Did NBC-7’s report about overtime paid by the city of Oceanside cause heads to roll?
On July 3, Alex Presha reported that the Oceanside paid out $3.86 million in police overtime. Some officers made more in overtime than their regular pay. One officer who makes $91,000 took home $160,000 in additional overtime. Presha disclosed that 173 Public Works and Water Utilities department employees made more than $600,000 alone in overtime, including a supervisor who got an extra $30,000 plus a regular salary of $84,000.
NBC-7’s Presha reported that city manager Michelle Skaggs Lawrence declined to comment to him about the overtime. Less than a week after the report, Oceanside Mayor Peter Weiss declared an emergency city council meeting to announce the surprise resignation of Skaggs Lawrence.
City hall insiders say the move was tied to the illness of Skaggs Lawrence’s father and she had been discussing a retirement for months. The timing of her retirement was coincidental with the overtime piece.
On August 21 it was announced that the city council had agreed to offer assistant city manager Deanna Lorson a contract for employment to serve as city manager at its September 11 meeting.
Lorson explains that overtime is not such a bad thing. “…It is generally more cost effective to pay overtime than hire additional staff, due to the cost of benefits – primarily retirement…As long as employees are willing to work additional hours and supervisors are ensuring that employees get adequate rest/breaks and are not getting burned out.”
Councilwoman Esther Sanchez says the pool of applicants who want to join the Oceanside police force has been getting smaller while calls for service has almost doubled, and that current policemen have to respond to needs of the city. “I understand we have 15 [police department] vacancies right now.” Sanchez says that now that possession of meth and heroin has been de-criminalized, the presence of users on the streets has increased which in turns adds time burdens on Oceanside police.
Skaggs Lawrence’s departure is one of the few times in the last 45 years that the Oceanside city manager left without open antagonism or under a cloud of controversy.
Larry Bagley happened to be city manager in 1975 when the city suffered a downtown race riot and endured national publicity as a tawdry, rundown Marine town, leading to his departure. In the 80s managers Suzanne Foucault and Tom Wilson were publicly chastised at meetings or the press by councilmembers. Steve Jepsen had two terms as city manager, the first was derailed after charges that he helped cut corners for a developer who was a heavy campaign contributor to Mayor Terry Johnson. When John Mamaux’s one-year contract was not renewed in 1991, he sued. Mamaux claimed the council majority forced him to do unethical acts. Mamaux claimed a council majority had no right not to offer him another contract. He received an out-of-court settlement.
The Oceanside City Council, once thought to be so contentious that it actually hurt the city’s ability to do business, seems to have mellowed in recent years. Oceanside politics first became a blood sport in 1981 when newly elected councilwoman Melba Bishop spearheaded a successful recall of councilmen Ray Burgess and Bill Bell and got two friends elected.
Ten years later Bishop herself was the subject of a recall. A picture of Mayor Larry Bagley wearing a cap that said “Save the Whales - Harpoon Melba” [a full-figured woman] made the front page of the North County Blade-Citizen. The recall ultimately failed but the year-long campaign was thought to cost Bishop her re-election in 1992. The much loved/hated political mastermind had an Oceanside park named after her before she died in 2015.
Current Oceanside council members do not publicly wish their colleagues would get impaled with a whaling spear. But the undercurrents of an upcoming mayoral election seemed to have bubbled up at a June council meeting.
Nineteen-year city council veteran Esther Sanchez, a Democrat, has announced her run for next year’s mayoral election, and insiders say they expect that she will face gun rights proponent Republican ex-Marine Christopher Rodriguez who was just elected last year. Rodriguez has not yet announced, but he has been holding fundraisers.
At a council meeting two months ago, Sanchez lashed out at Rodriguez when he suggested that his salary be increased. “I lost it,” admits Sanchez about her reaction to Rodriguez’s suggestion that council members get paid as full-time employees. “This is a public service. It is embarrassing that anyone on this dais would vote to say give me more money,” she said at the time.
Sanchez says that San Diego is the only city out of 18 countywide that have full-time councilmembers. “I am absolutely astounded we would consider that for even half a second.”
The other announced candidate for mayor is former councilman and state assemblyman Rocky Chavez, which means that all three major candidates for Oceanside mayor would be of Hispanic descent. “Oceanside is a very welcoming city, and I think this is in part because of the diversity of the population and the influence of Camp Pendleton," says Lorson.
Lorson is the third woman to run Oceanside in 30 years. “San Diego has many women serving as city manager and Oceanside mirrors this trend.”