One of two candidates for the Atwater city manager’s job dropped out of consideration Monday, saying a series of “conflicts” and “distractions” have surfaced in recent weeks that a “keeping the council from working on the serious issues the city is facing.”
Scott McBride, who has served as interim city manager since January, said he doesn’t want the job anymore. McBride, in a statement to the Sun-Star, said he decided to step away after series of “conflicts” and “distractions” have surfaced in recent weeks.
“I’ve also informed the council that I’m not seeking to stay on as the city manager going forward,” he said during the Atwater City Council meeting on Monday.
He made the announcement publicly minutes after a Modesto man accused McBride of running an “illegal hotel” at the mother-in-law suite at McBride’s home on the outskirts of Atwater.
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In a formal letter to the council, Frank Johnson accused McBride of running a bed and breakfast without permits. He also questioned whether McBride owes the county transient occupancy taxes, which are paid by renters in hotels.
Obviously, my name and picture are on it. I’m not trying to hide it.
Scott McBride, interim city manager, on his rental property
Johnson describes himself as the president of the National Association for the Advancement of All People based in Modesto. The organization appears to have no online presence except for a Facebook page that hasn’t been updated in about six months.
McBride, in the statement to the Sun-Star, said the issued raised by Johnson were “not related” to his decision to step away from consideration for the city manager’s job.
McBride described Johnson’s allegations as “disappointing” and an effort to “smear my character and to attempt to embarrass me professionally.”
The interim city manager said his decision was the result of “too much conflict and too many distractions since they interviewed myself and another candidate at the end of April.”
“I also expressed concern that those distractions are keeping the council away from working on the serious issues the city is facing,” McBride said in the statement.
McBride said there are “close to 60 similar short-term rental businesses in Merced County,” similar to his.
McBride’s suite has been advertised on a series lodging websites from HomeAway.com. The two-bedroom, one-bathroom suite with a pool and spa goes for $145 a night, according to the website.
In the last few days, the advertisement was changed to say it is no longer taking reservations. The home has been advertised since 2013, according to the website.
McBride, who was one of two candidates interviewed for the city manager position, said he’s in contact with the county to see if he owes any taxes, but pushed back at the accusations.
“Obviously, my name and picture are on it,” he said. “I’m not trying to hide it.”
The two-bedroom, one-bathroom suite with a pool and spa goes for $145 a night, according to the website.
He said he reports the income to the Internal Revenue Service every year, adding the county’s code is “outdated.”
The house on Queen Elizabeth Drive is in unincorporated Merced County.
Guest houses, vacation rentals, and bed and breakfasts are not allowed in areas zoned “agriculture residential,” according to Merced County spokesman Mike North. He declined to comment specifically on McBride’s home.
“Generally speaking, we don’t comment on code enforcement issues, if there is one,” he said.
McBride’s exit from the search is the latest in a series of controversies related to Atwater’s next city manager. The former top administrator, Frank Pietro, retired in December.
Residents at a special council meeting in April complained about the perception of wrongdoing after the other candidate, former Ceres police Chief Art de Werk, was seen at a restaurant with three council members. Councilmembers denied discussing city business at the restaurant or violating any open-meetings laws.
Later in the month, the council decided to start the search over, this time using an executive search firm.
Questions also have been raised about de Werk’s relationship with Councilwoman Cindy Vierra, whose husband used to work for de Werk at the Ceres Police Department. Vierra has denied having a personal friendship with de Werk and brushed off criticisms, saying she doesn’t have any conflict of interest.
Full Statement from Scott McBride:
Last evening, as a professional courtesy I let the Atwater City Council know I’m not going to apply for the City Manager position when advertised again. I wanted to provide them with adequate time to consider options for finding another Interim City Manager. My contract as Interim City Manager expires on June 30, 2017. I told the Council that I felt there has been too much conflict and too many distractions since they interviewed myself and another candidate at the end of April. I also expressed concern that those distractions are keeping the Council away from working on the serious issues the City is facing.
The vacation rental business and any code disputes that were aired last night during the public comments portion of the City Council Meeting is a separate issue and were not related to my decision. The issue is not in any way linked to my professional abilities or responsibilities. My family and I will work cooperatively with Merced County to completely resolve any alleged code issues.
There are currently close to 60 similar short term rental businesses in Merced County, not just ours. They are listed on Air BNB and similar sites. In my opinion airing this issue at a public forum was disappointing. I feel that the only intent was to smear my character and to attempt to embarrass me professionally. As a loyal employee with close to 24 years of service I’ve dedicated myself to assisting the citizens of the City of Atwater as well as the City Council. I agreed to step in as the Interim City Manager to assist during these difficult financial times so that actions could be taken immediately to help move towards financial recovery. I believe my hard work and professionalism speak to my personal character, not a separate home business.
As I stated last night we’ve never hidden the business. Our name and photos are on the web site. We also report earnings on our personal taxes. We have a certified public accountant that assists us each year. The second housing unit is on the same property we live. We are very discerning with who rents since they share our yard. The second unit was built with appropriate building and environmental health permits. We also obtained appropriate administrative approvals. It was originally built for my mother in law that passed away after a long fight with pancreatic cancer. The county permit when the unit was initially constructed was for a “granny unit” however in 2007 the State Planning and Zoning Law essentially eliminated granny type units as well as any age – occupancy restrictions. That action made it a conforming second unit.
The County codes have some inconsistencies with state Planning and Zoning laws. The ability to create personal income is one of the stated intents within the state law. In general there is a lack of consistency on regulations for these types of units. Most Cities and Counties don’t have any regulations pertaining to this business type at all. They also lack controls on other “cottage industries”, hobby businesses, and other activities such as Lift and Uber, etc. These are all similar to the short term vacation rental business in that they are peer to peer business models. As this greater county wide community changes and progresses there will be an increasing need to make changes in outdated codes for evolving business models and practices such as these.
I will continue to faithfully fulfill my duties to the City Council of the City of Atwater to the best of my personal abilities. I also hope that the citizens will support them as well as the City Staff as we move towards a new fiscal year and the challenges that remain.