Former councilman challenges mayor’s charter city push

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Concerns raised from the public microphone at last week’s meeting of the Ridgecrest City Council launched an impromptu debate over Mayor Dan Clark’s initiative to have the Planning Commissioners investigate the charter form of city government.

Tom Wiknich, who has served two terms on the council himself, said that he was concerned about recently published reports where Clark outlined his plan to research charter over the city’s current status as a general law city.

“I question the authority the mayor used to task the city manager and Planning Commissioners to do this,” said Wiknich. His concerns were also submitted to local newspapers as a letter to the editor, where he stated that direction can be given only by consensus of the council. Wiknich said there was no documented consensus, or discussion, that justified that action.

He noted further that it was a poor use of city time and resources and that converting to a charter would cost in excess of $100,000 for the election alone, not including legal and consulting fees.

“I didn’t give direction, the city manager did,” Clark responded at last week’s meeting. “I was disappointed in your [letter]. For you to make accusations like that is not fair. I don’t usually comment on things said at the podium, but what you said was unfair without talking to me first.”

Wiknich responded that it was improper for Clark to direct the city manager to investigate the issue.

“I talked about it up here, that we would explore charter vs. general law. And I have since had conversations with the city manager,” said Clark.

“But there was no consensus for looking into it,” Wiknich said.

Clark argued that, with a charter form of government, the city had advantages — including not having to pay prevailing wage, which would allow the city to fund additional street repairs. Clark has also touted other potential advantages such as having additional taxing authority as a city, and having the flexibility to convert to the strong mayor form of leadership.

Clark also pointed to Wiknich’s initiative in 2006 to investigate potential advantages of seceding from Kern to Inyo county. Clark said that even though he thought it was a bad idea, he supported Wiknich’s efforts. “I submit to you that I need that same support.”

Last week was not the first time Clark had been challenged for taking executive action without proper adherence to process. He was criticized several months ago for writing a letter calling for reshaping the performance of the Measure L Oversight Committee and signing it on behalf of the council.

The public also challenged that action, saying that Clark had no authority to speak on behalf of the council or to give direction without a discussion that was publicly noticed and voted on.

City Manager Dennis Speer told the News Review that when he received a request for the item be placed on the Planning Commission agenda, it was unclear to him at the time the process and authority of building the commission agenda.

He said that upon further exploration he was able to determine that it was not appropriate for the commission to research the subject. He added that the topic will not be brought back until there is a public discussion at the council level.

Story First Published: 2013-09-11