FILLMORE: City Hall Officials Share Embarrassment : Sex Charges Create Wan Atmosphere in Fillmore

Times Staff Writer

As Fillmore gears up to celebrate its centennial this weekend, the atmosphere in this poor, agricultural city 20 miles east of Ventura is anything but festive.

Allegations that the recently hired city manager sexually harassed three women employees, including the city clerk, have plunged city government into a tailspin at a time when its leaders already face turbulence in managing what could be the most explosive growth in the city's history.

Stan Greene, the 52-year-old city manager accused by the women, has refused comment because of pending litigation. City Clerk Noreen Withers, accounting clerk Barbara Adams and planning secretary Linda Nash have each filed a $500,000 claim against Fillmore and Greene but have refused to discuss the case in detail because the claims are pending.

Regardless of how the case is resolved, some civic leaders fear that the issue has already tarnished Fillmore's less-than-glamorous reputation and paralyzed its city government.

"It's harming the city's ability to run itself," said Councilman Roger Campbell. "New projects, new directions . . . have pretty much come to a screeching halt, and that's too bad."

Mud-Slinging Deplored

Others say they are troubled by the mud-slinging that the accusations have provoked at City Hall and by what they call inflammatory coverage in the local newspaper.

"For years we were a small quiet city, and we managed ourselves with a certain dignity. Unfortunately, there's a circus atmosphere now," said Vance Johnson, a member of the Fillmore Planning Commission. The harassment scandal comes at a time when Fillmore is on the brink of positioning itself as a bedroom community for the San Fernando Valley.

After almost a decade of 2% annual growth, Fillmore's housing market is poised to shoot up 35% in the next few years, with more than 1,500 homes either planned or under construction, according to City Planner Mitchel R. Stone.

The city is also waiting to see if the Federal Aviation Administration approves a $200,000 grant to study the feasibility of building an industrial airport on the edge of the Santa Clara River. Businesses would cluster in an industrial park near the runways, and planes could almost taxi up to their front doors, Campbell said.

Then there's the proposal submitted last week to build a restaurant and hotel complex off Highway 126, including a Nevada-style poker casino similar to those in southeast Los Angeles County and Gardena.

City Income Projected

Backers of the proposed casino maintain that the club could generate $2 million to $5 million annually for Fillmore--more than twice the city's current annual budget, according to Mayor Gary Creagle.

Creagle said he will support the project, and an ordinance allowing gambling there, if it can generate those revenues.

The mayor's views are opposed by Councilman Campbell, who said he fears the card club would bring in undesirable elements and sabotage Fillmore's efforts to promote itself as a desirable place to live.

The gambling proposal is expected to be a hot topic this fall, when Campbell, Creagle and City Councilman Pat Quinn come up for reelection, as does City Clerk Withers.

Predictably, the accusations against Greene also are likely to spur heated campaign debate.

Already, the Fillmore Herald, the city's weekly newspaper, has jumped into the fray.

"This week we saw the first major move by the 'Old Guard' inside City Hall and their supporters to oust Greene," observed owner and publisher Doug Huff in an editorial about the harassment accusations. "It may also be the opening salvo in this fall's election campaigns."

All three women resent the suggestion that their charges were brought to serve their personal ends.

"We're not feminists, and we're not Holy Rollers. We were violated, and we were wronged," said Nash, the planning secretary. She added that she has lost nine pounds and finds it stressful and uncomfortable to come to work since she went public with the charges in late June.

One city employee who asked not to be identified said the 14 City Hall employees are demoralized and that local government is "in danger of utter collapse."

Others said they go on with daily work, despite the obvious tensions. Everyone involved in the accusations is still working, including Withers, who deals daily with Greene in her joint position as city clerk and secretary to the city manager.

The tension spiralled several weeks ago when Mayor Creagle charged Campbell with a breach of ethics for withholding information about the alleged harassment before Greene was hired as permanent city manager.

"Roger had knowledge of this before we signed the man's contract. If we had known of the charges . . . we probably wouldn't have signed the contract until we got to the bottom of it," said Creagle, who estimates that Fillmore has already spent $20,000 on legal fees.

Hired on March 23

Greene was hired as interim city manager March 23, when City Manager James Rupp left to go into private practice, and he soon earned the council's praise for his hard work. Campbell said he asked Withers' opinion of Greene in early May, and she told him reluctantly about Greene's alleged advances but asked that he keep the matter confidential because she thought the harassment had stopped.

Despite what he called "moral reservations," Campbell agreed because "I didn't see it would serve anyone's best interest to bring it up and impugn the man's character for what I thought at the time was an honest mistake."

On June 7, Greene signed a $63,500 annual contract as city manager and became the highest paid official in Fillmore's history. City Council members said they voted unanimously to hire him without interviewing the other 73 applicants because they were impressed by his work.

Greene's 2 1/2-year contract prohibits termination except in case of court conviction for crimes of moral turpitude, Creagle said.

This makes Fillmore liable for more than $200,000 if it dismisses Greene for anything but a criminal conviction, a heavy budget drain on a city where the average annual per capita income of $6,054 is the lowest in Ventura County.

Lives in Oxnard

The City Council also agreed that Greene could live in Oxnard, where he owns a home, making him the first city manager not to live in Fillmore. Campbell said some constituents complained about the arrangement and conceded he would have preferred that Greene live in Fillmore.

On June 17, less than a month after he was hired permanently, Greene allegedly resumed his advances to Withers. She notified Campbell, who immediately went to the city's labor attorney.

"I was concerned that waiting longer would cause us to have more liability," Campbell said.

The City Council learned of the charges at its June 21 meeting, and Campbell said that by June 22, the "news was out on the street."

All three women say that publicity from the complaints has embarrassed them and caused them emotional and physical stress. But they say they would make the same decision again to speak out against a supervisor whom they allege intimidated them. They say a fourth woman among nine who work at City Hall also was harassed by Greene but decided against filing a claim.

'Verbal and Physical'

The complaint that Withers filed with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleges that Greene's harassment began in April and "was of a verbal and physical nature." Withers also said Greene retaliated when she rejected his advances by writing a negative memo about her lunch schedule.

Adams' complaint alleges that Greene "placed his hands on my arms and shoulders and massaged them. This harassment created a hostile and intimidating work environment."

Nash, the planning secretary, said Greene "put his hands on me." She called the touching "inappropriate" and said it shocked her, explaining: "I don't even know the guy; I don't work in the same building with him, and I've said 10 words to him since he started."

Meanwhile, Campbell has said he thinks the women are telling the truth. The case has also elicited sympathy from many in Fillmore who view Greene as an outsider.

"If you've lived in this town as long as I have, you know the type of women they are and that they have to be telling the truth," said Kim Murphy, a clerk at the Fillmore Flower Shop.

12-Year City Resident

Withers, a 48-year-old grandmother, is married to a sheriff's deputy and has lived in Fillmore for 12 years. She has been city clerk for seven years.

"I found her to be professional," said Rupp, the former city manager who worked with Withers for 2 1/2 years.

Greene, too, has his supporters among past associates.

Before serving as Fillmore city manager, he did municipal consulting for several years. In 1987, he was interim city manager in Sanger, near Fresno. From 1981 to 1986, he served as assistant city manager in Oxnard, where David Mora, Oxnard's city manager, recalls him as a man with a strong personality who solved problems quickly and got along well with people.

Greene was deputy county administrative officer in Fresno between 1972 and 1981. Before that, he was executive director of the county's Local Agency Formation Commission.

Leola Trevier, a LAFCO secretary, said Greene "never bothered me and I never heard of him bothering anyone else. He was busy. If you did your work right you got along with him all right."

The same was true in Sanger, according to city officials there.

Said to Play Favorites

But an Oxnard administrator, who did not want to be identified, said Greene played favorites and while serving as Oxnard's assistant city manager intimidated and frightened people. The administrator also recalled instances of inappropriate touching.

"He was constantly patting women on the arm or on the back. He was really touchy. Once, before a business meeting, he went up to a very attractive younger woman and started giving her a back rub. Everyone felt uncomfortable--I know I did--and her response indicated to me that she was uncomfortable too," the administrator said.

Greene declined to comment.

He said he is waiting for "due process." Fillmore has asked an administrative-law judge to hear the case and draft an opinion, which is strictly advisory, before deciding whether to take action on the complaints. That hearing will probably be scheduled for November.

The women have also filed complaints with their union, Operating Engineers Local 501, and with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which is investigating the charges, said that agency's district administrator, Ted Herzberg.

Meanwhile, the three women who allege sexual impropriety have criticized the city for foot-dragging. But council members say they have to tread cautiously.

"This thing is going to be done in a slow, methodical way so everyone's rights are protected," Creagle said.

For some Fillmore residents, it will be too little, too late.

Said Murphy, of the Fillmore Flower Shop: "We're the butt of all the jokes in Ventura County, and this just makes it worse."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
63°