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Criticism of Velthoen on Rise; Backers Are Steadfast : Port Hueneme: Highly paid city manager is said to wield too much power and disrespect the will of the people. His allies credit him with raising the city's quality of life.

October 17, 1994|CHRISTINA LIMA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For nearly 20 years, Richard Velthoen managed the community of Port Hueneme in an atmosphere of quiet and political calm, helping transform Port Hueneme from a seaside town into a modern city.

Abandoned lots were converted into green parks, the beachfront streets were decked with modern homes and street medians were landscaped. It was a quiet little town in the shadow of Oxnard, with little controversy.

But recently the peace in Port Hueneme has been shattered. And the 57-year-old Velthoen, in turn, has become the target of growing criticism.

During heated City Council meetings, residents have accused him of squandering the city's revenues on high salaries for himself and other officials, wielding too much power over city affairs and disrespecting the will of the people.

Criticism of Velthoen climaxed this summer when first-term Councilwoman Toni Young made public a memorandum in which Velthoen threatened her with "unpleasant consequences" if she continued to publicly discuss the possibility of his being fired.

Young, a persistent critic of Velthoen and Port Hueneme's four veteran council members, explained at the time that she had been joking when she told three Santa Paula city officials that the council was going "to get rid of Dick."

Nevertheless Young, who has had bitter arguments with Velthoen, continues to believe that Port Hueneme needs a new city manager.

"His environment is too comfortable," she said. "He has been in the same place too long, and it's time for new surroundings, new challenges."

But if Young is not pleased with Velthoen (pronounced vell-THONE), Port Hueneme's four more senior council members hold him in high esteem.

Some of those who hired Velthoen, including Councilman Dorill Wright and Mayor Orvene Carpenter, continue to be strong supporters of the city manager and view the recent backlash against him as unfair.

"Port Hueneme used to be a regular seaside town. Velthoen came along and brought with him the knowledge on how to get financial funds to change the city," Wright said. "Redevelopment is what has made Port Hueneme into a desirable place to live, and that is due to Velthoen's work."

Carpenter said he believes some residents just want to see a change in the administration of the city, and recently they have scrutinized not only Velthoen but the senior council members.

"There has been a lot of criticism," Carpenter said. "And some people just feel a need for new faces."

*

Three of the four long-term council members--Wright, James Daniels and Ken Hess--will step down after the November election.

But Velthoen, who is not an elected official, will remain.

In the past two years, residents repeatedly have packed City Hall to fight two controversial proposals--a recreational-vehicle resort on a city-owned beach and a "view tax" on beachfront residents.

They have accused Velthoen of authoring the RV resort plan and argued that he has failed to find other ways besides the resort and view tax to increase city revenues.

"I don't view him as a good public and professional servant," said Dorothy Blake, a leading claimant in a lawsuit against the city challenging the legality of imposing a view tax on only a portion of the city's 22,000 residents.

"Dick is ruling this city," she added. "I hope the new council won't allow him to do that."

Velthoen, occasionally abrupt in public but friendly and charming in private, attributes the increased criticism of him to misunderstandings of the proper role of a city manager.

He also says that the idea to build the RV resort came from the City Council and not from him.

"I don't rule the city. I simply make recommendations and guide the council," Velthoen said. "The RV resort is by far the most contentious project in the history of Port Hueneme, and some people, who are too emotional about the project, hold me responsible. It was not my idea."

Velthoen, who says that he has devoted much of his life to Port Hueneme, is disappointed by the recent attacks.

"For years, no one ever found fault with beautiful landscaped medians and parkways and many other amenities we created," Velthoen said.

If Port Hueneme built the RV resort, Velthoen said, the city would not need to impose a utility tax on water, electricity, gas and cable television, so it could raise the $500,000 it needs to keep its police department from closing.

The utility tax, adopted by the City Council in July, is to go into effect by the end of the year.

The council adopted the utility tax after a property tax measure fell just shy of the two-thirds majority needed in the June election. A staff report detailing how much the tax will be and precisely when it should begin is to be presented to the council Wednesday.

Velthoen strongly recommended both proposed taxes to the council.

His critics and even some of his supporters say one reason he has become increasingly controversial is that he tends to say whatever is on his mind without considering the consequences.

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