Controversies Over City Manager Money Not New in San Juan Capistrano

Last week, San Juan Capistrano’s City Council defended the fact that City Manager Joe Tait collects two salaries, one for his role as city manager and the other as utilities director, totaling out at $324,000 annually.

The revelation came some time after a city manager compensation report commissioned by Laguna Hills City Council candidate Barbara Kogerman missed Tait’s second salary because the writers of the report didn’t specifically ask for compensation the city manager receives for other positions he might hold in the city.

Sweet deals for the city manager should be nothing new to those who have been following San Juan Capistrano government since the early 1990s.

In January, 1991, the Los Angeles Times reported that then City Manager Stephen Julian was tapping the city for personal loans, some at 0 percent interest.

According to the Times, Julian squeezed the city for five loans totaling $398,235. The first loan, for $250,000, was to help Julian buy a home in the city. After that, Julian managed to coax city leaders into granting him loan extensions based on oral agreements, as well as additional loans at 0 percent interest. He even sold the home back to the city for $72,500 more than he bought it for.

Perhaps one of the most favorable terms of the loans, however, was a stipulation that Julian would have been freed from his debts should he have been terminated.

Julian’s manipulation of the city’s finances were also the subject of a critical Times editorial.  The Times didn’t pull any punches, and said, “No city, whatever its size, can afford to let its guard down against clandestine manipulations that can favor inside players who take advantage of the system.”

City leaders today say the current city manager — rather than getting a sweetheart deal from the city — is actually saving the city $160,000 by combining the two positions into one contract amount.