When the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury filed its recent report, its main criticisms were that city manager Tim Ness had assumed too much power and that the city council had not overseen him properly.
Retired City Clerk Dorothy Lyman added her very strong feelings about Ness' power grabs in her August 30, 2005, Letter to the Editor in the Santa Maria Times.
Detailing how the electorate denied the city council's request in 2000 to make the city clerk an appointed position, she goes on to tell the story of the subsequently elected city clerk, Stephanie Swarner, being fired by Ness from her supplemental income position as head of the department of records.
She notes that the city council then appointed Ness as city clerk in Swarner's place, effectively succeeding at what they'd tried to achieve on the ballot in 2000.
When the Recall Our City Council (ROCC) committee complained loudly about Ness' appointment in 2003, Ness was interviewed on local television. He stated that the city clerk position was purely "ceremonial" in nature -- that it wasn't really a very important position for the functioning of the city.
The Tin Soldier disagrees. As Toru Miyoshi stated in his Santa Maria Times commentary of June 18, 2003, "This change of authority [Tin Soldier: from the elected city clerk to Ness] eliminated the principle of checks and balances in our city government and opened the door to the tampering of public records without independent oversight."
In addition to eliminating checks and balances, it also gave enormous power (there's that power word again) to Ness to interfere with citizens exercising their democratic rights. Russ and Pachy Weed's Letter to the Editor in the Santa Maria Times on July 7, 2005, details a case in point.
The Weeds refer to the SM VOTE committee which attempted in 2003 to get a measure on the ballot to restore the mayor's term to two years.
The committee was trying to prevent the repeated appointments to the mayor's office from within the city council which had been happening, effectively denying the citizens their right to elect the mayor of their choice.
The Weeds state, "We failed to acquire the required number of signatures because of the extraordinarily short time frame mandated by the acting city clerk." (emphasis added)
The "acting city clerk" was Ness, "acting" to protect the city council.
No wonder Ness still has his job.
One Tin Soldier