Deputy City Clerk Daren Dunham's Deposition (Larger Format for printing by request)
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We would like to put forth what we know about the situation with City Manager Jay Parrish and the circumstances that led to his employment. The citizens of Rio Dell can then decide things for themselves based on the facts.
First, the background of our involvement with the City of Rio Dell.
We purchased a major fixer-upper in Rio Dell in 2003 through the Rio Dell First Time Homebuyers Program. This is a federally funded program specifically designed to assist in a first home purchase while at the same time improving a property in the city. Rio Dell receives vast amounts of money for this program through CDBG funds (Community Development Block Grant). We quickly realized there were problems with the program when the project manager, Larry Miller of Redwood Community Action Agency, did not allow any of the repair funds to be used for major structural work such as the failing foundation, overstressed support beams, etc. We went to the City right away to notify them of the problem, believing that they would look into the situation. We were ignored completely, even when we brought in evidence of fraudulent activity related to the permits (or lack of). The money for the home rehabilitation did not go into the repairs required by the program not to mention everyday common sense.
I will not rehash the entire long saga of our fight with the City and RCAA to do structural repairs to our home. A good write-up of the situation can be found at http://www.users.cloud9.net/~drs/Special_Features/riodell.html
The 2004-05 Grand Jury has investigated the situation and issued a report of their findings. http://www.co.humboldt.ca.us/grandjury/Reports/2004-2005/2004-05FinalReport.PDF The report required that the City respond within 60 days to the recommendations in the report. A few days prior to the release of the Grand Jury report, City Manager Eli Naffah left the city. I am still not clear whether this was entirely of his own choice or not. The Chief of Police was put into the position of Acting City Manager. On August 2nd, 2005, roughly 30 days into the timeframe for the response from the City, I addressed the City Council to ask who was going to be writing the response since there was no permanent City Manager. Then Council Member Bud Leonard responded angrily and his temper was readily apparent as he asked me about what business it was of mine. Eventually, then Mayor Jay Parrish responded that the City Manager would be responding and he left it at that.
Little did we know at that time, but Parrish had already applied for the position of City Manager despite being the current Mayor. He was right, the City Manager would be responding to the Grand Jury, and it was Parrish. Jay Parrish, as one of his first Official acts as City Manager, wrote the response which completely dismissed the entire Grand Jury investigation. It was an amazingly arrogant response which stated that Rio Dell has no oversight responsibility, at all, over the huge amounts of federal dollars they are given. Their response, in its’ entirety, is available at http://www.riodelltimes.com/RioDellResponseto2004to2005GrandJuryFindings/
This is the timeline, as recreated through evidence and testimony.
June 22nd, 2005- City Council knows that Eli Naffah will be leaving and they need a replacement. Council Member Bud Leonard begins talking about Parrish becoming City Manager to other Council Members. Testimony has stated that Leonard was the person who initiated the discussion of Parrish taking the position and that he was advocating for this.
June 22nd thru July 19th- City of Rio Dell advertises the position of City Manager. Parrish allegedly applied for the position but his paperwork was not turned in to City Clerk Karen Dunham, as had all of the other applications. It is unknown who received his application or where that paperwork is currently. The city has been, so far, unable to produce a copy of his application.
During this time, Mayor Pro Tem Bud Leonard asked City Clerk Karen Dunham to print a copy of Ordinance 4.04. This is the Ordinance, signed on 2-5-02 by Mayor Parrish, that states that a City Council member may not take a City Manager position with the City within one year of being on the Council. There is also Government Code 1090 which states, “Contracts, sales, and purchases made in official capacity Members of the Legislature, state, county, district, judicial district, and city officers or employees shall not be financially interested in any contract made by them in their official capacity, or by any body or board of which they are members. Nor shall state, county, district, judicial district, and city officers or employees be purchasers at any sale or vendors at any purchase made by them in their official capacity.” This makes it illegal to negotiate a contract while a person holds office and then quitting and signing the contract. These laws are designed to avoid conflict of interest problems, such as the member having any influence over dealings where they have a financial interest. The position of City Manager is the highest paid position in Rio Dell with a base salary of $55,000, plus benefits that put the compensation at approx. $88,000 (salary numbers taken from sworn testimony and a copy of the “budget” as supplied by City Hall). Jay Parrish has had direct control over the salary and benefits for this position for the entire time he has sat on the Council. This is what is called a blatant conflict of interest.
The City Council offered interviews to five candidates, allegedly three showed up for the interview, including Jay Parrish. These interviews were held on July 19th, in a closed door session of the Council. What is interesting about Jay Parrish’s interview, is that City Attorney David Martinek was present. I have never heard of an attorney needing to sit in on a job interview before but this is what the City did. No testimony can be taken regarding this interview as it would now be protected by attorney/client privilege.
On August 9th, the Council met in a closed session to vote on the position. There was discussion then by a Council member prior to the vote that they were bothered by the possible conflict of interest problem and they voted against Jay Parrish. The Council voted 3-1 to offer the position to Jay Parrish with the dissenting vote being that of Mike Dunker. At this time Jay was still the Mayor of Rio Dell.
Jay Parrish resigned from the City Council on August 15th, which was announced in the August 16th Council meeting. Parrish’s first day on the job was August 22nd, 2005. His employment contract is dated August 22nd as well but according to City Attorney Martinek, it wasn’t written until Sept. or Oct. and then back dated.
The title Parrish was given is “Interim” City Manager. The definition of Interim is: A transitional or temporary period between other events (wiktionary.org). The City has stated that they are not looking for a City Manager and Parrish is performing all of the duties of the City Manager. The use of the “Interim” title is specifically designed to circumvent the Ordinance prohibiting his taking the position.
Parrish writes the response to the Grand Jury, dated Sept. 23rd, 2005. http://www.riodelltimes.com/RioDellResponseto2004to2005GrandJuryFindings/
Shortly after his appointment, the City receives a letter from a local attorney regarding the legality of the situation. All of the legal citing’s are included, giving the City a chance to consider the situation and it’s consequences. The City was given the opportunity to take Parrish out of the position with absolutely no cost, payback of salary or penalties of any kind. They were told that if they continued with the illegal appointment, there would be court action. The City chose to ignore the letter completely and continue on as if there was nothing wrong. The City chose legal action.
It is important to know that the City of Rio Dell currently has no budget. We are operating off of a roll-over budget from prior years. There is no budget for any of the current expenses taken on by the City. According to the City Accounting Supervisor, we are operating on an “as needed” basis financially. The Council members have been asking about a budget in the last few Council meetings as they are becoming worried about the finances. Parrish has been City Manager since August 22nd and there is no budget on the horizon yet. An experienced City Manager would view the Cities budget as a #1 priority.
The City Attorney, David Martinek, has now been replaced on this situation with two very experienced and VERY expensive lawyers from out of the area. The City appears ready to spare no expense in defending the illegal appointment of the Mayor to the position of City Manager. Again, none of this is budgeted for.
What is so frustrating is that there was no need for any of this. Parrish was serving as Mayor, why take the chance and put him in as City Manager? The City had applications from experienced people that would have brought that experience into Rio Dell. Parrish and the Council would have had the usual oversight that they have over the position, so again, why put Parrish in there? That is a question that can only be answered by the Council themselves.
The lawsuit asks for a couple of things. First, Parrish would be removed from the position of City Manager and prohibited from holding a city office. Second, Parrish would have to pay the City of Rio Dell back the salary he has been collecting since his illegal appointment. The City would be barred from paying this expense for Parrish and then passing on the cost to the taxpayers. The City would need to pay attorney expenses but there is absolutely no money being sought by the plaintiff’s. The only reason for this action is to return the City of Rio Dell to a legal standing and hopefully moving away from the nepotism that has gone on in City Hall for so very long. The laws apply to every citizen, whether you are a “friend” of City Hall or not.
The Wolff Family