Cox Commands Council Colleagues’ Respect From His First Day In Office

(December 14)   VICTORVILLE—In a rare development, Jim Cox last week was elevated to Victorville mayor less than an hour after he was sworn in as a city councilmember for the first time.
In Victorville, the mayor is not elected directly by voters but is rather chosen by the city council from among its members. Traditionally, the council has made a practice of choosing a mayor who has been seasoned by at least two years or in most cases a four-year term or more in office as a councilmember. The last and only Victorville mayor to assume the mayor’s gavel upon election to the council was Willard Wade, who was chosen as mayor by the city’s maiden city council shortly after incorporation in 1962.
Cox, however, is an exception. He is at least as, if not more, familiar with Victorville’s municipal issues than his council colleagues. He was hired as Victorville city manager in 1969 after serving an apprenticeship in the capacities of administrative assistant, treasurer and finance director under former city manager Fred Baxter. He remained as city manager for thirty years, until November 1999, when Cox retired from the top administrative post. He remained as a consultant with the city until March 2000, serving as an advisor to the man who succeeded him, John Roberts, who had been the city engineer for the last seven years of Cox’s first tenure as city manager.
In 2009, Cox was brought back as city manager following the departure of Roberts for the city administrator’s position in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Roberts’ departure as city manager came as the city was foundering financially, staggering under a budget deficit that had come about in large measure due to the city’s participation is several electrical power plant ventures that resulted in losses exceeding $100 million.
Cox, who had a reputation as a strong fiscal conservative who had perennially balanced the city’s budget and maintained hefty reserves, was faced with restoring the city’s fiscal health. Accordingly, he carried out far-reaching restoration efforts that were radically different from the staid and deliberate management policy of his past. He put the power plant projects on hold, cancelled existing contracts with those projects’ vendors and consultants, reduced city division budgets and laid off scores of employees.
Cox resisted calls from several quarters to have the city file for Chapter Nine bankruptcy protection. Simultaneously, the city was being investigated by the grand jury with regard to a host of its activities, by the Securities and Exchange Commission over its redevelopment agency’s issuance of bonds, by the FBI for assorted activities including alleged kickback schemes involving city contractors, consultants, vendors and city officials,  and by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service over the city’s failed efforts to bring in foreign investment money through the exchange of U.S. Visas for $500,000 minimum infusions of cash into the city’s infrastructure building efforts. All of those investigations related to issues the city was involved in after Cox’s first term as city manager and prior to his second stint as the city’s top staff member.
“When I got here in 2009, I had not done any kind of a fiscal analysis and had no idea of what a critical fiscal situation the city was in. I had just responded to [then-mayor] Rudy Cabriales’ request to take the job on an interim basis. When I saw the economic problems the city was facing, I was kind of shocked. It was not a pleasant story, quite frankly,” Cox told the Sentinel in 2011.
Cox retired as Victorville’s city manager for the second time at the end of June 2011, exhausted at having to put in eleven and twelve hour days and hopeful that his efforts had started the process of righting the city’s listing financial ship.
In his electoral effort this year, Cox found himself under attack by a faction of reformists and the political movement that has grown up around them, including current incumbent councilwoman Angela Valles. It was suggested that Cox was strongly connected to former mayor and councilman Terry Caldwell, who served on the council for 38 years beginning in 1972 until he chose not to seek reelection in 2010. Caldwell was widely identified with many of the financial faux pas that occurred during Roberts’ tenure as city manager. Those calling for the investigation or indictments of city officials suggested that Cox during his second go-round as city manager had been too protective of Caldwell, Cabriales, former councilman and mayor Mike Roshschild and Roberts, who were accused of being the architects of the failed and costly ventures the city had engaged in while trying to build power plants and to transform the former George Air Force Base into a successful civilian commercial airport. Cox responded that finger pointing and prosecutions would not solve the city’s very real economic and administrative problems and that he preferred to get on with the business at hand.  The reformists were hampered by the electoral efforts of a plethora of so-called reform candidates during the election. Cox was successful on November 6 as 14 candidates in all vied for three positions on the council. One incumbent, Ryan McEachron, remained  on the council, while another, Rothschild, lost. Cox won, as did one of the reformist candidates, Gloria Garcia.
Caldwell was replaced in 2010 by Jim Kennedy, the husband of one of Caldwell’s business partners. Before turning to Cox, McEachron, the outgoing mayor, nominated Kennedy to serve as mayor. Kennedy, however declined the honor, asserting that his travel schedule would prevent him from attending public events such as ribbon cuttings.
Cox, whose only previous foray into elective politics was an unsuccessful attempt to capture the Republican nomination for the State Assembly, declined making a lengthy acceptance speech, saying only that he would allow his votes and actions as mayor to do the talking for him.

Leave a Reply