Longtime Oxnard treasurer Geraldine Furr has rekindled criticism of City Manager David Mora by announcing she would not seek reelection in November, saying Mora has "demonstrated lack of trust and respect for city employees."
City Councilman Michael A. Plisky, Mora's chief critic, said Furr's announcement last week points to a larger disenchantment with the embattled city manager.
"I think he has a management style that is turning a lot of stomachs," said Plisky, who himself plans to run for mayor in November. "He has taken away the decision-making power of officials and is retaining it himself. It has caused a terrific morale problem."
Statement July 14
But City Councilman Manuel Lopez, a Mora supporter, said the criticisms were unjustified.
Lopez characterized Furr as "an unfortunate victim of circumstances" because Furr and Plisky's wife, City Clerk Mabi Plisky, are the city's only elected department heads. Consequently, he said, whenever the Pliskys take issue with Mora's treatment of Mabi, they generalize the problem, and Furr "gets dragged into it."
But if Furr was a passive participant in the City Hall drama, she certainly did not sound like it in her July 14 statement announcing her decision not to run for reelection.
"The centralization of decision-making to the city manager's office and his demonstrated lack of trust and respect for city employees, department heads and rank and file alike concern me," she said.
She would not elaborate this week, except to voice concern over Mora's practice of channeling staff memos to City Council through his own office.
"I feel that the two elected department heads should be able to do their correspondence directly with the City Council," Furr said.
She would not say whether Mora had distorted her reports, but Michael Plisky complained that the practice produces memos that "begin to lose something in the translation."
Referring to Mora, Plisky said: "If a department head writes a letter he doesn't like, then he dilutes and rewrites it." He also noted an apparent contradiction in policy by pointing out that City Atty. Gary Gillig submits memos directly to the council.
Mora defended the practice of overseeing his department heads' letters by saying it reflects his ultimate responsibility for running the city. He denied Furr's charges that he has attempted to centralize power, noting that in his three years on the job, he has limited his own responsibilities by establishing four departments outside the city manager's office: labor relations, community relations, personnel management and budget.
23 Years in Job Previously
Furr, who had served as treasurer 23 years before her retirement eight years ago, came back to the post when the City Council appointed her to it in January, 1987, after it was vacated by Robert de la Cruz.
"I think it will be difficult to replace her," Mora said. "There's a significant wealth of experience there. I'm always sorry to see any good employee leave."
Gillig, meanwhile, defended his direct access to the council by saying his position was distinct from those of the treasurer and city clerk, who have traditionally reported to the city manager.
"I'm employed by the City Council directly," he said. "I don't work for the city manager."
Lopez said Furr, when she returned to the post in January, had expressed reservations about running for it again this year. Furr said she does not remember making such a statement.
Furr made headlines in November as a staunch opponent of a measure to have the treasurer's post changed from an elected to an appointed position.
Later, she and Mabi Plisky were excluded from a retreat for department heads that was proposed by Mora but was never held.
More recently, Furr and Mabi Plisky accused Mora of unfairly, and perhaps illegally, closing to the public a recent City Council meeting at which their complaints about him were discussed.
Gillig is to issue an opinion Aug. 23 on whether such meetings are a violation of the Brown Act, the state law mandating open meetings.
As treasurer, Furr oversees an investment portfolio of nearly $73 million, which she says she is leaving in good health.
"Her investment policies are rather conservative," Finance Director Rudy Muravez confirms, "and she's protected the city's interest in that regard."