Mario Saucedo has resigned his position on the San Bernardino County Housing Authority, partially attenuating accusations that he is violating a provision of Government Code Section 1099 relating to conflict of official duties.
Saucedo, in addition to having served as the county housing authority chairman, is a city of Redlands employee, the chairman of the North Redlands Visioning Committee and the Redlands agency director for the San Bernardino Public Employees Association.
Stephen W. Rogers, a Redlands resident, has long contended that there is an inherent conflict in Saucedo’s multiple roles. Rogers took the matter up with the district attorney’s office, but no action was ever taken to forcefully remove Saucedo or prosecute him criminally or civilly.
No finding by the district attorney clearing Saucedo was ever made, however. His resignation last month renders at least a portion of Rogers’ contention moot. Rogers assertion that a conflict still exists because Saucedo’s roles as a city employee, union official and city committee member still stand, however.
Rogers made inquiries with Redlands city attorney Dan McHugh with regard to Saucedo serving in the multiple roles that provide him with oversight relating to city policy in addition to his request for the district attorney’s office’s public integrity unit to look into the matter.
In a letter dated August 4, 2009 to McHugh obtained by the Sentinel, Rogers wrote, “It has come to my attention that Mr. Mario Saucedo has an apparent conflict of interest involving the subject entity and any Housing Authority of the County of San Bernardino developments being processed or permitted in the city of Redlands, his current employer. I have approached the county of San Bernardino chief executive officer’s staff about the situation and have been informed to address my concerns to the DA’s public integrity unit. Before I was to pursue such a course of action, I will be contacting the Fair Political Practices Commission about the situation, but was also informed by the county’s Third District staff that I should bring this matter to the attention of the Redlands city council.”
Of consequence to the circumstance relating to Saucedo, McHugh said, is the status of the North Redlands Visioning Committee, which has been tasked by the city to make recommendations with regard to the development of the area. According to a city of Redlands document put out in March 2006, “The North Redlands Visioning Committee is dedicated to working collaboratively with government, education, business, community and faith-based organizations to enhance the quality of life for all. We are a diverse group committed to progress through responsible action. We strive to promote awareness, unity, respect, and integrity while preserving our heritage and the prosperity of our community.”
Rogers said it is “my contention that the North Redlands Visioning Committee is a city organization instead of a community organization. Dan McHugh, the Redlands city attorney, told me he would look into the creation and operation of the committee and if it qualified as a ‘project area committee’ as required under California Community Redevelopment Law. He never got back to me. When I approached the city’s public information officer, Carl Baker, about never receiving a response from the city attorney, he turned the question into a public records request.”
The document generated as a result of the inquiry, passed through Baker, was a letter from the office of the Redlands city attorney dated February 9, 2010 signed by legal secretary Sheri Sebastian. The letter states, “This is a follow up to the city’s letter to you regarding your California Public Records Act requesting ‘a record of the origination of the NRVC [North Redlands Visioning Committee] and proof that they [sic] were appropriately created as a project area committee.’ The city has reviewed its records and has determined there are no records responsive to your request.”
Rogers told the Sentinel, “I have seen an explanation in the North Redlands Revitalization Plan and final program environmental impact report response to comments section where the city and its consultants contend that the formation of a ‘project area committee’ was abandoned in favor of the North Redlands Visioning Committee, which was, and has been in existence for some time, under Redlands city employee Mario Saucedo’s oversight.”
Rogers said he believes that Saucedo, as a city employee, is representing the views of city staff on the visioning committee as opposed to those of residents and landowners and therefore, where there is a conflict or difference between what staff and what residents desire, the residents are being short changed. “The real problem I’m having with the situation is that city staff is ‘stacking the deck’ against the residents’ position or positions by allowing a city employee to lobby in favor of projects. I regularly attend the North Redlands Visioning Committee meetings and have done so ever since the North Redlands Revitalization Plan was noticed to the residents. This ‘committee’ is really supposed to be a community based organization per redevelopment law, but it is actually a city formed committee. Apparently city manager Nabar Martinez is able to run interference with this arrangement and have Saucedo put on his community activist hat to sway public opinion as desired. Mr. Saucedo, as I understand it, is not just doing the city manager’s bidding with the North Redlands folks, but also is the representative for the employee association negotiations with the city. I believe he is compromising the interests of the employees’ group, as well as the interests of the proud residents on the north side of town, by being allowed to perform in these roles with the many conflicting interests that are at stake. Mr. Saucedo on occasion has belittled public input and advocated only the city proposals. I have serious concerns that the redevelopment agency and the North Redlands Visioning Committee will not be able to implement successful programs for the North Redlands Redevelopment Plan if they continue to discount and discredit public input, whenever the concerns are opposed to the city manager’s directives to Mr. Saucedo. I am extremely disenchanted by how the city is playing the Northside residents for fools by having such a committee, headed by a city employee, supposedly representing our interests. This committee is no longer a community based organization but a city based organization and the community has been disenfranchised. This ongoing inappropriate situation is only benefitting city management and not the employees’ group or the residents of North Redlands,” Rogers said.
Rogers said he believes that Redlands city manager Nabar Martinez purposefully placed Saucedo on the North Redlands Visioning Committee as a means of overwhelming and subjugating the viewpoints of members of the community to the designs and preferred direction of city staff. According to Rogers, Saucedo’s participation on the North Redlands Visioning Committee might be unlawful on other grounds beyond it being a conflict of interest or incompatibility of office or responsibilities.
“I was informed by an attendee at a North Redlands Visioning Committee meeting that Mario Saucedo does not reside or have a business interest within the North Redlands Revitalization Project (NRRP) redevelopment area boundary,” he said.
Saucedo told the Sentinel last year that he did not believe any significant conflict between any of his various functions existed.
“All three different agencies and organizations are very separate, although they have some commonality,” Saucedo said. “I have consulted with each of the organizations and all told me there is no conflict of interest. I do not know what credibility can be established with those allegations to even justify continuing this conversation.”
As to the accusation that in his role as the chairman of the North Redlands Visioning Committee he had effectively stifled the input of the community in favor of propounding the views of city manager Nabar Martinez and other senior municipal administrators, Saucedo stated, “My action within the scope of my employment is separate from what I am doing with each of these community organizations. I am just a line employee with the city and I don’t have a supervisory role. I keep my job and my community activism separate.”
Martinez said he had not placed Saucedo onto the North Redlands Visioning Committee as a pro-city management plant to do his bidding.
“That committee was created long before I was hired as city manager,” Martinez said. “I came to work in Redlands in April of 07 and he [Saucedo] was put on there before that, so unless I can be attributed with powers I don’t possess, I had nothing to do with that.”
Redlands city attorney Dan McHugh told the Sentinel “There is no incompatibility of office to our knowledge because Mr. Saucedo does not hold two appointive offices.”
The North Redlands Visioning Committee does not qualify as a municipal entity, McHugh said.
“That [the visioning committee is not a committee of the city,” McHugh said. “It is a group of residents that have organized themselves. It is a matter he has involved himself in not as an employee. It is done on his own time with a committee or commission that has no relationship to the city.”