Council OKs consultant contract to help with review of city manager

DEL MAR — As signatures continue to be added to a petition opposing the renewal of the city manager’s contract, council members agreed to spend up to $10,500 for a consultant to help them move forward with review process.

Councilman Dave Druker said he “did not concur” with the expenditure and could only speculate on why his colleagues approved it because the decision was made during a closed-session meeting Oct. 16.

“The other members want to make sure we do a thorough and professional job review of the city manager, so they may have felt more comfortable having someone guide them through the process rather than do it themselves,” he said.

Historically, without the help of a consultant, council members spend a month or two reviewing a city manager’s performance before renewing his or her contract and offering a pay increase.

Druker said he opposed authorizing the city attorney to enter into a not-to-exceed contract with Management Partners to help with the evaluation because he has performed hundreds of reviews in the past as part of his full-time job and when he was previously a council member.

“So I feel comfortable doing that,” he said. “But I think the bigger question is how to regain the trust of the citizens. This doesn’t help with that.”

At press time, 332 people had signed a change.org petition since Sept. 21 stating they believe Scott Huth “is not the right fit for Del Mar.”

That belief stems mainly from the way he handled the Aug. 23 firing of Pat Vergne, an almost 35-year employee who served as community services director and chief lifeguard.

Vergne was terminated after a months-long investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct and misuse of public funds.

According to a report from an outside investigator, Vergne and an employee were accused of waiving or discounting permit fees totaling more than $150,000 for use of city facilities such as Powerhouse Community Center during an approximately three-year period.

Vergne hasn’t denied the allegation, saying he adjusted fees for several years with the belief that the practice was accepted by Huth and previous city managers. He continued to do so because no one ever told him to stop. 

“When we built the Powerhouse it was … designed to bring the community together, and as it grew over the years we started to rent it out a little bit more,” he said. “I had been given flexibility in the rental rates.”

Many residents said Huth, not Vergne, should be faulted because a 2009 city resolution states, “All applications must be submitted to the Community Services Department … and final permit approval, pending the notification of Public Works and Public Safety (Sheriff, Fire, Lifeguard) Departments, shall be made by the City Manager.”

“He (Huth) had the responsibility to live under this resolution,” resident Hershell Price said. “If he … had read it and understood it and understood his responsibility … (t)his would have never happened. … The city manager did not fulfill his duties to approve all of these permits.”

His wife, former County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, agreed.

“The final approval of the permits … was Mr. Huth’s responsibility, which he clearly abrogated or completely ignored,” she said at the Oct. 16 council meeting, reading from a letter she and former City Councilwoman Gay Hugo-Martinez submitted.

“During the protracted and very inappropriate separation process of Pat Vergne from the city of Del Mar, the issue was only fleetingly addressed, but used by Mr. Huth and council as the primary and most costly and troubling offense by Mr. Vergne,” she added. “The majority of you gave Mr. Huth a pass for ignoring his stated duties and shifted the blame to Mr. Vergne.”

Hugo-Martinez said the wording for final approval was different in an earlier version of a resolution addressing facility rentals. It stated final approval by the city manager could be given to a designee.

She said she discussed this difference with a 2009 council member, who told her the wording was purposefully changed to being the sole responsibility of the city manager. Huth was hired as the city manager in 2012.

“Huth has never given final approval to any application for using the Powerhouse facility,” Hugo-Martinez said. “Why wasn’t he held accountable for his negligence … in one of his duties? … Isn’t this a double standard?”

Huth said the city has an adopted policy for facility rentals and department directors are expected to follow established rules and regulations, and any fee alterations require council approval.

Additionally, he said he respects the right of residents who have used the petition process to voice their opinion on his contract.

“I would like to also extend an invitation for them to call me if they would like to discuss their concerns,” Huth added. “I appreciate the support that I have heard from other community members, and I will continue to work hard for our community and all of its residents.”

Druker said he hopes to complete the review process and announce a decision on Huth’s contract by the end of the year.

Kristen Druker, his wife, said when that happens, it should be done during an open public meeting.

“We, the people, demand full transparency on the vote, on the record, with the cameras rolling, not behind closed doors,” she said. “We, the citizens, want to know how each council member voted on the Huth reinstatement. We don’t want to read about it in the press after the fact.

“Showing transparency is the very least that you can do. It supports the Del Mar way,” she added. “Where there is no trust, and justice seemingly evasive, the democratic process is in jeopardy.”

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