Leon Worden

Caravalho: Ambassador to Indonesia

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, February 6, 2002

eorge Caravalho picked an interesting time to go to Indonesia — and not just because it's a Muslim country a stone's throw from the southern Philippines, where the Abu Sayyaf terrorists have been kidnapping and killing Americans.
    Rather, the timing is interesting because of what he missed here at home.
    On Jan. 23, Santa Clarita's controversial city manager was scheduled to be deposed by a group of attorneys in one of several Porta Bella lawsuits. Caravalho no-showed for the deposition. The city attorney said it would be “wasteful of his time” and would interfere with his “many obligations and activities” as city manager. Besides, the city was about to file an objection in court, to get Caravalho out of testifying.
    This particular lawsuit was filed by some ordinary — maybe I should say extraordinary — community-minded citizens who want to make sure the city and the developer follow the law before building homes on the dangerous toxic property.
    The developer is trying to force the city into letting it build the homes in phases, without first clearing the land of 275 different contaminants left behind after decades of explosives manufacturing. The company contends that certain city staff members said it would be OK for them to do that — contrary to City Council policy.
    Who at City Hall said what to whom, and when? It's a critical question, because the wrong answer could jeopardize the health and safety of everyone who lives here. And it's something only a lawsuit can bring out — maybe.
    The city manager's too busy with his “many obligations”? Like packing his bags?
    Curious, too, is the trip itself.
    The City Council said after 9-11, when Caravalho initially planned to go, that staff members couldn't visit Indonesia on city time until the U.S. State Department lifts its travel warnings. Imagine the liability if something happened.
    So Caravalho went on Jan. 24 anyway, and took Rick Putnam and Jill Fosselman with him. Putnam is the soon-to-retire deputy city manager, and Fosselman is the staff member in charge of the city's solid waste franchises.
    The point of the trip, said spokesman Jason Smisko, was to participate in an International Resource Cities program organized by the International City-County Management Association and US AID, the international development agency. The program provides an opportunity for the leaders of first-world cities to share their expertise with the leaders of third-world cities on a variety of issues such as transportation, fiscal management, economic development and solid waste handling.
    That's right. Transportation advice, from city officials who passed on a badly needed cross-town road 10 years ago. Fiscal management, where the city manager says we've got shortfalls. Economic development, where a corporate landowner plans most of the industrial growth. And solid waste handling. Well.
    Back at the ranch, the City Council last year ordered an audit to determine whether Caravalho, Fosselman and company mishandled the city's solid waste franchises — and it can't be good when the city's biggest trash hauler refuses to hand over the requested information.
    Sure, the State Department is still warning U.S. citizens to “defer all non-essential travel to Indonesia,” but this was an essential junket that served a noble cause. Sure, it defied council orders, but those don't often mean much. And you, the taxpayer of Santa Clarita, almost got off scot-free. Almost. You did pay for staff time — salary for Caravalho, Putnam and Fosselman while they were abroad. The ICMA and US AID picked up the airfare.
    The trio's back now. They were scheduled to arrive home yesterday, safe and sound, refreshed and ready to put their expertise to work for us.
    Leon Worden is The Signal's city editor.

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