As Fillmore gears up to celebrate its centennial this weekend, the atmosphere in this poor, agricultural city 20 miles east of Ventura is anything but festive.
Allegations that the recently hired city manager sexually harassed three women employees, including the city clerk, have plunged city government into a tailspin at a time when its leaders already face turbulence in managing what could be the most explosive growth in the city's history.
Stan Greene, the 52-year-old city manager accused by the women, has refused comment because of pending litigation. City Clerk Noreen Withers, accounting clerk Barbara Adams and planning secretary Linda Nash have each filed a $500,000 claim against Fillmore and Greene but have refused to discuss the case in detail because the claims are pending.
Regardless of how the case is resolved, some civic leaders fear that the issue has already tarnished Fillmore's less-than-glamorous reputation and paralyzed its city government.
"It's harming the city's ability to run itself," said Councilman Roger Campbell. "New projects, new directions . . . have pretty much come to a screeching halt, and that's too bad."
Others say they are troubled by the mud-slinging that the accusations have provoked at City Hall and by what they call inflammatory coverage in the local newspaper.
"For years we were a small quiet city, and we managed ourselves with a certain dignity. Unfortunately, there's a circus atmosphere now," said Vance Johnson, a member of the Fillmore Planning Commission. The harassment scandal comes at a time when Fillmore is on the brink of positioning itself as a bedroom community for the San Fernando Valley.
After almost a decade of 2% annual growth, Fillmore's housing market is poised to shoot up 35% in the next few years, with more than 1,500 homes either planned or under construction, according to City Planner Mitchel R. Stone.
The city is also waiting to see if the Federal Aviation Administration approves a $200,000 grant to study the feasibility of building an industrial airport on the edge of the Santa Clara River. Businesses would cluster in an industrial park near the runways, and planes could almost taxi up to their front doors, Campbell said.
Then there's the proposal submitted last week to build a restaurant and hotel complex off Highway 126, including a Nevada-style poker casino similar to those in southeast Los Angeles County and Gardena.
City Income Projected
Backers of the proposed casino maintain that the club could generate $2 million to $5 million annually for Fillmore--more than twice the city's current annual budget, according to Mayor Gary Creagle.
Creagle said he will support the project, and an ordinance allowing gambling there, if it can generate those revenues.
The mayor's views are opposed by Councilman Campbell, who said he fears the card club would bring in undesirable elements and sabotage Fillmore's efforts to promote itself as a desirable place to live.
The gambling proposal is expected to be a hot topic this fall, when Campbell, Creagle and City Councilman Pat Quinn come up for reelection, as does City Clerk Withers.
Predictably, the accusations against Greene also are likely to spur heated campaign debate.
Already, the Fillmore Herald, the city's weekly newspaper, has jumped into the fray.
"This week we saw the first major move by the 'Old Guard' inside City Hall and their supporters to oust Greene," observed owner and publisher Doug Huff in an editorial about the harassment accusations. "It may also be the opening salvo in this fall's election campaigns."
All three women resent the suggestion that their charges were brought to serve their personal ends.
"We're not feminists, and we're not Holy Rollers. We were violated, and we were wronged," said Nash, the planning secretary. She added that she has lost nine pounds and finds it stressful and uncomfortable to come to work since she went public with the charges in late June.
One city employee who asked not to be identified said the 14 City Hall employees are demoralized and that local government is "in danger of utter collapse."
Others said they go on with daily work, despite the obvious tensions. Everyone involved in the accusations is still working, including Withers, who deals daily with Greene in her joint position as city clerk and secretary to the city manager.
The tension spiralled several weeks ago when Mayor Creagle charged Campbell with a breach of ethics for withholding information about the alleged harassment before Greene was hired as permanent city manager.
"Roger had knowledge of this before we signed the man's contract. If we had known of the charges . . . we probably wouldn't have signed the contract until we got to the bottom of it," said Creagle, who estimates that Fillmore has already spent $20,000 on legal fees.
Hired on March 23