Dynamic Forum Performance Defines McAuliffe As Foe To Dunn’s Troika

(October 9) At the October 6 Upland City Council Candidates Forum cosponsored by the Upland Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters, political newcomer Rod McAuliffe came out of nowhere to define the race as one between himself and former Upland City Manager Stephen Dunn.
Dunn, who had been Upland’s finance director beginning in 2001 after previous stints in the finance departments in Fontana and Buena Park, was elevated to the position of interim city manager in January 2011 as the scandal involving former Upland Mayor John Pomierski was overtaking the City of Gracious Living and Pomierski’s handpicked city manager, Robb Quincey, was put on an extended administrative leave. In May 2011, two months after Pomierski was indicted by a federal grand jury on political corruption charges, Quincey was terminated. Shortly thereafter Dunn was selected to permanently replace Quincey, with the entire council, which at that point was one member short because of Pomierski’s resignation, expressing confidence in Dunn’s ability to lead the city.
Indeed, Dunn embarked on an energetic reform program that entailed the termination of four department heads and the laying off of 24 lower ranking staff members. Debbie Stone was elected to the council in a special election to fill the gap created when councilman Ray Musser was selected by his peers to replace Pomierski as mayor.
Dunn continued to maintain a strong and positive relationship with the entire council for the next year as he sought to utilize his financial and budgetary expertise to joust with the major challenge to the upscale bedroom community, which consisted of the dwindling revenues available to the city as a result of the persisting economic downturn that had settled upon the nation, state and region in 2007.  Even after a coalition of former employees who had lost their positions as a consequence of Dunn’s round of reforms and budgetary economies undertook an anonymous but hardhitting letter writing, emailing and internet posting campaign that attacked the city manager on a host of issues ranging from his managerial decisions to his management style to elements of his personal life, the city council stood by Dunn, continuing to defer to his judgment and recommendations.
The bonhomie continued after the 2012 election, in which Glenn Bozar emerged victorious in the race to replace councilman Ken Willis, a longtime Pomierski ally who had opted not to seek reelection that year. But the 2012 election insinuated into Upland a hint of discord when Stone and councilman Gino Filippi, who had first been elected to the council in 2010, challenged Musser for the mayoralty. Musser prevailed in that contest, but the seeds of political dissonance that were planted with that race soon bloomed into a garden of discontent that would consume the city council.
Bozar, a financial conservative of the first order, was unwilling to entertain redressing the city’s financial difficulties through the imposition of further taxes or raising existing ones. Rather, Bozar advocated even further personnel reductions, coupled with pay cuts of the surviving staff members, together with a reduction in what he considered their overly generous benefits, particularly their pensions. Dunn, meanwhile, had grown increasingly reluctant to pare back the ranks of city employees and had little stomach for reducing wages or benefits beyond the reforms that had already been instituted.
With the city’s financial challenges continuing unabated, a schism in the city’s leadership emerged, with Bozar at one end and Dunn at the other. Though the differences remained gentlemanly, at least at first, sides were soon being taken. Filippi, who had been strongly supported by the police union, and Stone, who had been supported by the firefighters union and was a member of the Rotary Club as is Dunn, supported Dunn in his approach to righting the city’s listing financial ship. Musser, who had overcome the electoral challenges made by Stone and Filippi in 2012, gravitated toward Bozar on most questions of economic policy. Councilman Brendan Brandt found himself cast into the role of the crucial swing vote on those matters where the sharp divergence in philosophies between Dunn and Bozar emerged.
Last year, as Dunn put forth his formula for shoring the city up financially, which included tax proposals, Bozar countered with the suggestion that the city form a blue ribbon committee to map out a financial recovery plan. Reluctantly, Dunn went along with the suggestion, but in doing so, commandeered more of the process than Bozar had envisioned, serving as the chair of the fiscal task force’s public meetings, making informational briefings during the sessions, providing or vetting the material around which the task force’s discussions revolved and providing the staff resources that facilitated the eventual presentation of the task force’s findings.
When the blue ribbon committee, now known as the Upland Fiscal Task Force Committee, returned with a host of suggestions that largely mimicked Dunn’s original plan, the council failed to act on those suggestions with alacrity, to some degree because of Bozar and Mayor Musser’s perception that Dunn had unduly influenced the panel’s members.  Shortly thereafter, the relations between Dunn, on one side, and Bozar and Musser, on the other, broke down into open hostility. While Dunn enjoyed the support of Filippi and Stone, on more than one occasion, in open public forums including city council meetings, Dunn was openly critical of Musser, Bozar or both. When Dunn grew too forward in his criticism of the city’s political leadership, widely considered a cardinal sin among public officials who serve at the pleasure of the elected political leadership, Brandt, who has assiduously his whole public career sought to avoid contretemps and controversy, took notice. When Dunn continued to show open opposition to Bozar and Musser, Brandt sided with them and voted to terminate Dunn in April, effective at the end of June.
In June, Dunn, at a Rotary club event, declared his intention to run for city council.  He followed that announcement up with actually filing to run in July. Over the next two weeks, as the field of candidates filled out, his close political affiliation with Stone and Filippi became ever more apparent. In August, shortly after an event to kick off Dunn’s campaign, it emerged that Dunn, Stone and Filippi would run as a slate, supporting one another.
Given Stone and Filippi’s status as incumbents and their consequent relatively easy access to political donors, together with Dunn’s status as the newly hired manager of Cable Airport, which stands as one of Upland’s leading institutions, together with their combined name recognition, the troika emerged early on as the frontrunners in the campaign for city council. Within the troika, Dunn was according special status, as both Filippi and Stone in their public pronouncements made clear the level of respect they accorded Dunn as a consequence of his intimate understanding of the city’s governmental structure and his previous efforts to come to terms with the main issues bedeviling it.
A central theme emanating from their collective political camp was that the election of the slate would give Dunn the political muscle he lacked as city manager to actually put into practice the plan which he said would “get Upland back on track,” and which had failed to find favor with Bozar and Musser. Indeed, the political center of gravity appeared to have swung in Dunn’s favor and, absent any concerted or credible opposition, he looked to be on course to victory in November.
But McAuliffe’s electrifying performance on October 6 radically transformed the political playing field in Upland. From the start, in his opening speech that night, McAuliffe tore into Dunn and his political team.
While two of the other candidates in the race, Carol Timm and Susan Berk, registered measured and even eloquent criticisms of the city’s direction under the current council or proposals promoted by Dunn, McAuliffe was stridently direct, openly suggesting that Dunn’s performance as city manager had been inadequate and that his vision for future policy was equally flawed.
“According to the budget task force report, the city and its finances are in ‘the worst death spiral’ it’s ever been in, and an immediate action plan is required to avoid the city from bankruptcy,” McAuliffe charged. “While the death spiral almost flat-lined our city, rather than take any accountability for their role in this failure, Mr. Filippi and Mr. Dunn continued to waste time deflecting all blame to other council members by accusing them of being uncooperative. However, go pull the council’s voting records and you will find that nine times out of ten the majority vote sided with Mr. Filippi, councilwoman Stone, along with Mr. Dunn and his agenda when he was city manager.”
During the forum, Dunn, Stone and Filippi repeatedly referenced one another, asserting collectively that they were a team with a shared vision. When one of the questions asked of all the candidates inquired point blank whom, among the others, each would vote for, Dunn and Filippi unequivocally endorsed each other and Stone.
Dunn forthrightly asserted that he was the most knowledgeable and experienced of all of the candidates in dealing with municipal affairs, and he positively mentioned Stone and Filippi in asserting that the three of them could immediately take command of the machinery of city governance and make the needed policy changes to push the city in the right direction.
“I know what to look for from a policy perspective,” said Dunn. “I know what to look for from a practical perspective. Everyone up here other than Gino and Debbie will need a learning curve.  I don’t need a learning curve. I am here to serve you. I am not afraid to make a decision. I am not afraid to make a recommendation. I am willing to work with anybody to get Upland on the right track. I feel I would be an excellent addition to the Upland City Council.”
In response, McAuliffe, a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who has since obtained a master’s degree in business management,  took aim at the city’s faltering financial circumstance, noting that Dunn was at the helm of municipal staff operations throughout much of Upland’s economic collapse, and that Filippi’s term on the council closely corresponded to Dunn’s tenure as city manager.
“Each of them had almost four years to turn the city around,” McAuliffe thundered. “However, it has gotten significantly worse.”
McAuliffe pointedly criticized a decision made earlier this year, upon Dunn’s recommendation, to extend from seven to 12 years the life of the city’s trash hauling franchise contract with Burrtec Waste Industries. That contract has been in place since 2001, and the council vote earlier this year, with Filippi and Stone assenting, guarantees Burrtec’s franchise with Upland will remain in place until 2026, meaning there will be no bidding on the franchise for at least 25 years. The contract further contained an evergreen clause, which extends the franchise one more year every year that the city does not give notice to Burrtec of its intention to rebid the contract. Thus, if the city does not give Burrtec notice by June of next year, the franchise will remain in place until 2027. If notice is not given by June of 2016, the franchise will remain in place until 2028, and so on.
At the forum on October 6, McAuliffe intimated that he suspected there was graft at the root of such an arrangement. “Four years ago Mr. Filippi ran as the reform candidate, and with the utmost respect, the only thing I found that he reformed was a 12 year, $60 million outside contract, without even putting it up for bid. Now he is running with the slogan ‘Let’s Get Upland Back on Track.’ Mr. Filippi’s lack of performance in moving the city forward in the past four years, coupled with Mr. Dunn’s non-flexible and unaccountable management style, both played a significant role in the city ending up in its worst ‘death spiral” of all time. It’s time for a change at City Hall.”
McAuliffe’s excoriation of the troika was echoed somewhat less stridently by the other candidates.
Timm charged the council with taking the city to “the brink of insolvency. For the last four years nothing was done by the current council. I think we need to look at that. We need proactive people.”
Berk reiterated a central theme of her campaign, which is a strong rejection of a proposal that the city consider outsourcing its water division to generate revenue. She said that any way the city did so, by either selling the water division outright or by retaining the water rights and physical assets of the water department and merely outsourcing the management and operation of the department to a private company, would result in an unacceptable escalation in the rates city residents will pay for water.
The combination of criticisms from McAuliffe, Timm and Berk had the effect of putting Dunn, Filippi and Stone on the defensive. All three attempted to distance themselves from a proposal by Dunn made earlier this year, opposed by Bozar but supported by Filippi and Stone, to consider the water outsourcing option as a potential source of revenue.
At one point Dunn asserted that inaccurate information was being bandied about. At another, he conceded that city operations, which had only until very recently functioned under his direction, were not efficient.   “I guarantee you there is a lack of productivity in a lot of areas,” he said.
During the forum, attended by over 300 in the Upland City Council Chambers, the dynamism of McAuliffe’s presentations and responses was palpable. As a series of questions were repeated to each of the candidates so that all had the opportunity to respond with regard to the same issues, the crowd enlivened instantly when McAuliffe had the floor, with his pointed remarks drawing sometimes thunderous applause and cheers.
While within the confines of the council chambers on Monday evening McAuliffe demonstrated himself more adept at moving the crown through artful assailing of the opponents of his choosing than any of the other candidates participating and he made clear to all in attendance that he is the most spirited and aggressive opponent of the perceived frontrunners in the race, he has yet to demonstrate whether he can springboard his impressive showing in that relatively intimate forum into an effective traditional campaign aimed at the wider cross section of voters in the 73,732 population City of Gracious Living that will earn him a position among the top three finishers in the voting on November 4 and a position on the city council.

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