Incoming Needles City Manager To Get Salary Double His Predecessor’s

(August 30) The city of Needles will pay its new city manager just shy of twice what it is paying its current acting city manager, who will remain on staff as assistant city manager/utilities general manager.
In July, the Needles City Council offered Desert Hot Springs City Manager Rick Daniels a job as Needles’ top municipal employee. Several days ensued while Daniels, one of the highest-paid city managers in California with a total annual compensation package in Desert Hot Springs that exceeded $300,000, negotiated with Needles’ city manager search committee, consisting of council members Linda Kidd, Jim Lopez and Tom Darcy, with regard to the salary and benefits the city was willing to offer him.
As San Bernardino County’s smallest incorporated city population-wise with a headcount of 4,844, Needles has a budgeted range for the city manager position of $129,000 to $132,000 per year. David Brownlee, who was elevated from the utilities general manager/assistant city manager post to city manager in 2010 when the council declined to renew the contract of previous city manager William Way, was not paid according to that schedule. Instead, Brownlee was paid $50.47 per hour based on furlough-truncated annual hours of 1,976, translating into an annual salary of $99,728.72.
Convinced that Daniels possessed a skill set that will prove valuable in meeting economic rejuvenation goals for the county’s easternmost city on the west bank of the Colorado River, the council gave Kidd, Lopez and Darcy authorization to convince Daniels to leave his post in Riverside County and take up the Needles job. Lying within what is referred to as the tri-state area, Needles is just a drive across a bridge to the Arizona community of Topock. Nevada is a little more than 15 miles distant. Both Arizona and Nevada have lower sales tax rates than California and far less substantial gasoline taxes than the Golden State, putting Needles’ commercial establishments at a disadvantage to other retailers within its trade area. Needles officials are hoping that Daniels will offer creative strategies for creating economic opportunity in what was once a booming railroad town that has for fifty years been in steep decline.
To land Daniels, the search committee offered him nearly $200,000 in salary and a benefit package that provides $9,000 per year toward his retirement fund and $13,500 for his family’s medical, dental and vision coverage. The package granted him retirement eligibility at the age of 55 (a milestone he has already eclipsed), with a pension equal to 2 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city.
Unbeknownst to Kidd, Lopez and Darcy, there was a growing level of discontent with Daniels in Desert Hot Springs. Two of the council members there were gunning for his removal and the firm and fast support he had among the other three members was beginning to erode. While he made every effort to appear as if he was bargaining from a position of strength, Daniels was increasingly anxious to leave Desert Hot Springs before he was ignominiously terminated.
In April, Daniels sought to make his exodus from Desert Hot Springs, applying for the position of county administrator in Clackamas County in Oregon. He was selected as one of three finalists in the competition for that post and as the interview process advanced, Daniels maintained a cover story to the effect that he was merely vacationing in Oregon, where he was raised and attended college. At the final stages of the Clackamas County selection process at the end of June, it appeared that Daniels had the job and it then became known to the Desert Hot Springs City Council’s members that he was gearing up to leave Desert Hot Springs. Daniels’ move to Oregon fell through, however, when Donald Krupp, one of the other two finalists, was given the county administrator’s post in July.
On August 13, the Needles City Council unanimously approved hiring Daniels, in so doing conferring upon him a generous contract that was questioned by several members of the public. Council members expressed faith and hope that Daniels, who has had more extensive managerial experience in the private sector than in the public sector, will be able to call upon his access to corporate leaders to entice them to venture capital  in Needles.
Daniels was an executive with Waste Management, Inc. He came to Desert Hot Springs officials’ attention after he founded a company in the late 1990s, Mine Reclamation Corporation, with which he proposed to operate a landfill within the abandoned Eagle Mountain Mine next to Joshua Tree National Park, into which he proposed depositing millions of tons of trash from Los Angeles transported to the site by train. The venture was dropped when the Supreme Court ruled against the environmental certification for the plan. Along the way Daniels had assumed the position of president and CEO of the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, a consortium of business owners, financiers and developers. From that position he obtained the post of top administrator with the Salton Sea Authority. This was his sole experience in the public sector before he leveraged himself into the Desert Hot Springs city manager post.
While with Desert Hot Springs, one of the poorest cities in the state, Daniels undertook infrastructure improvements that previously seemed beyond the city’s means, including paving 34 miles of city streets. He also succeeded in developing a municipal Health and Wellness and Aquatic Center. The cost of that project ran to $20 million, however, a spending spree that ultimately left Desert Hot Springs with an intractable debt in the form of more than $30 million in delinquent bonds  and an ongoing yearly operation cost at the health center of more than $1 million.
In 2010, Daniels ventured $250,000 in taxpayer funds to lay the ground for and promote a music festival that never came off. Though he initially said the city would recover the money from the concert series’ promoter, the city never did so.
In June, city finance director Terrence Beaman resigned after a lengthy dispute with Daniels with regard to Daniels’ proposal to utilize $4 million in city reserves to cover a $4 million deficit. After the municipal and financial management consulting firm Urban Futures assessed Desert Hot Springs’ economic condition, it concluded the city was in a deteriorating financial state that would lead to insolvency within 12 to 24 months.
In looking past those blemishes on Daniels’ record, the Needles City Council  committed to hiring Daniels on a three year contract commencing September 16 at an initial salary of $197,000 per year with annual increases of $10,000.
The contract, however, categorizes him as an “at-will” employee, leaving him subject to termination at any time and without need for a stated reason upon a majority vote, pursuant to 15 days notice. If no notice is given, the council can release Daniels on the proviso that he continue to receive his salary and benefits for 12 months or until such time within the 12 months that he finds new employment. If he is terminated without notice with less than 12 months remaining on his contract, Daniels will receive a severance only until the expiration of the contract.
If cause is cited by the council for termination, Daniels will not receive any severance pay. Causes defined in the agreement include, but are not limited to, acting in bad faith and to the detriment of the city; refusing or failing to act in accordance with any specific direction or order of the council and continuing in poor performance of duties despite council efforts to correct deficiencies.
If Daniels resigns, he will not be eligible for severance pay.

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