
In that July window when Needles was considering the hiring of Rick Daniels something threatened to pull the rug out from him one more time. That happened when the mayor of Needles was quoted in The Desert Sun advising his city council to go slow and give careful consideration to their decision. Worried about a repeat of Clackamas, Daniels’ troops desperately rallied to defend their fearless leader by writing letters of endorsement.
It is those letters of endorsement we publish here and now. In a previous article in this series we published the email endorsement written by former council member Karl Baker. It should come as no surprise that the notorious Baker would be exposed bending over backwards for his former city manager. Hand in hand, both collaborated on every money losing gamble that wasted public funds. It should also not be surprising that a current city council member was also exposed endorsing Rick Daniels.
Councilman Scott Matas put in his two cents with an endorsement because, like his council friend Karl Baker, Matas also collaborated with Rick Daniels on every money losing gamble putting the city into a financial crisis. Matas also voted along with the mayor and council member Jan Pye in the political decision spending $80,000 failing to prove any harassment of the former city manager.
Mayor Yvonne Parks didn’t need to write any email or letter since she went public with her endorsement of the then soon to be former city manager that was published in The Desert Sun and broadcast on television news while continuing to slam Sanchez and Betts.
Daniels’ critics, council members Adam Sanchez and Russell Betts characteristically and diplomatically said nothing, likely hoping their silence might hasten Daniels’ departure.
Council member Jan Pye, a frequent supporter of Daniels, stayed out of the fray, seemingly not caring one way or the other. However Pye was sure of support enough to use the bully pulpit of her city council seat to praise Rick Daniels with her comments there.
Bending Over Backwards
Two members of the leadership of our local water district are also caught bent over backwards for Rick Daniels by trashing Daniels’ critics and ignoring his mistakes.
Longtime personal friend of the city manager Russ Martin, a trustee for the Mission Springs Water District and a Desert Hot Springs Commissioner for Public Safety wrote a glowing tribute to Daniels echoed by a love letter of endorsement by water district General Manager Arden Wallum.
The description by Wallum warning of ”fringe elements that has inserted themselves into our local politics, and have mounted a smear campaign against Rick” somehow strikes as odd since Wallum does not live in the city of Desert Hot Springs and ends up sounding like he believes the city belongs only to himself and those who are personal friends of the city manager with those who disagree having no right to a voice. His comment also appears intentionally insulting to the media working to inform the public.
Also weighing in as a Daniels booster was the endorsement of Desert Hot Springs Community and Cultural Affairs Commission written by George Fisher.
Everyone Knows, Rick
Listing the accomplishments by Rick Daniels are easily found. His three websites, and his social media indelibly and eternally remind all. Managing a city is sometimes a difficult job. Still, the city manager position is never the only one working to create a better city and credit for those accomplishments cannot be savored exclusively by anyone just as blame for mistakes deserves spreading around.
Rick Daniels may have found a good fit for himself going to work in a city where no one is paying attention and there is no media to report on critical issues. God save Needles, California – because no one else can.
We have attached to this article the uncensored words of his supporters maligning critics as a attempt to persuade the worth and value of Rick Daniels.
The next part of this series will examine a letter of endorsement for the city manager that will knock your socks off. That will be published independently in a follow-up article. This highly amusing letter of endorsement is written by a convicted felon now under indictment by the Riverside County District Attorney for five counts of doing business as an unlicensed contractor who also has a surprising connection to a familiar local law firm intractably connected with this issue.
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.
Dean is a Master Carpenter and the author of the biography of Hilda M Gray, desert homesteader.
In 2014 he was appointed Planning Commissioner for the city of Desert Hot Springs, California.
Dean M Gray is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors and lives in Desert Hot Springs, California.