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City Treasurer Phil Molina (Courtesy photo)
Thursday, May 14, 2020

By Chris Frost


Oxnard-- The story about City Treasurer Phil Molina losing most of his duties within the city government continues with City Attorney Stephen Fischer, who said other cities have taken such an action.


The Oxnard City Council voted to remove all administrative functions from City Treasurer Phil Molina after a dramatic report of his actions while in charge of the treasurers' office, May 5. 


Fischer cited a grand jury report from the County of Salana and attachment of an ordinance from the City of Benicia in the year 2011, where they transferred all the administrative functions of the city treasurers to other administrative officials in the city. 


Molina said it would be nice if he got copies of what the city manager was going to read.


"If he was honest, fair, and an American justice person, he would let the accused respond to these allegations," he said. "He claims he is reading from a witness report, but that's what the entire report is about. They take witness information and comments; they put them together and identify them as harassment."


Molina said the concept of harassment is a reasonable person's approach the courts will take to accept a claim of harassment.


"To be actionable, a harassment complaint must be an objectionable environment and both subjectively and objectively offensive that a reasonable person would find it hostile and abusive," he said. "One that the person perceived to be so. This means if a reasonable person in the same circumstances did not share the same perception, it fails."


Molina asked for a copy of what Nguyen read, and he said it's in the investigation report.


"You put me on trial in the public, and you're not giving me the chance to defend myself," Molina said.


"It's not a trial," Nguyen replied. 


Mayor Tim Flynn intervened, and he said it's not a trial.


"You have the right to speak for the amount of time that's been allotted," he said. "You do not have time to question people like you're an attorney in a courtroom."


Molina said he commented on people's shoes, shirts, ties while at work, and this was found by the reporter to be harassment. 


"If you ask the employees, they said, yea, they are nice," he said. "He looked at my shirt, and he said it was nice. You (pointing to Nguyen) looked at my leather jacket and said it was nice. Is that harassment, sir? You also claim that I interviewed 16 of my employees after the city attorney's attorney brought them sealed envelopes, and I did. Shortly before that, you had fired 20 people on false pretenses. You pretended there was a shortfall in the general fund, and there wasn't any. You know that, or you should have known that. That's what my so-called; keyboard warfare was all about. I kept informing you and the finance director about the $5.9 million loan that had not been booked and the fact that we were violating GASB (Government Accounting and Standards Bureau) 64 and 54 that requires you to include all those special accounts that you were separating out of the general fund. If you'd done that, you could have generated another $20 million. You wouldn't have used that as an excuse for firing people."


Molina said he didn't scare people, and when employees got a sealed envelope, they didn't know what it was about.


"I was told a few minutes later that you were giving this complaint, and we're going to hand this stuff out," he said. "You did not tell me in advance, you did not let me schedule my staff, so I'd know what's going on. I talked to them and broke them up into groups of three so no one individual could claim that I was harassing them or bullying them. In your own report, all of them said Molina said to tell the truth."


Molina said if the city's investigator harasser bully's them, he will get them (his employees) a lawyer.


"Why would I do that, except that I am trying to protect my city employees from an interrogator that was not good, in my opinion," he said.


In the four hours the investigator spoke with Molina, he said less than 30 minutes pertained to harassment.


"You only had one case, and it was determined that it was not harassment," he said. "When you identify these issues, it upsets me. You're having fun, and you need to knock someone off the pedestal to scare all the other employees and say see what I can do to an elected official. If you don't step in line, Gestapo-wise, that's what I can do for you. That's not good management and the kind of management they teach in the military schools of America. That's a dictatorship. That's what you are, sir. The people in the public are coming to realize that. I'm sorry, but that's a fact."


He recently received an email from Flynn asking him to pay a $25,700 invoice, and Flynn wanted the passwords and codes to wire out city funds in another email.


"If I was prevented from reviewing any of the information, I guess I would have to send the money," Molina said. "I asked him (Flynn) if he sent this email."


The email came from Flynn, and the mayor said it was his personal email address, but he didn't send Molina the email.


"Now the FBI and city police are involved, and they tried to find out where that information came from," Molina said. "Had a treasurer who is appointed by you, not having the independence of an elected group appointing him, might not have felt comfortable asking the elected mayor about sending out the instructions.  


The report raised a question about confidentiality, and Molina said that police talked to him about confidential security matters.


"What you may not know is that I got the names of those two companies from the police chief because we were both concerned about the security at the Treasurer's Department," he said. "You've got your bullet-resistant glass on the fourth floor. Human resources have bullet-resistant glass on the first floor, and here you have employees dealing with a substantial bunch of money with no glass. That says something. We had to fight to get an armed guard in, and you've taken him away again."


During public comments, Daniel Chavez Jr. said he's troubled by the decision.


"Let us not forget that Mr. Molina, when he was an employee of the City of Oxnard, had a run-in as the CFO Chief Financial Officer, which resulted in him suing the city and winning the settlement," he said. "As a result of that settlement, he clearly displayed his dislike and vendetta towards the city. Even after being elected, he would send out daily emails to the public and try to catch the city in a gotcha moment.  It is troubling when you hear the report from the city manager and read the VC Star article from the city's reporter about some of the allegations of intimidation commenting that an employee looked like an actress and should be home cooking for their significant other."


He considers it laughable because the city manager made a joke about Molina uses an abacus. 


"Officials are held to a high standard," he said. "The only one who showed time and time again that he had a vendetta against the city was Mr. Molina. For whatever reason that may be, it is unclear. I would like to know what the terms of that settlement were. It was my understanding that Mr. Molina could not work as a city employee because of that settlement agreement."


Chavez supports the decision to strip Molina of his extra duties.


"Because of this chaos, I recommend that Mr. Molina resign from this position immediately," Chavez said. 


Lawrence Stein said he had a lot of concerns with the former city treasurer. 


"We need to maintain the structure in place because they've been violated by the former city manager, CFO, and staff members," he said. "Mr. Molina has that control and saved the city millions of dollars."


Manuel Gonzales said it's disappointing to watch the council on television.


"You're looking at a vendetta because this man came in and exposed all the corruption that happened prior to the new city manager," he said.  "Tim (Flynn) you endorsed Nyhoff all the way to the bank with all your consulting fees, and we spent millions. Now we're back here with this gentleman, and I don't understand what due process we are guaranteed. Okay, you can bring all these charges and everything else, but now you're trying to limit the new treasurer that we elect from running the city and having transparent government and have the city manager run and dictate the financial end of this."


Attorney Barbara Macri Ortiz supports the action, and she said Molina is not on trial.


"I have been appalled by Mr. Molina's actions for the last two years," Macri Ortiz said.  "I have received no less than 568 emails from Mr. Molina in the last two years. Every piece of city business that he puts out there, things that are totally appropriate, I had email conversations explaining why certain things should not be out there in the public, but he goes on-and-on."


Nguyen said it's not every day that a city manager is accused in open session of being a dictator.


"That's what I knew would happen," he said. "Mr. Molina believes that everyone else in the administration is off, and he is the only one who is doing the right job. In my observation, he believes that he is the only one who can save Oxnard. He wants us to believe that he alone is the honest person, and he alone is looking out for the people of Oxnard, and he alone is ethical. The rest of us, me, the city attorney, the CFO, even the mayor and the council, who he refers to as the pretty girls and boys on the dais, are somehow not as ethical, or in my case, a crooked dictator."


Molina will write anything to make his argument, Nguyen said, including doctoring an article.


Late last year, he sent an article about the duties of a treasurer of a government organization published by a law firm in the bay area.


Nguyen called them and found out that's not the article they published.


"This article was doctored and written for non-profits," he said. "Somehow, Mr. Molina sent it out as if it was written about government entities and city treasurers. I have a copy of what he sent out and a copy of the actual article as it was published by the law firm. He doctored the article to make an argument that he was in favor of. Is that ethical? Who wants to trust that?"


Nguyen said Molina continues to lie about the 2014 lease revenue bonds and tried to incite the labor unions during the last budget to make it seem like the city either was hiding money or didn't know about having extra money.


"That money cannot be used for the general fund," he said. "To put the message out there to the staff during layoffs that there was some motive I had as a new city manager to the city and I hid money is a lie. I can't trust this person." 


Nguyen said Molina asked to purchase investments for himself and his friends while making purchases for the city during a city transaction.


Mr. Molina was successful in the court years ago, Nguyen said, and he was fine with that because he prevailed in a court of law and received over $800,000.


"Then he went to the state's public pension board and tried to spike his pension," he said. "He tried to get them to calculate his pension for the rest of his life based on his $800,000 payment. They said no, thank goodness, so what did he do? He took them to court, but the court said no."


Nguyen said there is a published opinion about Molina's request.


"At the time, I believe his pension was $64,000 a year," he said. "He attempted, via litigation, to get the state's public employees’ pension board to spike his pension $574, 000 a year for the rest of his life. That's taxpayer dollars."


"You don't know what you're saying," Molina said.


"There you have the real Phil Molina, the ethics," Nguyen said.