Needles Offers City Manager In Desert Hot Springs Top Job

(July 26) The Needles City Council this week offered controversial Desert Hot Springs City Manager Rick Daniels a contract as its new city manager, though Daniels’ acceptance of that offer had not been made by press time.
Daniels, if he is hired, will replace David Brownlee, whose contract is not set to expire until next May.
Daniels will not be able to take on the helm in Needles, San Bernardino County’s smallest city population-wise at 4,844, until he resolves loose ends in Desert Hot Springs, a municipality of 25,938 in adjoining Riverside County.
Daniels’ pending departure from Desert Hot Springs comes in the midst of an increasingly rocky tenure there. While he appeared to maintain the support of three-fifths of the city council in the Riverside County City, two of that panel’s members have grown increasingly hostile toward him in recent months.
Daniels gravitated into the municipal management field in a somewhat unorthodox fashion after having been 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. It was his experience in this public sector position that he used to leverage obtaining the Desert Hot Springs city manager position.
While with Desert Hot Springs, one of the poorest cities in the state, Daniels pulled a seeming rabbit out of his hat, undertaking infrastructure improvements that previously seemed beyond the city’s means, including paving 34 miles of city streets. He then undertook to build a municipal Health and Wellness and Aquatic Center. The cost of that project ran to $20 million, however. Daniels’ spending spree has 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.
Also in 2010, Daniels narrowly averted being consumed by a scandal after he had a falling out with Linda Green, a woman he had brought to work in Desert Hot Springs first as a media liaison and later as community services director. At a conference in San Diego, an inebriated Daniels groped the married Green, resulting in a claim against the city which was ultimately resolved with Green departing from the city with $99,328.16 in severance pay and Daniels completing a two month stint in an alcohol rebab clinic while assistant city manager Jason Simpson filled in for him.
After  councilman Karl Baker was replaced by Adam Sanchez, Daniels’ support on the council began to erode. More aggressive questioning of Daniels’ policies took place, prompting Daniels to file a claim against Sanchez and councilman Russell Betts in which he claimed they were harassing him with emails and phone calls after official city business hours. The city’s insurance company formally rejected Daniels’ claim.
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 April, Daniels, one of the highest-paid city managers in California with a total annual compensation package exceeding $300,000, sought to leave Desert Hot Springs, applying for the position of county administrator position in Clackamas County in Oregon. He was selected as one of three finalists in the competition for that position 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 publicly known 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 last week.
According to Needles City Clerk Dale Jones, Daniels was offered the position of Needles city manager but the terms of the hiring were not fully specified. Jones said negotiations between the Needles  city manager search committee, consisting of council members Linda Kidd, Jim Lopez and Tom Darcy were yet ongoing and that she anticipated a contract would be ready for the full council to vote on at its August 13 meeting.
It would appear that Daniels will be taking a substantial pay cut if he comes to Needles. The budgeted range for the city manager in Needles is $129,000 to $132,000 per year. Brownlee, who was elevated into a caretaker city manager post in 2010 when previous city manager Bill Way’s contract was not extended, is not paid according to that schedule, however, and receives $50.47 per hour based on furlough-truncated annual hours of 1,976. All employees in Needles are required to take furloughs. Brownlee’s annual salary is therefore $99,728.72. If the furloughs were to be discontinued and he were to work a full 2080-hour work year, he would be earning $104,977.60 per annum.
Brownlee was the city’s assistant city manager and utilities service manager at the time he was upgraded to acting city manager.
Brownlee’s current contract runs from June 1 of this year through May 31, 2014. The terms of that contract give him retreat rights to return to being a city employee with the title of assistant city manager/utilities general manager.
Multiple attempts to reach Daniels at his Desert Hot Springs office were unsuccessful.

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