Posted on April 22, 2019
Over the objections of some tenants who had requested a national search to fill the prominent position, the board that oversees Ventura Harbor chose a new leader from within.
During a special meeting Thursday, Ventura Port District commissioners voted 4-1 to name Brian Pendleton the next general manager. He will succeed Oscar Peña, whose contract expires at the end of April.
Commissioners also voted 5-0 to name Peña, who has been general manager since 1999, business operations manager.
Pendleton joined the district in 2015 as its business operations manager and became deputy general manager in late 2017. That’s around the time a succession plan was put into place by commissioners, two of whom have since left.
The succession plan wasn’t formalized, and many involved with the harbor, including residents and business owners, had no idea it was in motion, commissioners acknowledged during the meeting.
Over recent months, several of them had asked commissioners to launch a nationwide recruitment.
Samuel Sadove, master tenant for what now includes the Ventura Harbor Marina and Yacht Yard, said the process had not been transparent. For the “betterment of the harbor,” as well as in fairness to Pendleton, he said, there should be a national search.
No hidden agenda
Commissioner Brian Brennan, who joined the board in 2016, said it was no secret or surprise Pendleton had been moving toward the head position. To go back on that sent the wrong message to other staff and wasn’t a way to hang on to good employees.
“You don’t build loyalty that way,” Brennan said.
The organization was fortunate to have Pendleton, who has helped harbor businesses grow and been a strong advocate for the district, he said.
“We’ll have to disagree about process but agree on an individual,” Brennan said.
Commissioner Jean Getchell, who rejoined the board last year, was bothered by the process, which she said lacked a true succession plan with transparency.
“Unfortunately, this commission fumbled the ball,” she said.
Getchell also felt there was no reason to rush the process.
When Peña was appointed general manager in 1999, it’s true it was done quickly and without a recruitment. But that’s because the City Council basically said get rid of the general manager or it would remove the commission, recalled Getchell, who at the time was on board.
“No such compelling circumstances exist today,” she said.
“For those reasons I have to support open recruitment. My issue was procedural,” she said.
The board majority, though, felt strongly Pendleton was the best candidate and over nearly four years had proven himself an as effective leader.
Commissioner Ev Ashworth said he had particularly showed finesse in dealing with the harbor’s dredging operation, a lifeblood to the organization. It wasn’t a standard recruitment but “we’re not a traditional kind of business,” he said.
Peña will stay on as an employee of the port, though now in the role of business operations manager. He would have transitioned to a consultant position were it not for state retirement rules, board chair Chris Stephens said.
Those rules specify California Public Employees’ Retirement System members cannot retire and begin drawing a pension and collect an additional consulting salary, a practice known as “double dipping.”
To Ashworth, the most important part of having Peña stay on is to deal with litigation the port is involved in.
As part of the motion, commissioners specified they wanted a goal-setting session within six months that included input by tenants, residents and other members of the public. They also directed a “360 leadership evaluation” be done within that time.
The best choice … but not to everyone
Peña also spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, urging commissioners to appoint Pendleton. He said Pendleton was hired following a vigorous recruitment and was by far the most qualified candidate.
After the meeting, Peña said Pendleton had made his life easier as soon as he started.
“I don’t know how I managed without him,” he said.
For his part, Pendleton was looking forward to continuing on several important and exciting projects. That includes repainting all nine buildings in the harbor village, installing new, clearer signage and putting in a new dock system at a cost of $4.6 million to $4.7 million.
“I’m excited to continue my tenure here with the port district…He’s leaving us in good shape,” said Pendleton, referring to Peña.
Before coming to the harbor, Pendleton worked for the cities of Ventura, Oxnard and Glendale, among others. For years he led redevelopment projects, including turning the Esplanade from a closed- to an open-air mall, he said.
Some who had hoped for a search left the meeting disappointed.
Lynn Mikelatos, who with her husband owns and operates The Greek and Margarita Villa restaurants, said: “They made a decision a long time ago.”
And if there had been a transition plan, she had not been aware of it.
Immediately after the meeting, Sadove handed the board a letter and provided a copy to The Star. In the letter, Sadove said he believes the board violated the state’s open-meeting laws because in closed session the board collectively decided to hire Pendleton and Peña and then not reported out in public.
Also, there were no copies of the contract or salary, he wrote.
Officials said they planned to negotiate the salary and other compensation and benefits and return with that contract to the full board.