Being tied to Oceanside Police can either be a blessing or the kiss of death if you want to become an Oceanside city councilman.
It worked just fine for Jim Wood who was elected to the city council in 2002 after three decades on the force. He became mayor two years later and was reelected mayor by huge margins in three subsequent elections.
It also seemed to help former Oceanside cop Ryan Keim who was unanimously selected by the four sitting councilmembers at the January 9 city council meeting to serve a two year vacancy on the fifth seat.
Some 29 citizens applied for the appointment, but Keim was the only applicant to appear on all four councilmember’s list of their top five choices. Jerry Kern who recently stepped down after 12 years on the council to run (unsuccessfully) for a county supervisor seat, appeared on three councilmember lists. But a move to appoint Keim by councilwoman Sanchez was seconded and passed unanimously with little discussion and no dissent.
Keim was a lifeguard and then a uniformed Oceanside cop who worked in neighborhoods throughout the city. He is best known by city staff for his work with children in the Crown Heights and other challenged neighborhoods. “We helped with homework, played with them, and tried to keep them out of gangs,” says Keim.
Keim obtained a disability retirement due to an injury in the field. He was later rehired by the police department as its public information officer. He left in 2016 to work as media relations director for the San Diego Sheriff’s department. He left that position in December 2017 to address the same injury.
But the nod from the politically active Oceanside Police Officers Association seemed to have had the opposite effect on another candidate for the vacant council seat. The union that represents Oceanside’s sworn officers put out a letter dated January 5 saying it was giving “strong support” to Kevin Witowich, the former Oceanside Chamber of Commerce President and a financial planner based out of BBVA Compass Investments in Carlsbad. The letter was signed by police association president Jim Ridenour and addressed to the mayor and councilmembers.
The pro-Witowich letter was distributed on social media to the general public on Monday, January 7 by newly elected councilman Christopher Rodriguez. The following day (the day before the city council meeting) Witowich informed the council he was taking his name out of consideration.
Some applicants cried foul because they said they were never told that the association would be making such an endorsement for this appointment. Ridenour’s letter said “We had several people contact us requesting our support.” But an email from association staffer Rhonda Ladd said the group had only met with Witowich and two other candidates before making its endorsement January 2.
“I’d like to know why the [association] went with a guy whose business is in Carlsbad instead of one of their own,” said one applicant who did want to be identified. An emailed written request for comment was answered by Ridenour this way: “The [police group] is happy with the decision the City Council made last night. We are confident that Ryan Keim will make a good council member and will lead the city in the right direction.”
An email to Witowich asking him why he dropped out just days after the police officers group announced his endorsement was not returned.
Keim ran unsuccessfully for Oceanside city council in 2004. He lives in southeastern Oceanside with his wife and one child.
Insiders note that the appointment of Keim would give him the incumbent’s edge should he run for the South Oceanside District 3 council seat in 2020. It would be the first time that voters in the newly created Districts 3 and 4 would vote for their own councilmember. District elections were phased in with District 1 and 2 elections last November. Since councilman Jack Feller voted for Keim, speculation is he will be running for mayor in 2020 and not for councilman in his District 3.
Keim says he has not decided if he will run in 2020.
The appointment of Keim surprised many in attendance at the January 9 meeting. When the news that Witowich had pulled out, handicappers mentioned the names of Kern, economic development commissioner Ward O’Doherty, or former deputy city manager Mike Blessing as likely appointees.
The speedy process the council used to select its fifth member baffled some who point out that the only vetting was done through one-on-one meetings between each councilmember and each candidate. Councilmembers admitted they did not get to speak to all candidates. In fact Councilmember Rodriguez said at the meeting that scheduling conflicts prevented him from meeting with Keim.
The council had two other meetings after January 9 to avoid a mandatory November special election that was estimated to cost more than $500,000.
At the same January 9 meeting the council opted to select a new clerk through a public workshop where the candidates are asked questions in an upcoming public forum setting. “The clerk gets more attention than the councilmember does,” remarked the unhappy would-be appointee.
One paid political consultant who declined to be named thinks that Witowich’s last minute decision to pull out was due to the fact that he was perceived to be the pre-selected heir apparent. “Even if Mr. Witowich had been appointed, perhaps he did not want to start off a political career under a cloud…on the defensive when he can run openly in a future election. Why put yourself in a situation like this when you haven’t even done anything wrong?”