Inside Oceanside: A familiar face back in Oceanside?

“Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.” 

Those of course are the lyrics from The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

It also explains who may be about to run the city of Oceanside.

Last week City Hall was abuzz that the three councilmen who usually vote as an all powerful bloc, were in agreement yet again: When City Manager Peter Weiss steps down in January, their choice as the new city manager is Steve Jepsen.

Apparently the decision was revealed at a Wednesday City Council closed session. By Thursday, most everyone at City Hall had heard the news.

It was widely accepted that there was no one within the ranks of City Hall management that would be equipped to take over as manager as Peter Weiss had done in 2006. He had been with the city since 1990 and held the jobs of city engineer and public works director before he was tapped as city manager in 2007.

It is important to know that the five council members as a group only get to hire two people: the city manager and city attorney. The city manager ultimately oversees everyone else who works for the city. He runs the show, including selecting who will head each department. When the council directs him to do something, he decides how it gets done and who gets to do it. He is key to deciding which outside company gets the contract.

Most insiders thought the troika would hire a headhunter and hire a competent new face from the outside.

But as Mr. Bill would say, Noooooooooo!

They went back to the future and brought back Jepsen, who has been managing Yuba City, a city about one-third the size of Oceanside.

The three can hire whom they want. They were all three elected and they all three choose to generally vote in lock step. That’s their right, fair and square.

But some employees in City Hall were stunned that they would resurrect Jepsen.

Jepsen, you may recall, was city manger from 2000 to 2006. A May 31, 2006 article in the North County Times by Chris Tribbey (please Google it) indicated that the resignation seemed to follow a very ugly affair involving Oceanside’s former transportation director Frank Watanabe. The article pointed out that Watanabe intervened on behalf of a developer who happened to be a big contributor to former Mayor Terry Johnson. Watanabe’s eye-raising involvement in the project allowed the developer to get his permits when in fact he shouldn’t have since the property was contaminated. The project was eventually shut down until the problem was mitigated.

Watanabe never talked to the press about it. He just quit. But Councilwoman Esther Sanchez connected the dots and insinuated Jepsen was part of the back scratchin’ boogie that got the city of Oceanside to cut corners for the developer.

As the NC Times article reported, “Jepsen would not comment Tuesday on Sanchez’ allegations, or whether his resignation was connected to them.”

Like Watanabe, he just resigned.

Jepsen has other baggage. He was the one who put together the deal (with the council’s blessing) to give Doug Manchester $2 million for not building a seaside project that was doomed from the start.

As one heavy hitter who used to work for the city said last week, (paraphrasing), This is their choice now let’s all work together and help the city move forward.

But as someone who still works for the city said, “I can’t believe they did this.”

It is not known whether this is official, or not.

Whether it is a good idea or not, it seems clear to me the council should have been more open about the process. Instead it looks as if the three — councilmen Kern, Felien and Feller — got together on their own to figure this out.

Councilwoman Sanchez responds: “If you are asking me if I would consider Jepsen in light of Peter’s retirement, the answer is no. I have no confidence in Jepsen especially in light of causing the biggest scandal the city has had in recent history. I am pushing for a community process. We hired a consultant to help us with the recruitment. We should continue with the process and interview potential candidates. We should also require at least a super majority (four) vote on the next city manager.

“Otherwise, we will just be wasting valuable tax dollars when we have to fire him a year later, based on the same complete lack of trust and confidence and inability to work together.”

Fasten your seat belts. We’re in for a bumpy night.

Beach shorts

One of the biggest benefactors of the soon-to-be-opened Springhill Suites undoubtedly will be Harney Sushi. The six-story 149-room Marriott with an ocean view is immediately southwest of the sushi restaurant. Employees of Harney have been told that Harney management plans to knock out a wall near the northeast corner of the restaurant and build their own adjacent mini brewery in the now unused space that is just east of restaurant. What more could you want? Craft beer and sushi right near the beach. The employees say plans call for the new brewery to be open in six to eight months.

Speaking of Harney, you may not know this but they are host to one of three great food bargains downtown. Every night at 10 they present a food happy hour. The beer and sake are the same price but they will serve you a killer albacore roll for $3.50 and miso soup for $1.50. Harney closes at midnight Thursday through Saturday and 10:30 on all other nights.

Across the street on Mission Avenue, Johnny Manana’s serves a wonderful $3.50 (including tip) breakfast burrito, including eggs, cheese, beans and onions with rice on the side.

And then two blocks east on Mission there is a Thai restaurant that has been at the same location for 30 years called The Wok Inn. For $6.95 you get Tom Yum Gung, a shrimp soup with chicken broth, lemon grass and onions and other good stuff. It is a meal. If you are starting to get a cold, it makes you better. At least it did with me.

Oceanside born and raised, Ken Leighton is an Oceanside business owner and freelance columnist. He may be reached at oogumboogum@earthlink.net

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  1. Legalblond says:

    Council meetings have become an embarrassment. When members of the public stand up on public t.v. and refer to Kern, Feller and Felien as “dictators,” “liars” and “crooked,” and Oceanside as the new “City of Bell,” you’d think the troika might want to rethink some of their decisions. Rehiring Jepsen? Seriously? What about “transparency in government,” a “duty to uphold public trust?” The next Council meeting is October 16. Hopefully, VOTERS will attend and voice THEIR opinions.

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