By Chris Frost
On a 3-2 vote, the Oxnard City Council approved David Millican as its Interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) during their Sept. 11, meeting.
City documents report the finance department faced severe, on-going challenges in the last few years, including staff tenure, workload demands, conflicts in work priorities, interruptions due to ad hoc report requests, training and development of new staff, an inefficient working environment, and an outdated finance system.
Assistant City Manager Jesus Nava said the council is familiar with Millican.
“He is a retiree from CalPERS (California Public Employees' Retirement System), so there are specific requirements the city must follow to comply with government codes,” Nava said. “It is an interim appointment to the position of CFO because we require specialized skills that are needed by the city and the governing body.”
There is open recruitment for a permanent replacement, he said, so the city will get dispensation from CalPERS.
“The interim appointment must be of limited duration, not to exceed 960 hours during the fiscal year,” he said. “The appointed retiree shall not receive any benefits, incentives, compensation in lieu of benefits or any other form of compensation in addition to the hourly rate.”
Nava said the hourly rate is $96.15 and is for 960 hours.
“We calculated a maximum payment of $92,310,” he said. “The recruitment for the permanent CFO closes in mid-Oct. We hope to have somebody on-board by late Nov. or early Dec."
During public comments, Oxnard resident Pat Brown said she’s watched Millican give financial reports and answer questions and is impressed.
“I have found him to be informative, a real cool head, and doesn’t get excited or wound up about anything,” she said. “I don’t know how he does it, but I think it’s years of experience.”
Each time Millican speaks, Brown said she feels informed about the city’s finances.
“He makes it so the public can understand it and I think he does a heck of a good job," Brown said. "If it takes until next April for somebody to be here permanently, so be it. At least we’ll know we’re getting somebody who knows their stuff and isn’t dilly-dallying around like some of the people in the past.”
She said a former CFO "would wave his hands all over the place.”
“You knew he didn’t know what the heck he was talking about,” she said. “He made it up as he went along to make it sound good.”
Aaron Starr said when a court order allowed them to campaign for Measure M on the ballot in 2016, Millican updated the council about the state of utilities in Oxnard.
“Mr. Millcan, after scrubbing the numbers for several weeks, figured out that we were only going to bring in a little over $23 million for the year,” Starr said. “At the time, I said there was no way that is possible.”
Starr said the total didn’t make sense and conservation couldn’t explain it.
“There is a huge fixed fee portion of the revenue that’s on people’s bills,” he said. “There was just no possible way in the world we can have enough conservation to cause the drop they were anticipating.”
Fast forward seven months and Starr said there was $30.6 million in the fund.
“It was a huge miss,” he said. “I’m not here to beat up on Mr. Millcan, but there is a better solution.”
One problem, Starr said, was the council doesn’t get financial figures on a regular basis.
"One of my concerns is you don’t get monthly financial statements,” he said. “Any big corporation and Oxnard is a big corporation, the folks that make financial decisions typically have monthly financial statements, not having regular information (like in Thousand Oaks), something like that can sneak up on you.”
During council comments, Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez said people come forward and voice what they should do.
“I believe our city council faces a situation where we don’t have anyone who can step up, or wants to step up to do the job,” she said.
As a consultant, she said the city needs someone with expertise who can help for a temporary period.
“We have a lot of things coming up, we’ve been without a CFO for quite a while, and we’ve gone through a few,” she said. “It’s not so simple for cities and counties to find people who want to work in this atmosphere or for these salaries.”
She said Millican started working for the city and was injured.
“Some people say he injured himself, but that is not the case,” Ramirez said. “The city council is in a situation where we have to have someone who is capable of doing the job. Nobody is perfect, and we can always improve, every single one of us, so I support this.”
Councilman Bryan MacDonald said that Starr’s comment about the council not receiving monthly financial statements is not accurate.
“I know I see them on a monthly basis,” Starr said. “I get emailed all the reports, and all the department directors get to see where their budgets are. I see all the other council members names on there.”
MacDonald thanked Millican for his service.
“I appreciate the conversations we’ve had, I respect you as an incredibly intelligent person, but I’m not convinced this is the best way to go,” MacDonald said.
Councilman Bert Perello said he comes recommended, but he doesn’t support the Millican's hire.
“When a previous city manager, Mr. Nyhoff, asked me to support $500,000 for Management Partners, he said he needed it, and he brought Management Partners in,” Perello said.
Management Partners asked Millican to work for them, Perello said, but he wasn’t sure how it worked.
“You were here and assisted, and it came to the city council’s attention that we were short money,” he said. “We started to find out what we had not been told by management, or council members had never asked questions.”
He said the city made decisions based on a “doomsday situation” and they put pressure on organized labor unions that worked for the city.
“It turned out later on, that we had more money than believed,” he said. “We lost a lot of good people, some through cutbacks and some looked for other venues.”
He said that created a bad taste among employees coming back that a council member, Perello, lied to them based on information that he received.
Nyhoff bailed out on the city, and Perello said they still have problems in the finance department.
“These are not your fault; this is what my city council, my residents, my voters, my management allowed to happen in the City of Oxnard,” he said. “I feel I would be doing a disservice to the people who work here.”
Mayor Tim Flynn said the biggest challenge the city has is “undoing decades of financial mismanagement” and one of the most significant problems is a capacity issue.
“We can argue in this room, courts of law and public opinion the numbers haven’t been accurate, but ladies and gentlemen, the numbers haven’t been right for several decades, and the question is when will the numbers be right?”
Flynn said Millican and Nyhoff came in and Nyhoff had no idea how bad things were.
“He had to make decisions that cost him politically unlike anyone I have ever seen anybody pay the price for,” Flynn said. “Those budgetary decisions we made were highly political decisions, and I believe Mr. Nyhoff suffered the consequences. He took the bullets for some difficult decisions.”
Flynn said you can’t get something for nothing.
“We have a capacity issue and we keep going around in circles about this person is not right, that person is not right when in fact this man (Millican) has more financial experience than all the people in this room combined.”
Flynn said the issue boils down to one point.
“We need a steady hand to transition us from now until a new CFO is hired,” he said.
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