Jim Cox, 32-Year Victorville City Manager, Now Vying For Council

(August 10)  Jim Cox, who served two stints as Victorville city manager lasting 32 years over a 42-year period, is now seeking election to the city council.
This is Cox’s second effort at elected office, having previously vied, unsuccessfully, for the state assembly.
Cox is largely credited with having guided Victorville during its expansion from a modest desert city that was highly dependent upon the financial sustenance of the former George Air Force Base into a city that was itself the economic engine of the Victor Valley, with the lion’s share of  commercial development among the municipalities of Hesperia, Apple Valley, Adelanto and Victorville. With sales tax from that commercial development flowing into Victorville’s coffers, the city Cox headed was better situated than its neighbors to provide infrastructure and services. Cox, held an associate’s degree in accounting and a bachelor’s degree in political science from San Diego State when he was hired as administrative assistant in Victorville in 1967. Two years later he became city manager. He remained city manager for thirty years, retiring in 1999. Over those thirty years he had escorted the city to the doorstep of the 21st Century, facing down challenges such as the closure of George Air Force Base, and leading the city in its transformation into what is today the county’s fifth largest city, with a population of 115,903.
Cox had successfully pushed through Victorville’s de facto acquisition of the Air Force base property, now known as Southern California Logistics Airport. It was in the final days of his watch as city manager that the application process for what was then called the High Desert Power Project, a 830-megawatt electrical generating facility now referred to as Victorville 1, was begun. After Victorville 1 came on line, it became the single largest producer of tax revenue for the city, bringing in something close to $5 million per year.
After Cox left Victorville, the city embarked on a series of what are now considered to be missteps, including the creation of a city electrical utility division intended to recreate the success of Victorville 1 and build large and small power plants. Those efforts foundered, however, and approaching $200 million of taxpayer money controlled by the city was invested in power generating facility projects that have yet to come to fruition. In one case, the city entered into a $180 million contract with General Electric for the provision of generating equipment that was never delivered when the city failed to find a purchaser for the electricity it wanted to generate. The city then had to relinquish $50 million to General Electric as a penalty. The city issued close to $80 million in bonds to pay for these electricity-producing projects. Both the county grand jury and the Securities and Exchange Commission launched investigations into Victorville over these debacles, all of which were occurring while Cox was in retirement.
In December 2007, Cox was sought out by the town of Apple Valley to serve as town manager there. He stayed in that role for ten months, before retiring for the second time as a municipal manager. And then, the following year, Victorville, staggering under the weight of the mismanagement of its electrical utility division as well as the downturn in the national and state economy, asked him to again come out of retirement and oversee city staff once more. Cox did so, staying in that assignment for two years.
The political climate in Victorville has deteriorated considerably. Terry Caldwell, who was appointed to the Victorville City Council in 1972 and then was elected in his own right in 1974 and reelected to another eight four-year terms to become what was then the longest serving elected official in the state, decided against running for reelection in 2010. Previously, two other long serving members of the city council, Bob Hunter and Joanne Almond, had been defeated in their reelection attempts. Rudy Cabriales, another long term councilman who was formerly Victorville fire chief, has decided against running for reelection this year. Cox joins a field of eighteen who have pulled candidacy papers, including another long time incumbent, Mike Rothschild, in this year’s race.
He acknowledges the previous council made mistakes, but he insists that those were honest mistakes and not ones fueled by personal interest, greed or corruption.
“When I served as city manager, we always had balanced budgets and reserves and I believed the city councils worked for the betterment of the city and considered what was best for the city,” Cox said. “I was gone from 1999 to 2009 and when I came back I learned  what had happened. There had been a huge debt accumulated, there had been huge bond sales and the city was now in tremendous financial difficulty. When I came back I tried to get the city back on its feet. I cut labor costs and slashed the budget. I cooperated with the grand jury and the SEC, who were looking into what had happened between 2002 and 2007. After two years I felt I had done everything I could do and I retired. I had been working six days a week the first year-and-a-half and seven days a week the last six months. I felt I needed to retire. Shortly after that, I encountered a large number of people who wanted me to run. I rejected that, but I kept reading about the infighting in the city. A lot of that has to do with the accusations that were made to the grand jury. When I was with the city the last time, I worked with the grand jury. I felt there were no criminal charges that will come from that. The SEC investigation is still ongoing and I can’t talk about that. The city is getting negative comments coming its way all the time and adverse publicity.
“I think the council made some very bad decisions,” Cox continued. “I don’t think the council believed they were bad decisions at the time. This was just like homeowners who lost homes during the economic downturn because just before that they moved up and bought a nicer home and did not expect to lose their jobs. They would now admit they should have been more conservative.   Rudy Cabriales has publicly apologized and said they were bad decisions and that they should not have done that. I came in as city manager the second time after those decisions were made. I tried to be a professional and do my job and not get involved in politics. Joanne Almond was defeated.  Bob Hnter was defeated. The city manager had left for Colorado. Only two members are left on the council  – Mike Rothschild and Rudy Cabriales. I am mystified by peoples’ comments that the people in City Hall should be in jail. I say ‘What people?”  If you want to be objective about it, there are now two people who were involved in the decision to build those power plants. One, Mike Rothschild, is running. The other is not running. There is a fair possibility there will not be a single person left at City Hall [i.e., on the city council] involved in those decisions after the November election. The amount of money lost and squandered is not as huge as the naysayers want to make it out to be.”
Cox said, “Controversy is building over the power plants and expenditures at the base. These things are very expensive and have generated huge debt. Now that the state is taking over the redevelopment agency, is what remains a state debt and no longer a local debt? Nobody knows. The city pursued ideas they thought would make a lot of money. The city approved the first power plant, known as Victorville 1 back in 1998 and it produced a lot of revenue. They believed that building the second power plant would do the same.
“In regard to the $50 million that went to GE, clearly that was not thought out,” Cox continued. “On paper we are showing a loss of $132 million [for the Victorville 2 power plant]. The one certain loss at this point is the $50 million to GE, although there is a ten million dollar credit, but I doubt the city will ever use that. No elected city officials should ever lose $50 million. My own belief is that if a private corporation wants to build it [a power plant], then they should do so but we should not invest public money if there is a possibility it will be lost.”
Cox said that he is not interested in apportioning blame at this point, since that will not, he said, have any beneficial effect.
“There is a lot of negative publicity and statements made to the press hurting the city, hurting businesses, hurting investors. The more I look into it the more I felt I understood why investors or people wanting to start a business would be hesitant to come in here. I believe Victorville is a great city. I believe in accountability and transparency. I want to help run things and get this city back on track so its citizens are proud of the city rather than embarrassed. I want to quiet the naysayers and get this resolved and move on. The only reason the city exists is to serve the public. The turmoil on the city council needs to end. I have already given thirty-five and a-half years to the city. I am willing to give more, if that is what it takes.”
Cox said his qualifications to serve on the city council are well recognized.
“I understand the finances of the city inside and out,” he said. “I believe that because I understand local government that is why Apple Valley asked me to assist them. I also believe that because of my knowledge and experience the [Victorville] council asked me back because they know my background experience and reputation. I will not compromise my principles. I have long been recognized as a professional with conservative values who treats taxpayer money like it is my own. I believe the voters want someone who understands the city, who has a long history of public government experience who is committed to accountability and open government. I don’t believe they want someone whose goal is to put people in jail and shut everything down and stop progress. I have no friends and do no favors and expect to receive no favors between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. I gave the city councils I worked for objective evaluations and I will do the same for my constituents as a city council member.”

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