Embattled Hart Now Out As City Manager In Adelanto

ADELANTO—Adelanto City Manager Jim Hart, whose grip on the well-remunerated top administrator’s post in this High Desert city of 31,765 began to slip as a consequence of the November election, was given his walking papers Wednesday night, February 25.
Hart’s looming departure had been hinted at for weeks. Last month, whatever honeymoon he may have had with the newly formulated post-election city council that was installed in December expired, as some members of the council became openly vocal about his inability to steer the financially challenged city off a path leading toward bankruptcy.
As February dawned, finance director Onyx Jones, who had been a key member of Hart’s administrative team, announced her upcoming resignation. After delivering the state of the city address earlier this month, Hart, who was being paid an annual salary and add-ons of $280,000, together with a retirement and health care package valued at $50,105 for a total compensation package of $330,105 per year, did not attend the city council meeting later that day, instead going out on a two-week administrative leave. The city’s mid-year budget report showed Hart’s resignation was projected for the end of the month.
Hart, who had been Adelanto city manager since 2004 and was city manager in Twentynine Palms and Rancho Margarita and administrative services director in Rancho Cucamonga before that, appeared to be in a perpetual state of paralysis the last several years as the city was overwhelmed by financial challenges.
In 2013, the city council, as it was then composed, at Hart’s urging declared the 31,765 population city was in a state of fiscal emergency. The city’s residents, however, refused to consent to impose on themselves a tax that city officials insisted was needed to stave off bankruptcy. Hart’s only other alternative was to seek out development projects that offer the prospect of fee or tax generation, but his performance in that regard was lackluster at best. Last year, he advocated the city approve the development of two privately-run prisons within its city limits.
Adelanto is already host to three detention facilities and has another one on its border with Victorville. One of the two more recent proposals has been approved and the other was withdrawn. Hart was attacked for a lack of imagination in wrestling with the fiscal dilemma and for advocating bringing in more detention facilities, which some say will further erode the city’s reputation and lessen its ability to attract other types of development.
On November 4, incumbent councilmen Charles Valvo and Steve Baisden, along with mayor Cari Thomas, were unsuccessful in their reelection bids. Thus, a majority of the five-member council was freshly installed, although councilman Charley Glasper was formerly on the council. Glasper and John Woodard were sworn in to replace Valvo and Baisden, while Rich Kerr replaced Thomas.
Emerging as a strong and early advocate for Hart’s removal was councilman Jermaine Wright. Wright was on the losing side of several votes taken over the last two years by the Thomas-led council that included Valvo, Baisden and councilman Ed Camargo.
Glasper was of a like mind to Wright, feeling that the city had stagnated during the four years he was not on the council. Hart’s strongest supporter was Camargo. But Camargo’s political stock has been in eclipse, as he is fighting off charges of being involved in a conflict of interest that grew out of his November vote in support of the prison project that was subsequently withdrawn. Camargo’s girlfriend is employed by the company seeking to develop that prison.
On February 25, Hart was not in attendance at the city council meeting. Finance director Jones, in her last official act, presented a report informing the city council the city is in dire financial straits and will be out of money and will have eaten up all of its remaining reserves by the beginning of the upcoming 2015-16 fiscal year on July 1. Jones said without new revenue sources the city’s only option will be to make “drastic cuts.”
Mayor Rich Kerr said the city’s circumstance has deteriorated to the point where it will need to disincorporate. “We will shut down City Hall, people will get pink slips and there will be no more Adelanto,” he intoned.
Hart’s axing took place in closed session, in which, despite the city’s untenable financial situation, a $225,352.93 severance package was conferred upon him. That package includes a severance payment, benefits and employer taxes, along with the continued provision of Hart’s medical insurance. The city will also provide Hart with a used city vehicle.
During the same closed session, the council elevated city engineer/public works director Thomas Thornton to serve as interim city manager.

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