Rachel Reeves

Redondo Beach City Treasurer Ernie O’Dell resigns after 18 years

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Ernie O’Dell stands at his desk at City Hall after packing up his office. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan

Ernie O’Dell stands at his desk at City Hall after packing up his office. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan

Making what he has called the “hardest decision” of his 69 years, City Treasurer Ernie O’Dell this week vacated the office he has occupied for nearly 18 years.

In March of last year he was elected unopposed to a fifth term expiring in 2015, but on Dec. 4, O’Dell handed in a letter of resignation that explains “a number of issues have come up recently.”

O’Dell is confident his untimely resignation will not necessitate a $160,000 special election even though his position cannot be listed on the March 2013 ballot. He envisions the March 5 elections ending in a runoff, at which time he believes voters will be able to elect a new treasurer at no additional cost to the city.

Thomas Gaian was at Tuesday night’s council meeting sworn in as temporary Acting City Treasurer until voters can elect O’Dell’s replacement, either during a runoff or a special election on May 14.

O’Dell had recommended longtime Deputy City Treasurer Frank Rowlen to fill in for him, but the interim position calls for a Redondo resident. Rowlen resides in Torrance.

Gaian was Mayor Mike Gin’s pick on account of his background in finance and political disinterest. Gaian, of District 1, has worked as a public servant for the City of Redondo Beach and held senior positions at multiple brokerage firms, including Kemper Capital Markets and Bateman Eichler Hill Richards. Presently he owns Porter’s Neck Group, a company specializing in securities trading and consulting.

Tuesday night, O’Dell apologized to the council for resigning mid-term.

“I was hopeful it would be the least inconvenient and least costly to the city and there were a lot of different factors involved in this that most of you don’t really know the full extent of,” he said.

Councilman Bill Brand thanked O’Dell for his service, conceding that while the “timing could have been better… things happen in life that don’t coincide with election cycles.”

The City Clerk will be taking nominations for City Treasurer from Jan. 22 for a period of four weeks.

O’Dell says that while it was “painful” to resign, he is financially secure enough to step down from the public service while he is “still young enough to enjoy retirement.”

“The fact that I’ve been able to put several million into the city’s coffers in terms of actions I took – I feel very good about that. I’m leaving the city with a clear mind and conscience as far as having done my job,” he said.

O’Dell packed his office into a series of boxes on Monday, leaving behind four bare walls peppered with nails that once anchored dozens of plaques.

He speaks fondly of the plaques that remind him of high points he hit in nearly two decades of managing the city’s treasury.

There are plaques commemorating the year he spent as president of the Association of Public Treasurers of the United States and Canada (APTUSC), his time as board member of the National Treasurers’ Association and as president of the North Redondo Beach Business Association, and his 30 years as a Rotarian.

His most treasured is the tribute to his presidency of the APTUSC, which he considers the “pinnacle” of his career. Rowlen said that by attaining the honor O’Dell heightened the international profile of the Redondo Beach treasury.

With his newfound free time O’Dell intends to immerse himself in his art, a passion that fell by the wayside during the years he spent managing the city’s finances.

Last year, O’Dell ended a 40-year creative hiatus when he set to work painting a portrait of his late friend, former Hermosa Beach City Treasurer John Workman. He proceeded to create dozens more paintings, which he has carefully photographed and preserved in a thick bound black book.

He thumbs through his portfolio with tenderness and speaks eagerly about his landscapes, seascapes and abstracts, pointing out subtle shadows and explaining how he uses a toothbrush to paint stars. This, he says, is the next chapter of his life.

As a boy growing up in the South Bay, O’Dell drew cars fervently, and eventually earned a degree in automobile design from Art Center College of Design.

After spending three years as a helicopter crew chief in the United States Army, he landed a job as an illustrator for North American Aviation. From there he moved to a position supervising the art department at Hughes Aircraft Co, which afforded him eight years of designing manuals and drawing F-14s. O’Dell pursued several other interests, gaining a certificate in behavioral science from the University of California Los Angeles, a real estate license, and eventually a bar on the Redondo Pier.

As owner of the seaside tavern Starboard Attitude, he was invited to join the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce. Within that organization he moved through the ranks, from treasurer to secretary to president-elect and eventually to executive director, a position he held from 1985 to 1995. The transition to treasurer, he said, was a natural one.

“I started to get really active in the community. I got to know people at City Hall and when the [treasurer] job came up I went for it,” he said.

O’Dell won that election and the four following. Two actions of which he is particularly proud are the institution of the transient occupancy tax – a tax he says replaced a series of “onerous” and “ludicrous” rules and which he estimates saves the city $200,000 per annum – and negotiation with AES that ended in the company paying a full property tax.

Those are accomplishments he treasures, but O’Dell says he is ready to move on. At this juncture, O’Dell explained in his resignation letter, it is not “in the best interests of my family and I to continue to serve out the remaining two years” of his term.

“I’m ready to enjoy the fruits of 56 years of working,” he said. “Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life.” ER

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