Dissent in the Desert
By Tommy A. Purvis
The big redevelopment dreams that Town Manager Mark Nuiami has for Yucca Valley are catching up with the town’s dwindling reserves. But even worse things could be on the horizon for the polarizing figure that has caught the ire of a fiscally conservative watchdog group. Two of his hand-picked minions on the town council—Robert Lombardo and George Huntington—are now subject to an increasingly contentious recall effort in this dusty Morongo Basin town.
The pair that was elected last fall after being the only names on the ballot joined the Nuiami-influenced Dawn Rowe and Merle Able on the council. Together the influential voting bloc is affectionately known as the Sky Harbor Four to the muckraking blog Cactus Thorns (“Irreverent Barbs on Desert Politics”). The blog credits the name of the influential group of “gullible newbies” on the town council for all being from the high-income part of town.
“The town manager responds to policy directions from the town council,” Deputy Town Clerk Lesley Copeland told the Weekly when she was asked about the recall effort and the relationship that Lombardo and Huntington have with Nuiami.
The small town manager has an annual contract worth nearly $300,000. The perks include a cafeteria benefit for $1,050 per month, along with a $600 monthly vehicle allowance. The town council can void his contract with a simple majority vote. Concerned Citizens, the group behind the recall effort are intent on replacing Lombardo and Huntington “to provide a majority which could begin to change town policy and actions for the better.”
Currently the lone voice of dissent on the small town dais comes from Bob Leone. The community-backed council member has an open-door policy with his constituents. He won a special election in the spring by soundly defeating the president of the Yucca Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Jennifer Collins, who also lives in Sky Harbor, has been branded as being the mouthpiece for the Nuiami agenda. She was the head of a committee that supported a failed measure to raise the sales tax in Yucca Valley—a measure that critics allege would have been used to fund pet projects. After Collins’ election defeat, the summer concert series and swimming lessons for children were canceled—with the support of the Sky Harbor Four—citing budget restrictions.
Nuiami—the former mayor of Fontana who also simultaneously served as the former assistant city manager of Colton until he left for the his current job three years ago—is still feeling the sting of being the so-called brainchild behind a controversial one-cent sales tax known as Measure U. The tax increase that was projected to generate $100 million for the Yucca Valley budget over the next 30 years by influential IE economist John Husing was improbably defeated last fall.
The No on Measure U group was able to win despite being outspent 30 to 1 by Nuiami-influenced special interests. The town manager told the residents that the tax increase was necessary to build a wastewater treatment plant. The self-described group known as the “Truth Posse” instead told voters that all of the revenues from Measure U will go directly into the town’s general fund to be used for “funding unnecessary projects, hiring expensive out-of-town consultants and raising staff salaries.”
For its effort the group won the Outstanding Whistle Blower award, an award from Tax Fighters United and another from a group known as Boot out the RINOs (Republicans in Name Only). Many of these same activists are mobilizing to support the recall effort. As a result Nuiami’s days as the Yucca Valley town manager may be numbered.