November 25, 2022
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Our View: County of Ventura owes public an explanation on CEO’s departure

IN THIS ARTICLE

When Ventura County CEO Mike Powers announced his retirement on March 10, the decision came as a complete surprise to the community.

Had Powers himself not put out the word that he was retiring “to spend more time with his family,” it is not clear when the public would have known that one of the most important government leaders on the Central Coast had stepped down.

That’s because until the Business Times and other news outlets got confirmation from the county, only a few insiders were aware that he had actually been placed on paid administrative leave on March 8, two days before the announced retirement. Even then, the record of what happened behind closed doors at the Board of Supervisors remains a mystery.

Some of that mystery was cleared up on March 16, just before this edition of the Business Times went to press. The Thousand Oaks Acorn, a local newspaper in Ventura County, reported that Powers was accused of sexually harassing a female employee of the county executive office. According to the Acorn’s reporting, an outside attorney the county hired to investigate found the allegation was substantiated by “a preponderance of the evidence,” which is the typical burden of proof in a civil lawsuit.

Under the Brown Act, California’s law regulating open government meetings, the Board of Supervisors was within its rights to discuss potential litigation, employee discipline and other confidential matters during a closed session.

But it seems to us that when the closed session was described only as a briefing by attorneys on “significant exposure to litigation,” that disclosure fell well short of the mark as to what was actually going on — that is, a vote to place the county’s top executive on administrative leave as a result of that “significant exposure to litigation.”

It is ironic that these matters came to light during Sunshine Week, a time devoted to celebrating open government laws.

Among other things, we’d like to know what the vote was to place him on leave, if indeed a vote was taken.

The conduct Powers is credibly accused of has no place in any workplace. Though they should have done so more transparently, the Board of Supervisors acted quickly and decisively when it put Powers on leave shortly after seeing the results of the outside investigation.

In the meantime, county taxpayers have a huge stake in seeing what has been a well-run administration continue on a fiscally prudent path.

We agree with Supervisor Carmen Ramirez that the county has in place “an excellent leadership team,” a thought echoed by Powers himself when he announced he was stepping down after 30 years with the county and 11 in the CEO spot. We wish Assistant CEO Mike Pettit success as he fills in.

IN MEMORIAM

• Santa Paula is mourning the loss of Frank Brommenschenkel, a well-known water consultant whose name was so hard to pronounce that he named his firm Frank B and Associates. A former manager of Santa Paula’s private water company, he served for a number of years on the Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce board. A graduate of Cal Poly Pomona, his knowledge of the Santa Clara River Basin was unparalleled.

• Santa Barbara gearheads are mourning the death of Robert Joehnck, who died in February at age 97. A World War II veteran, he was a self-taught engineer who built some of the world’s fastest engines, consulting with legends like Carrol Shelby. He operated a garage at De la Vina and Figueroa streets in Santa Barbara for many years. His cars still hold records at Bonneville Salt Flats, according to an obituary in the Santa Barbara News-Press.