DEL MAR — Still angry over the Pat Vergne firing, residents started a petition urging council members not to renew the contract of City Manager Scott Huth, who recommended terminating the long-time community services director and chief lifeguard based on a report from an outside investigator.
At press time 290 people, including about a half dozen former council members, signed onto Del Mar Listens at change.org stating they believe Huth “is not the right fit for Del Mar.”
“This is a good example of all residents coming together under one particular issue who may have different political backgrounds,” resident Robin Crabtree said at the Oct. 2 meeting, when the petition was introduced.
“We all felt that we did not want you to ignore us so the best way to get you all to listen to us was through this petition,” she added. “We want to be heard. We also do not want you to treat us like we were ignorant because we’re not. We are all very well-informed and want all of you to hear us.”
Former Councilwoman Gay Hugo-Martinez said the request was not based solely on Vergne’s firing.
“There are more issues than the disgusting way that was handled,” she said.
She accused Huth of mismanaging an improvement and parking meter project in the beach area and allowing an “ill-prepared” staff member to make a presentation on behalf of the city to the California Coastal Commission.
Additionally, she said Huth wasted time by presenting another improvement project at the other end of the city to council before seeking public input.
Hugo-Martinez also questioned his judgment on nearly $1 million in expenditures in the recent budget.
As the public works director for Coronado before becoming Del Mar’s city manager beginning Jan. 1, 2012, Huth had no experience for the position when he was hired, Hugo-Martinez noted.
“Of all places to cut your teeth, Del Mar’s not the place,” she said. “How much learning on the job does he have to do before you say enough is enough?”
“There are reasons to take the tacit rejection of Mr. Huth very seriously,” resident David Shannahoff said. “He is not what we call a people person. He is not serving the people of Del Mar.”
Vergne was fired Aug. 23 following a months-long investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct and misuse of public funds.
According to a report made public after his termination, Vergne and administrative assistant Liza Rogers cost the city a little more than $200,000 during a three-year period, mostly by reducing or waiving facility rental fees.
Additionally, the report states, Vergne signed off on alleged false claims for overtime and personal purchases on a city credit card submitted by Rogers and allowed a part-time employee to be paid twice for the same work.
Vergne admitted he could have done a better job monitoring overtime, but said he believed the credit card purchases were for department-related items and the part-time worker didn’t “double-dip” for Powerhouse Community Center maintenance.
Vergne said he historically discounted or waived fees for certain events, such as memorial services and community gatherings, and the practice was known by his supervisors past and present.
He said city officials have access to all records and no one, including previous city managers, ever questioned him. He said he would have done things differently had he been told to.
His supporters said by adjusting fees the city actually made money because it is likely many of the events would not have taken place because of the higher cost.
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.
Resident Laura DeMarco took another route, criticizing city officials for legal expenses that have been escalating in part because of the Vergne situation.
Last year’s fiscal budget, which ended in June, estimates legal expenses to be $632,000, a $160,000 increase over the previous year. During the past three years, DeMarco noted, they have increased 46 percent.
“At the current rate the city is on track to spend almost $1 million for legal fees” by June 2018, she said. “Most significantly, these legal expenses do not include the even higher legal liability incurred by the city.
“What the city manager and City Council inflicted on … Pat Vergne unnecessarily exposed the city, and us taxpayers, to substantial legal liability,” DeMarco added. “The way you’re spending and litigating and inviting litigation through your actions or nonactions … you’re well on your way to a very expensive budget busting.”
Council members just started the process to review and possibly renew Huth’s contract, which expires at the end of the year.
During his last review in December 2016 Huth received a 2 percent base salary increase and a 4 percent bonus — or $4,000 and $8,100, respectively — based on his $203,005 salary at the time.
Although the number of signatures on the petition is increasing, not everyone supports the goal.
Don Mosier, a council member when Huth was hired, said as the public works director in Coronado, Huth supervised nearly 30 employees, while other viable candidates who were assistant city managers had “less clear supervisory experience.”
“Some residents have been critical of past decisions made by Scott, but I can attest that the city is (in) much better shape than it was in 2008 when I took office and Scott deserves credit for that,” Mosier wrote.
“He thinks outside the box and has done more good for the City than any other City Manager in my memory,” wrote Lee Haydu, who also was on City Council when Huth was hired. “The assessment of the City Manager should be on his performance for the whole City, and not on just one issue.”
Hugo-Martinez said there are plans to go door-to-door to gather as many signatures as possible.
“We’re not going to stop,” she said. “We’re not going to let go of this one. … We are going to do whatever it takes to get to our end objective. If they won’t listen to us now maybe they will listen another way.”
Hugo-Martinez said the issue could affect the re-election campaigns of Mayor Terry Sinnott and Councilman Dwight Worden, whose terms expire in 2018. She said a recall for other council members is possible.
Resident Hershell Price suggested he would support such action.
“As far as I’m concerned … Huth has got to go,” he said. “You’re letting this happen. We’re all disgusted. We’re sick. … I hope you really take the time and think about your citizens, what we really think before you make this ultimate decision and keep him on.”
Price also told council members he hopes Vergne “sues you for a million bucks.”
Huth was on vacation and not at the Oct. 2 meeting.