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California

El Segundo fires manager who sought higher taxes on Chevron

A few months after he was hired as El Segundo’s city manager, Doug Willmore learned that his efforts to force Chevron, the town’s oldest employer, to pay higher taxes had made him some enemies.

He found a note on his car reminding him this was a Chevron town. “Beat it,” the note concluded.

Last week, a divided City Council took that advice and fired him, less than 10 months after appointing him to the job.

Willmore said that the council gave no reason for his dismissal but that he felt the council had fired him “in retaliation about Chevron.”

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Willmore is entitled to half his annual salary of $218,000 as severance, if he signs an agreement not to sue. On Tuesday, his attorney, Bradley Gage, said he was about to file a claim against the city, the first step toward a lawsuit.

Late last year, Mayor Eric Busch asked Willmore to examine the acreage tax Chevron paid on its refinery, the largest in the state. Willmore found that for decades Chevron had paid millions of dollars less in taxes than did other refineries in the state.

After taking preliminary steps to place a measure on the ballot to increase Chevron’s tax, supporters didn’t have the four council votes they needed to send it to voters. Instead, the council and Chevron agreed to negotiate.

Rod Spackman, Chevron’s manager of policy, government and public affairs for the L.A. Basin, denied that the oil company was involved in Willmore’s ouster.

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“That kind of suggestion is simply untrue,” he said.

Councilman Carl Jacobson, one of three council members who voted to fire Willmore, said the city manager’s dismissal was not related to Chevron.

Councilman Don Brann, who supported increased taxes on Chevron but voted to get rid of Willmore, said he had other reasons for wanting the administrator fired. Because of the potential lawsuit, he declined to go into details. The Chevron issue, he said, “may have been the final straw” for some of his colleagues.

He gave Willmore credit for attracting businesses to town: “He really had a lot of entrepreneurial ideas I endorse.”

Busch declined to comment because it was a personnel issue.

Willmore’s relations with Chevron got off to a rocky start after he arrived in April from Utah, where he had been chief executive of Salt Lake County.

Willmore told The Times several weeks ago that during their first meeting, he asked Spackman if the company would release deed restrictions on some properties it had sold. He said Spackman told him, “Mind your own business.”

Spackman said that was not true.

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Gage, Willmore’s attorney, said his client was covered under the state’s whistleblower law.

“The evidence seems to indicate he reported wrongdoing and shortly thereafter, they fired him,” Gage said. “There is strong circumstantial evidence of retaliatory intent.”

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com


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