Pismo Beach manager pick has questionable past

November 29, 2012

By KAREN VELIE

James Lewis

Atascadero officials announced Wednesday that Pismo Beach has selected James Lewis,  Atascadero’s assistant city manager, as Pismo Beach’s new city manager.

The announcement comes before the Pismo Beach City Council officially votes to approve Lewis and his contract on Dec. 4. Nevertheless, Atascadero City Manager Wade McKinney said he expects Lewis’s contract will be approved and he will “end his service to Atascadero in mid-February and begin his new assignment shortly thereafter.”

Lewis has served as the assistant city manager and president of the Office of Economic Development since 2004.

During his time with Atascadero, Lewis instructed city staff to allow former North County developer Kelly Gearhart to skip the city’s Planning Department and deal directly with upper-level city employees. This allowed Gearhart to bypass project finalization and avoid more than $200,000 in city fees, several employees and city officials said.

Onetime Atascadero “Person of the Year” Gearhart pleaded not guilty to 16 charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering at his arraignment in August in a Los Angeles federal court. He faces up to 300 years in federal prison if convicted on all charges.

Gearhart’s trial is currently set for Jan. 29. And though the federal officials and Gearhart’s attorney have been discussing a plea agreement in which Gearhart could serve less time for providing information on public officials, he has not signed a plea agreement at this time. His lender, James Miller, agreed to plead guilty to charges of fraud and money laundering in 2011 as part of a plea agreement the court then filed under seal.

In 2008, not long after issues with Gearhart and the city became public, Atascadero city officials announced that the FBI had launched an investigation into their city hall. Four years later it is unknown exactly why the city is under a federal investigation, and city officials such as Mayor Bob Kelley no longer mention the investigation or the allegations against Lewis.

“We are sorry to see Jim go,” Kelley said. “Jim is an aggressive recruiter of businesses and kept good relations with the business community. Pismo Beach is lucky to get him and we wish him luck and success in his new role.”

 


33 Comments

  1. rogerfreberg says:

    Oh, sounds to me like the normal city dealings with big developers… sweet tax deals for development. Nothing new around these parts…. even in San Luis Obispo.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  2. Cicero says:

    Hiring someone with potential baggage is so much easier when elected part time city council members simply depend on complacent staff or hired head hunters. It really is up to the council members to do their own independent homework and back ground checking, especially when they are looking at hiring key managers.

    Oh, here’s a simple idea for new council members, like Pismo’s Eric Howell. Before moving forward to ratify a new manager pick, contact an investigative journalist on the Cal Coast News Team to find out if there are reasons to keep looking. Competent and Honest is preferable in City Government. Don’t get fooled into picking the folks billed as the Best and the Brightest. Shiny objects tend to break easily, and leave sharp edges.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  3. Nancimeek says:

    If I worked for a city under FBI IRS investigation I’d change jobs too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1

    • obispan says:

      If I applied for and were offered a better job I’d change jobs too.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  4. r0y says:

    Yeah, why didn’t they go down to the LA area or up to the bay area and offer a massive increase in salary package to attract someone like SLO did.

    Guess we can get our corrupt officials locally and on the cheap (comparatively speaking).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 1

  5. Nancimeek says:

    Jim Lewis exits a position with a city under investigation and some people wonder why? It’s kind of obvious isn’t it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 2

    • MaryMalone says:

      What I don’t understand is why Pismo Beach would want to take Atascadero’s sloppy leavings.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 2

      • obispan says:

        Good question. Maybe they have decided your assumptions are without merit. So out of 80 applicants Pismo Beach has decided to hire the most corrupt?

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

    • obispan says:

      Of course it’s obvious why he’s exiting the position, a big promotion and a big raise! Your comment makes no sense whatsoever.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 9

      • Nancimeek says:

        Seriously? If you worked for a city under investigation and had an opportunity to take a job in another town wouldn’t you?

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

        • obispan says:

          Sounds like you’ve never had the opportunity to voluntarily leave a job for a better position. I cannot get how he is expected to turn down an opportunity for advancement in order to prove that he did nothing wrong at his current job.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

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