With Red Ink Hemorrhaging Unabated, Adelanto On Brink Of Axing City Manager

(February 12) The Adelanto City Council is sharpening a long knife for city manager Jim Hart, with at least one member of the council pushing his colleagues to prepare to sack him if he does not leave his post willingly, the Sentinel has learned.
At Mayor Rich Kerr’s request, Hart on February 11 delivered Adelanto’s annual state of the city address to the chamber of commerce, but was not in attendance at that evening’s city council meeting, at which a closed door discussion of Hart’s performance was scheduled. Word was given that Hart was taking a two-week leave to use up accrued leave time.
No official action was taken by the council during the closed session evaluation, and there were conflicting reports about whether Hart would return at the end of his current two week hiatus.
Adelanto has been teetering on the brink of bankruptcy for some time and Hart and his staff have been unable to right the listing financial ship.
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 and Hart’s only other alternatives have been to seek out development projects that offer the prospect of fee or tax generation. In particular, he advocated the city approving the development of two privately-run prisons within its city limits. Adelanto is already host to four detention facilities. One of the two more recent proposals has been approved and the other was withdrawn. The council and Hart have been 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.
Whatever honeymoon with Hart that ensued after the newly-composed council was installed has now faded and Hart’s head is now on the chopping block.
The strongest advocate for Hart’s removal, the Sentinel has learned, is 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 is only slightly less critical of Hart than Wright. Among the remainder of the current council, Hart’s strongest supporter is Camargo. But Camargo’s political stock is 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.
Kerr does not appear to be strong-willed with regard to Hart, one way or the other. In the first two months of his tenure as mayor, he has been highly dependent upon Hart for orientation, and this may have left him indisposed to firing him outright.
Hart, who has 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, is seriously weakened by the consideration that he is the highest paid city manager in the High Desert.
According to former State Controller John Chiang’s latest report, Hart is receiving an annual salary and add-ons of $280,000, together with a retirement and health care package valued at $50,105, giving him a total annual compensation package of $330,105. His add-ons include accrual payouts, an advance on deferred compensation, a city vehicle, cell phone and computer allowances. Without those add-ons his salary is $216,000.
Glasper lamented that $330,000 annually was out of line for a city of Adelanto’s size that is going broke. He said Hart had failed to move the city ahead during the time he, Glasper, was not on the council, and that he was disappointed to find, when he returned, that the city is in a deeper financial rut than when he left. He said Hart’s performance had been mediocre, at best. While Glasper suggested he was prepared to keep Hart in place if he were to accept a salary cut, Wright wants Hart out, period.
Last week, aware that the newly-composed city council is dissatisfied with the city’s ongoing $2.6 million deficit, finance director Onyx Jones, who had been a key member of Hart’s administrative team, resigned.

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