It’s been a rough couple of years for Oxnard residents. What started in 2010 to build up Oxnard’s reputation was only shattered with the discovery in 2012 of ethical and financial mishandlings.
In July 2010, the Oxnard Convention and Visitors Bureau revealed the results of an eight-month study to rebrand Oxnard. At the cost of $125,000, Roger Brooks, founder and CEO of Seattle-based Destination Development International, which specializes in community branding, development, marketing and tourism, announced two recommendations: rename the city Oxnard Shores and market the city as a global destination to attract tourists, given the city’s natural resources (Ormond Wetlands and beaches) and its diversity in food and culture. While Brooks was hard at work, so was the district attorney’s office, conducting interviews with the city’s top officials regarding ethical and financial mishandlings.
One month later, in August 2010, the district attorney raided Oxnard City Hall and searched the homes of officials who had been interviewed regarding questionable practices. For the next two years, rumors flew among Oxnard residents and city employees about the possible misdeeds of the public officials whose homes had been searched. Speculation was the name of the game and many residents were ready to take some to the proverbial guillotine. Efforts to unite Oxnard residents and improve the city’s reputation with the consultant’s ideas seemed to fall by the wayside.
In April 2012, the district attorney concluded its investigation and released a 99-page report, which included interviews with several city employees and officials as well as the decision not to move forward with criminal prosecution due to lack of evidence and because the statute of limitations had expired. But the sense of betrayal among Oxnard residents remains strong. So strong, in fact that a group of them have appealed to the U.S. Attorney to prosecute City Manager Edmund Sotelo for giving himself a $10,000 personal loan and giving top officials a $300-per-month lifetime retirement perk without the approval of the City Council. The group also wants the U.S. Attorney to prosecute former City Attorney Gary Gillig for signing off on the personal loan. The appeal is based on another penal code addressing such criminal conduct. The California Fair Political Practices Commission announced this week that it found Sotelo, Mayor Tom Holden and Community Development Director Curtis Cannon to be in violation of the law for receiving gifts and participating in decisions that would be conflicts of interest. Each will pay fines ranging from $4,000 to $12,500. (See this week’s story “Aftermath of the Oxnard investigation”)
The war wounds of the last two years are very deep and still fresh. It’s easy to understand why some Oxnard residents are going for the jugular of certain city officials they trusted to work in the best interests of the community. At some point, however, Oxnard residents are going to have put down their weapons and focus on the prosperity of their community, and to stop picking at the wounds that so badly need to heal. In reality, public officials involved in the investigation continue to deal with repercussions from their behavior, from public backlash to fines and even possibly facing criminal charges. While some may feel the punishment isn’t enough, the truth of the matter is that any level of punishment may never be enough. We feel confident that the work and energy put into the investigation as well as the action of a group of concerned citizens will lead to the proper reprimands for unethical behavior. From this point on, though, we hope that the city leaders and residents can somehow work together and put the past behind them.