Hercules City Councilman Don Kuehne says a petition by a residents group seeking to recall him is replete with false accusations.
Councilwoman Joanne Ward, who also is a target of the group Hercules Recall, says she understands residents' dismay and that she wants to be "part of getting the city back on track."
The petitions accuse the two of failed leadership resulting in the city's financial crisis, and of approving no-bid contracts to a company owned by two daughters of former City Manager Nelson Oliva as well as of supporting questionable development deals. Kuehne and Ward also incurred public ire for voting to dismiss interim City Manager Charlie Long in December after he publicly revealed details of the city's dire financial situation.
Long "was not terminated because he was the bearer of bad news or because we wanted to bring Mr. Oliva back," Kuehne said in a written response. Citing a letter from then-Mayor Kris Valstad to Long, dated Dec. 14, a week after Long was terminated, Kuehne said the council terminated Long "for cause ... an insubordinate failure to carry out its instructions."
In an interview last month, Kuehne faulted Long for announcing publicly that Hercules Fitness and the Powder Keg Pub owed the city back rent on their redevelopment agency leases.
That was "one of the many examples of what Long did that was not good for local business," Kuehne said,
Kuehne said his main beef with Long was not so much what Long did but how he did it. Again and again, Kuehne said, Long took executive action without keying in the council. For example, Kuehne said, one day an upset Tom Weigel, the developer of Hercules New Town Center, approached him asking, 'Why did you cancel our contract? I thought we had a good relationship with Hercules?'
"I didn't know anything about it," Kuehne said.
Long told Bay Area News Group in December that he would have no comment about his termination.
He had come aboard in Hercules on Oct. 18, shortly after Oliva went on medical leave for what was expected to be at least three months. When the council terminated Long on Dec. 7, there was no time to consider any options other than to bring Oliva back, Kuehne said.
"Looking back, I agree that this was a bad decision," Kuehne wrote. "I immediately started to correct the damage that was done and issued a press release about Long's termination, the short-term return of Oliva, and the need for an independent financial audit."
Kuehne said he led the effort to complete a severance with Oliva, who stepped down Jan. 9, and to appoint Police Chief Fred Deltorchio as interim city manager.
Commenting on the petition's accusation that he supported questionable development deals, Kuehne who was elected in November 2008, said, "Many of the things that are coming to light now were actually approved before I was on the council."
He said he questioned the city's arrangement with the Oliva daughters' company in closed session as far back as October 2009, but got no support from his fellow council members.
"Up to this fall, I was the lone voice," Kuehne said.
He had not spoken out publicly against the arrangement or against any actions by Oliva because, he said, like in the private sector, "publicly, you support your manager until the governing body reaches a no confidence consensus."
"As long as I am a lone voice, I cannot undermine Oliva's authority at City Hall," Kuehne said.
Ward, too, said she had misgivings about the arrangement with the Oliva daughters' company, which ran the city's affordable housing program.
"It didn't look right, and, looking back, we should have blown the whistle," she said, "but we didn't."
Ward said that despite the nationwide economic downturn, until the middle of last year, "Mr. Oliva painted a picture that we were doing very well financially."
That picture changed in June, she said, with the 2010-2011 budget, when Oliva announced a $2 million deficit, to be made up by borrowing $750,000 from a vehicle replacement fund and dipping into the city's reserve fund for about $1.25 million; at the same time, Oliva announced a 3.7 percent across-the-board salary cut.
After that, she said, the council was poised to do a "midcourse correction." She said the recall petition is incorrect to say that she "denies the need for reform."
Ward said she is appalled by the depletion of the $12 million Primary Project Fund of Hercules New Town Center and the recently publicized invoices from the developer for luxury hotels and extensive travel, none of which Oliva told the council about, she said.
"Poor little Hercules has taken its tar-and-feathering," Ward said, adding that she wants to help "turn the ship around."
Asked what she could do to persuade the recall group not to target her, Ward said:
"If I thought I could say something that would be able to convince them that I could do a good job if allowed to finish my term, I would say it."
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760.