Town manager’s contract renewal likened to circus

By Linda Bentley | August 6, 2008

usamaParade to the podium primarily praised performance
CAVE CREEK – There was hostility in the air as council proceeded to discussion of renewing Town Manager Usama Abujbarah’s contract.

Vice Mayor Gilbert Lopez dove right in with a barrage of questions, beginning with, “How did we construct a water tank on someone else’s property without ownership?”
Abujbarah said, “We are not here to discuss that. We are here to discuss my performance and contract.”

“I’m dumfounded,” said Lopez, “How can we approve a contract without evaluating performance?”

Lopez moved to continue the item until it could be “properly agendized” but it failed by a vote of 3-4 with Lopez and Councilwomen Kim Brennan and Grace Meeth voting to continue.
Councilman Dick Esser stated the reason he voted against a continuance was because the town manager’s contract was up in March and said, “The man is working without a contract.”
Public comment began with Charles Spitzer who said he could not support the town manager’s contract for a number of reasons and mentioned the Neary tank issue on other property, changes made to the water master plan and promises made to neighbors of the Rockaway Hills tank had not been met.

Spitzer said, “The town manager must take responsibility … The ends do not justify the means.”

Judy Bruce said there never would have been a Cave Creek Film and Arts Festival if it were not for Abujbarah’s “forward thinking.”

Jim Bruce said, “We have the hardest working professional staff I’ve ever seen. Usama has been, is and will be good for Cave Creek.”

Tom Frawley talked about the high level of confidence in all levels of staff and said, “If he left town, I don’t think they’d remain,” and said there was a balanced budget and strong cash reserve.

“Two years ago, the town unanimously approved purchase of the water company,” said Dan Baxley, “Two years later problems are resolved. It took courage, perseverance and wisdom … The future is bright. I urge this council to recognize the leadership.”

Jim Caldwell stated there were some people in town who are total naysayers with agendas. He said, “Don’t believe them. They’re dishonest.”

Janet Mohr mentioned the water company and what the town has accomplished in the last 18 months. She said, “When Usama does things, he has the town’s best interests in mind. He doesn’t have an agenda.”

Natker passed out a couple of packets to each member of council, which he asked them to look at side by side and said they came off the websites of the towns of Cave Creek and Wickenburg.

As he praised Wickenburg Town Manager Gary Edwards and the monthly reports the town posts on its website, Natker said, “I’ve asked for monthly reports.”

After he was signaled his three minutes were up, Natker continued.

Finally Mayor Vincent Francia interrupted Natker to tell him his three minutes were up and said, “I get the impression you want to move to Wickenburg.”

When Katya Kincel was called on to speak for public comment, she responded, “I can’t say anything, I’d perjure myself.”

Former Vice Mayor Ralph Mozilo talked about the prior town manager and how difficult it was to keep staff. He said Abujbarah turned around a water system that only a year ago was held together with “Band-Aids and chewing gum.”

“My time in this town since incorporation has been a rollercoaster,” said Michael Johnson, “What you people need to understand since Usama’s been here is there’s been great stability in this town. There are council members who are after his hide. If you want to hang your hat on the water tank issue, that’s one percent of what this man’s given the town.”
Louie Majors said, “Everybody here should sit back and look at the success of this town. This is a good team. Every one of you have done fantastic things … He’s the reason you’re successful.”

Planning Commissioner Bob Williams said, “Usama is brutally honest, not always tactful but always there. Janet’s right. Usama is totally dedicated to this town. Everyone makes mistakes; his are just more visable.”

Planning Commissioner Steve LaMar said, “Usama is a friend of mine. Usama will get snatched up in a heartbeat. Usama executed the vision of the risks you wanted to take.
“There’s a natural tension. If you weren’t all control freaks you wouldn’t all be doing this, except Ernie,” he joked.

“Running this town is no longer a hobby, it’s serious business. You have a manager who can execute the vision and risks you are willing to take.”

Meeth commented how she and others have repeatedly asked for an accounting … we want answers. When I don’t get information I get suspicious. This is about doing the right thing.”

“The town went from the town too tough to govern,” said Esser, “I’ve heard people tonight say how hard it was to get things done. While I still have concerns and would like clarification I support extending his contract.”

Lopez said, “I have an agenda. I had an agenda nine years ago. It was to serve the town with integrity and honesty. We built a water tank by encroaching on someone’s property and I believe that’s illegal … I will have a tough time believing building on someone else’s property is legal.

“We experienced massive water outages last summer. I kept wondering why those things occurred. What did we do to cause that? I was told, ‘Nothing.’”

He said “There are some things that go on in this town … If people talk too loud, they’re on ‘the list.’ Councilwoman Meeth is on ‘the list’ and, after tonight, I will be too.”

Although Brennan stated she appreciated everything that had been said, she said, “Tonight is like a circus.”

Her preference would have been to discuss concerns in an executive session or a retreat but said she would support the town manager.

Francia said, “Everything I was going to say tonight I’m not going to say. Twenty people spoke tonight. This situation has been going on for a while.” He conceded there was nothing he could do that would change the minds of Meeth or Lopez.

Council voted 5-2 to renew Abujbarah’s contract with Meeth and Lopez dissenting.

Photo: Cave Creek Town Manager Usama Abujbarah
Photo by Linda Bentley