Hughes Leaving In December After More Than 17 Years As Highland City Manager

Joseph Hughes, who has been Highland’s city manager since 2006, will retire on December 29, he revealed this week.
Upon Hughes publicly declaring his intention, the Highland City Council authorized the hiring of a headhunting firm to recruit his replacement.
Hughes, is considered the municipality’s second city manager, having succeeded Sam Racadio in the top administrator’s spot in 2006. Robert Covington, who had previously been San Bernardino County administrator, served as the city council’s guide in managing operations during Highland’s first three months in existence, but is not listed as having been Highland city manager.
Both Hughes and Racadio began with the City of Highland in 1988, shortly after the city’s November 1987 incorporation. Hughes moved into the city manager’s post partly on the strength of his performance in his first sixteen years with the city and partially due to Racadio’s endorsement of him as his successor.Hughes has had something of a serendipitous existence in the role of Highland city manager. He was aided in some measure by Racadio having been elected to the council in 2010. Moreover, the city has benefited by being the host to the casino owned by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. The tribe has subsidized some improvements near the entrance to the casino and on Highland Avenue, which has enhanced the city’s image along a crucial vista and arterial.
The city did endure a major challenge beginning in 2014 when a band of outside attorneys – consisting of R. Rex Parris, Milton Grimes and Kevin Shenkman – using provisions of the California Voting Rights Act that allows attorneys to challenge municipalities over their use of at-large elections to select their political leadership, settled upon targeting Highland for its use of at-large elections. Claiming that a so-called protected minority – Hispanics – were underrepresented on the city council, Parris, Grimes and Shenkman called upon the city to dispense with at-large elections in electing the city council and create council districts in which the city would be divided into fifths as measured by population and its residents would be thereafter constrained during council elections to vote only for a representative from their particular district on the city council. The city responded by putting an initiative on the November 2014 ballot, Measure T, asking if the city’s residents were in favor of a ward system. Measure T went down to defeat, with 2,862 votes or 43.01 percent in favor of it and 3,793, or 56.99 percent opposed.
Parris, Grimes and Shenkman proceeded with a lawsuit on behalf of Lisa Garrett, who claimed to be a Latino resident of Highland whose right to adequate representation on the city council had been abridged by Highland’s traditional at-large voting system, demanding district or ward elections. The city sought to assuage the demand by proposing to allow cumulative voting, in which each voter was to be given one vote for each contested position and would be allowed to cast any or all of those votes for any one candidate, or spread the votes among the candidates. When the matter went to trial, despite making a finding that the socio-economic-based rationale presented by the plaintiff’s attorneys to support the need for ward elections was irrelevant and that the plaintiff’s assertion that district voting was the only way to cure the alleged violation of the Voting Rights Act was false, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge David Cohn mandated that Highland adopt a ward system.
Highland thus became an object illustration to other cities in San Bernardino County when they were faced with efforts by outside attorneys to alter their voting systems. Virtually all of those – Chino Hills, Chino, Upland, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Hesperia, Apple Valley, Barstow, Redlands, Big Bear Lake, Yucaipa, Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms – acceded to changing their voting systems when similar demands were made of them.
Hughes has fared better than he might have, given that no one has ever challenged either him or his wife, Betty, over their simultaneously serving in two key positions at Highland City Hall, in his case that being city manager and in her case city clerk.
Even prior to Hughes’ tenure as Highland City Manager, many cities throughout Southern California were videotaping their city council meetings and broadcasting them on local cable channels and/or livestreaming them and then posting them on their websites to grant the public a window on municipal governance and operations. Hughes consistently resisted that move toward transparency, and Highland is yet one of only two of the county’s cities which do not make video recordings of council meetings.  
When Hughes retires in December, he will have 35 years in as a Highland employee. Thus, given the formula used by the California Public Employees Retirement System, he will have maxed out his retirement at 100 percent of his highest salary as a Highland employee. Those who have achieved the status of city manager are given a pension equal to three percent for each year they have worked times the number of years they have been in place as a public employee times the top yearly salary throughout the employee’s career. Thus, Hughes will collect an annual pension equal to his current annual salary of $237,232.09 for the rest of his life.
The city will invite applicants to apply for the open city manager’s post. After the executive search firm evaluates those applicants and comes up with a subset of those it considers to be qualified candidates for the job, a council subcommittee will do a further screening of applicants, after which the subcommittee’s recommendations will be considered by the full city council.
-Mark Gutglueck

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