County Transportation Agency Board Appoints New Executive Director

The board of directors of San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG) at its March 7 meeting named Dr. Raymond W. Wolfe as the new executive director of the agency.   Dr. Wolfe has been the District 8 director of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), which encompasses  Riverside and San Bernardino counties.  He will succeed Interim Executive Director Ty Schuiling, who has been serving in that capacity since Deborah Barmack retired as SANBAG executive director in August 2011.
SANBAG is a council of governments that serves as the transportation agency for the county and its 24 incorporated cities.  The 29-member board of directors is composed of elected officials representing each of the 24 cities, along with all five  members of the county board of supervisors.
While at Caltrans, Dr. Wolfe worked with both regional transportation and local resource agencies on the regional highway network  and was the liaison to the statewide Caltrans director regarding local issues, achievements, and opportunities.  He has been serving as an ex-officio member of the SANBAG Board since 2008, representing Caltrans on county and regional issues.
Dr. Wolfe began his career with Caltrans in 1991 as a transportation engineer.  In 1998, he was promoted to senior bridge engineer.  In 2001, he took on the responsibility of opening a new bridge design office in Southern California as a supervising bridge engineer.  He managed the structure design implementation efforts related to accelerated bridge construction.  Dr. Wolfe was appointed as the District 8 director effective October 1, 2008.
Dr. Wolfe received his doctorate in civil engineering from the University of Southern California, a master of science degree in civil engineering from the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, and a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California.  He is a registered civil engineer and a registered mechanical engineer in the state of California.
“Dr. Wolfe’s experience with Caltrans and the SANBAG Board has given him the foundation upon which to begin this important endeavor at SANBAG,” stated SANBAG President Larry McCallon, who is also the mayor of Highland.   “He has broad knowledge and expertise in transportation, is familiar with regional and local issues, and has worked effectively with local partners.  He has also been actively involved at the national level through the Transportation Research Board and the Strategic Highway Research Program.”
SANBAG’s current Fiscal Year 2011-2012 budget is $716 Million.  Funds are used to assist in development of regional transportation policies, plan, design, and build freeway improvements, bridges, and railroad crossings, operate and expand commuter rail and transit services countywide, manage air quality programs and freeway service patrol, implement alternative fuel and energy programs, and advocate for countywide interests at state and federal levels.
Wolfe will assume his new position effective April 9, 2012.

Montclair To Lay Off Eleven Employees In Response To RDA End

The city of Montclair is on the verge of laying off 11 current full time employees, a move brought on by the state of California’s elimination of municipal redevelopment agencies. According to Montclair city manager Edward Starr, the cost to the city of employing personnel wholly or partially devoted to the city’s redevelopment function was $1.3 million. Expenditures from the redevelopment agency were covering $1 million of that cost. Starr has indicated that with the elimination of redevelopment funding, including pass-through money from the state and money generated as a consequence of property tax arrangements to fund programs targeting the elimination of blight within city limits, the city can no longer sustain the positions.
The city has yet to publicly delineate precisely which positions will be cut, pending notification of the employees themselves.
In addition to the 11 yet existing employees, the city will eliminate nine other currently unfilled positions.
The redevelopment agency directly employed four full-time employees whose duties consisted exclusively of work related to redevelopment. It appears they will receive pink notices. Seven other employees from other departments whose work crossed over into redevelopment-related assignments will also lose their jobs. It is unclear whether two employees of the city’s youth center who received layoff notices last week are among the 11 positions to be eliminated or if those represent a different round of layoffs.
Starr, who derived the layoff list in conjunction with the city’s department heads, has not publicly disclosed who is on the list. Sharon Agajanian, Starr’s executive secretary, told the Sentinel that as of Wednesday, the soon-to-be-let-go employees had not yet been informed officially of their fate. The positions are to be eliminated at the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Citing Improprieties, State Ends County Superintendant’s Oversight Of Child Care Program

SAN BERNARDINO—The California Department of Education has revoked the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools oversight over the administration of the annual $58.4 million KidsNCare program. The action was taken after a complaint-triggered state audit and the county superintendant office’s own internal investigation found “improprieties” with the manner in which the program was being handled.
The state began to look into San Bernardino County’s KidsNCare program late last year and concluded an audit in January.
KidsNCare offers a subsidized child care programs for families who meet California Department of Education guidelines, which include low income and need. The care is provided for the children of impoverished parents while those heads of household are working, in school or training or away from home seeking employment. KidsNCare also includes a child care food program making nutritious meals available to children twelve years of age and younger who are in licensed family child care homes.
According to an individual who reviewed it, that audit was highly unfavorable to the county’s management of the program, for which more than 90 employees work assisting 7,500 children and their families countywide. The audit found multiple examples of the project being out of compliance with state requirements. The audit has not yet been publicly released.
County superintendent of schools Gary Thomas, whose office has operated and administered the program for the last 25 years, was caught flatfooted by the audit, preliminary results of which were confided to him 45 days ago. He responded by having the county department of schools carry out an internal investigation. This week, Thomas bowed to the inevitable.
“After conducting the investigation, we found there was inappropriate activity with how the program was administered, which put it in violation with the provisions required by the state,” Thomas said in a statement. “Because of those findings, the California Department of Education will not be renewing the KidsNCare contract with our office.”
Thomas did not go beyond the language of his prepared statement.
One issue for the state is that the San Bernardino County Department of Schools has been depositing over $3 million per year in money intended for the child care program into its general fund under the auspices of recouping administrative costs. Because of lapses in accounting procedures it is unclear whether that money was used for its intended purpose.
County Board of Education member Gil Navarro said Thomas had not informed the board of the audit, the internal investigation or its likely outcome, having kept silent about the matter despite a board meeting that was held two days before the state action was announced.
The state must give the county department of education 75 days notice before defunding a program.  KidsNCare’s contract with the state ends June 30.

Petitions Calling For Vote On Part Time Supervisors Go To Registrar

Proponents of a county-wide initiative to reduce the county board of supervisors to part time status submitted petitions with more than 73,000 signatures to the county registrar of voters on Wednesday, March 7.
Officials with the registrar’s office will now examine the petitions to see if they are uniform and the signatures to see how many of them are valid. For the initiative to qualify for the November ballot, proponents must present 43,000 validated signatures on the petitions.
The effort, which began as a relatively limited undertaking by a handful of residents in the High Desert mushroomed into a political juggernaut when members of the local Tea Party and the county’s deputies union took up the cause.
The movement has brought together some disparate, even contradictory elements. Much of the impetus for reducing the supervisors to part time legislators, by which they would have their current $151,000 per year salaries reduced to $50,000 and their $120,000 annual benefit packages reduced to ones worth $11,000, stems from the desire to rein in county spending in general, including salaries and benefits to county employees.
Nevertheless, the deputies union, the Safety Employees Benefit Association, known by its acronym SEBA, took up the cause in large measure because county supervisors have given county chief executive officer Greg Devereaux wide latitude in pushing all of the county’s employee bargaining groups to accept either pay reductions, decreased benefits, greater employee contributions toward health coverage and pension funds or a combination thereof in preparation for upcoming contract negotiations.
In addition to cutting the supervisors back to part time, the initiative if passed would draw their office budgets down to $1.5 million from the current $6 million per year.

County Settles With Former Administrator Short Of Trial

Former county administrative officer Mark Uffer’s wrongful termination suit against San Bernardino County ended with a whimper rather than a bang this week. Slightly more than a month before Uffer’s case was scheduled to go to trial on April 2, a divided board of supervisors agreed on February 28  to settle the matter for $650,000.

Mark Uffer

The board voted 3-2 in closed session to bring the matter to a close with a payment that was more than two-and-a-half times the annual $242,000 salary Uffer was receiving when he was fired on a 3-2 vote in November 2009. This week, two of the three supervisors who voted to terminate Uffer – Neil Derry and Brad Mitzelfelt – opposed making the settlement. The other supervisor who joined Derry and Mitzelfelt in that vote 27 months earlier – Gary Ovitt – this week voted with board chairwoman Josie Gonzales and supervisor Janice Rutherford to make the payout. In 2009, Gonzales, along with Rutherford’s predecessor Paul Biane, had opposed sacking Uffer.
Uffer, who had been the administrator at the county hospital when he was tapped by the board to serve as top county administrative officer in 2004, was not removed for cause, such that he was provided with a severance payout equal to one year’s salary and benefits – more than $273,000 – at the time of his firing. Derry, Mitzelfelt and Ovitt claimed at the time that Uffer was dismissed for no one cause but because they were seeking different leadership. The board then hired current county chief executive officer Greg Devereaux, who had been city manager in Ontario when Ovitt was mayor there in the early 2000s. Uffer was an at-will employee and his contract contained language allowing the board to fire him with or without cause.  Nevertheless, Uffer in his claim accused the county of wrongful termination, defamation, fraud and retaliating against him for cooperating with ongoing grand jury and district attorney’s office investigations into allegations of wrongdoing within the county.
In his suit, which was buttressed by hundreds of pages of documents, memos and emails he accumulated during his five years as the county’s top administrator, Uffer maintained that the granting in November 2007 of a six month severance package to the assistant assessor under Bill Postmus, Jim Erwin, who had previously been the president of SEBA, was an indication that Erwin was extorting Ovitt, Mitzelfelt and Biane.  Despite the fact that Biane had opposed his termination, Uffer did not spare Biane in the portrait he painted of a governmental entity mired in corruption.
Before Postmus was elected assessor in 2006, he was serving as chairman of the board of supervisors and chairman of the county’s Republican Central Committee and enjoyed an ironclad alliance with Biane, who was the vice chairman of both the board of supervisors and the central committee. As dual kingmakers, Postmus and Biane doled out party money to Republican candidates they favored and denied funds to those who did not go along with their programs. Backup material Uffer included in his suit, composed mostly of emails between him and Biane and him and Postmus, show that the relationship between Biane and Postmus deteriorated into open hostility in 2006. Profanity-laced emails Uffer provided as exhibits to his claim show that he was directly communicating with Biane about Postmus’s efforts to have him fired in the summer of 2006. Jim Lindley, a former mayor of Hesperia and a Postmus ally, had been provided with political appointments to the position of county director of legislative affairs at Postmus’s behest, and was later hired as the county’s purchasing officer. Emails between Lindley and Uffer offered as exhibits in the suit show that Lindley became aware that during the 2006 election Postmus and his employees were using county facilities to carry out electioneering activities while on the county clock.  Later, when Lindley sought to succeed Postmus as county supervisor upon Postmus’s election to the assessor’s post, Postmus went ballistic, seeking to have Lindley cashiered. Postmus wanted another of his allies, Mitzelfelt, who had been his chief of staff throughout the time he was supervisor, to succeed him. Another of Postmus’s employees, Adam Aleman, threatened Lindley with termination and Lindley sought Uffer’s protection. According to Uffer’s claim against the county, “it became known and evident to the board and Bill Postmus that Mark Uffer was supporting and protecting Jim Lindley. Accordingly, Bill Postmus, aware of this fact, targeted Mark Uffer to eliminate him so that he could reach Jim Lindley.”
According to the suit, Lindley, as county purchasing officer, and Uffer worked together to thwart or otherwise question or hold up what the claim termed “suspicious” requisition orders coming from Postmus in his capacity as assessor, including requisitioning the services of Mike Richman, a political consultant involved with the San Bernardino County Republican Central committee and a Postmus ally. Mitzelfelt, as Postmus’s successor and longtime political associate, joined in with Postmus in making inappropriate or illegal use of county funds and facilities, according to the claim, to assist the county Republican Party as well as Derry’s 2008 campaign for supervisor. Mitzelfelt also sought to have Lindley fired, according to Uffer’s suit.
Uffer maintained that he was called as a witness before the 2007-08 grand jury and that he “submitted findings concerning the pervasive corruption” besetting the county at that time, including information that there was  “fraudulent use of time cards” in the assessor’s office, that “Bill Postmus unlawfully provided contracts of employment to friends without submitting the contracts to the bidding process, that other board members were involved with and/or encouraged Bill Postmus’ known unlawful political agenda and efforts on county time [and] that Bill Postmus’ staff assisted supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt’s political campaign as well as Neil Derry’s campaign.”
In his suit, Uffer submitted evidence, consisting of interoffice memos, emails between various county employees, and Uffer’s handwritten notes which demonstrate that Uffer had personal knowledge of wrongdoing on the part of county officials and acts of commission or omission on his own part as county administrative officer, which he kept under wraps for years.
Three of these pertain to violations of the Brown Act, California’s open meeting law which prohibits a majority of any governmental decision-making body from meeting and discussing official policy or business outside the confines of an advertised and agendized public meeting. Those Brown Act violations allegedly involved Postmus, Biane and Ovitt in 2004; Biane, Postmus and Ovitt in 2006 and Derry, Biane and Mitzelfelt in 2008.
Uffer’s suit also exposed that Matt Brown, Biane’s chief of staff, in 2008 was reporting to Uffer about apparent illegal activity on Biane’s part.
Other documents provided in support of Uffer’s suit demonstrate the Byzantine intrigue and shifting alliances with, among and against various of the county’s top players. At some points Uffer was working with Biane to compromise Postmus’ power; at other times he was conspiring with Brown against Biane; at one point he had opened up a back channel of communication with Erwin through which less than flattering information about members of the board of supervisors was being exchanged. And at various times, for relatively short durations, Uffer appeared to patch things up with Postmus, including at one point in 2008 when both were commiserating about Erwin and embarrassing information they believed he was providing to the press.
The county had already spent roughly $1 million in preparing to defend against the lawsuit and anticipated spending another $400,000 if it went to trial. Though the “county does not believe any new information would have emerged during a trial” and  “the county maintained its disagreement with all of the plaintiff’s claims,” according to a county statement provided simultaneously with the settlement announcement, “the county agreed to settle to avoid the costs of going to court.”
Uffer originally sought  $15 million in the suit.  He later made a settlement offer of $3.5 million, which the county rejected.
Both Mitzelfelt and Derry said they were adamantly opposed to settling with Uffer, expressing certainty that he would have lost at trial. Mitzelfelt called the suit “frivolous.” Derry said that the board was justified in terminating Uffer because he had misled the board about the county’s financial position. “Following Uffer’s termination, it was soon discovered that the financial health of the county was in significantly worse shape than the board was led to believe by his administration.” Derry said. “After his departure it was learned that the county faced an on-going structural deficit in excess of $100 million over the next five years.”
Derry said that Uffer had already received “a generous severance package.”
Caving in and settling set a dangerous precedent, Derry said. “The apparent lesson for all San Bernardino County employees to learn from this is even if you are an at-will employee and are terminated, go ahead and sue us because we are going to give you a lot of taxpayer dollars,” the supervisor said.
Uffer’s attorney, Sanford Kassel, said the lawsuit had achieved its end without airing the particulars in open court. “As much as people accused Mr. Uffer of seeking huge damages, this case was more about opening the books on the behavior of certain elected officials and their staff and less about winning huge awards,” he said.

Burns Back As Barstow PD Chief

Barstow Police Chief Dianne Burns returned to her post on February 27, seven months after she took an extended leave.

Dianne Burns

City officials who had previously not specified the reason for Burns’ absence and had said only that it involved a private matter, this week disclosed that she was on paid administrative leave while a review of issues with regard to her performance was ongoing.
She departed for vacation on July 9 but had not returned as anticipated by July 25, leading to widespread speculation in the community that she had quit or had been fired. When Adams had not returned to oversee the department by August 4, 2011, city manager Curt Mitchell placed her on paid administrative leave. Lieutenant Albert Ramirez was installed as the acting police chief in Burns’ absence.
While mystery had attended her hiatus, it appears that an insurrection of the department’s officers may have been at the basis of her unannounced departure last summer.
Even before she returned to the helm of the department on Monday, members of the two union groups which speak for the police department’s sworn employees, the Barstow Police Officers Association, representing 30 officers, corporals and detectives, and the Barstow Police Management Association, representing six sergeants and lieutenants, provided a vote of “no confidence” in Burns’ ability to continue to lead the department.
The unions sent Mitchell a letter referencing a review of Burns’ performance which had been performed by the city during Burn’s extended absence. The letter memorialized that the vote of  reproval had been taken and requesting that Burns’s leave of absence be extended until Mitchell and his management team have an opportunity to look into Burns’ “poor performance” and “favoritism,” as well as a “hostile work environment” that  the unions say is the product of her oversight of the department.  The letter upbraided Mitchell for “failing to adequately address all concerns” the department’s officers had expressed about Burns, the only female police chief in San Bernardino County.
The unions simultaneously released a press release stating, “A majority of both police units are concerned with the past performance of chief Burns and the detriment her return may have on the department and the community.”
City manager Curt Mitchell told the Sentinel, “She was originally put on paid administrative leave in August while we completed a thorough review of her personnel matter and determined she would return to full duties. We came to that decision on Monday [February 20]. We announced that she would return on Thursday [February 23] and on Friday [February 24] the two police unions submitted a vote of no confidence.”
Mitchell said that Burns would remain as chief.
“In taking the votes, the bargaining units are saying they are concerned about her ability to lead the department,” Mitchell said. “When they expressed those concerns, I told them I would be working with the police chief to address the concerns they expressed.” Mitchell said that the vote was an expression of opinion by the department’s officers but that it had no binding impact on the department, the city or him.
Adams’ contract expires at the end of June. Mitchell said the vote of no confidence would “not by itself” impact the decision on whether to renew her contract or bring in a new police chief. “In making any recommendation to the city council I am going to consider all aspects with regard to whether her contract should be renewed,” he said. “We will be discussing that with Dianne over the next few months. We’re looking forward to the future. I’m confident Chief Burns will work with me and the outstanding staff of our police department to provide the best in law enforcement services for the community.”
The Sentinel’s efforts to reach Burns for comment were unsuccessful.

Close Scrutiny Of Legal Costs Has Upland City Attorney Nervous

Upland city attorney Bill Curley and his law firm have survived, at least temporarily, the first round of a critical review of the quality and cost of the legal services being provided to the city.

Bill Curley

Since June of 2003, Richards Watson & Gershon, the Los Angeles-based law firm that employs Curley and also serves as legal counsel to 29 cities in California, has received $7.8 million in legal fees from the city of Upland. In recent years, the firm’s billing of Upland has increased, with the city paying the firm $5.7 million since January 2009.
In addition to being paid for routine legal advice the city requires with regard to day-to-day operations, the firm is also making a considerable amount of money for its representation of Upland in several lawsuits. Most, though not all, of those suits are ones that were filed against the city by various entities. In a few notable exceptions, the cases consist of litigation initiated by the city. The most expensive case the city is currently involved in is that of San Bernardino County Flood Control District vs. Upland, Caltrans and the county’s transportation agency, known as SANBAG.  The city has expended more than $4 million in defending that case, which relates to Upland’s approval of the Colonies at San Antonio residential and Colonies Crossroads commercial developments and the $102 million settlement cost the county sustained when the developer, the Colonies Partners, sued the county over flood control issues after the county built the 20th Street storm drain at Upland’s behest in conjunction with Caltrans’ extension of the 210 Freeway across property owned by the Colonies Partners. More than four years ago, the county offered to settle the case with Upland for $2 million. The Upland City Council, upon the advice of Richards, Watson & Gershon, declined  that offer.
The city has also paid Richards Watson & Gershon over $575,000 to defend it in a case brought against it by Robert Mills and Scott Schaller, the owners of the Chronic Cantina, over the city’s April 2009 effort to revoke that restaurant’s operating permits. The city was guided by Curley in its decision to yank those permits. It has since been publicly disclosed that former mayor John Pomierski was extorting the Chronic Cantina’s ownership and was receiving laundered fees in return for assurances by his business associates that the mayor could ensure that the nightspot would have clearance to operate. A federal grand jury indicted Pomierski on conspiracy, extortion and bribery charges a year ago today, March 2, 2011. Pomierski maintains his innocence and his lawyer has demanded that the city cover his legal costs in defending himself in the lawsuit brought by Mills and Schaller.
The city has expended just over $420,000 in an effort to prevent G3 Holistics, a marijuana clinic which opened in 2009, from operating in Upland. The city succeeded in temporarily closing down the G3 Collective in August 2010 after the city filed an injunction in West Valley Superior Court in Rancho Cucamonga, but that injunction was stayed by G3 owner Aaron Sandusky’s appeal of the city’s blanket prohibition of medical marijuana dispensaries. On November 9, 2011 the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Riverside ruled that Upland’s banning of clinics did not contradict Proposition 215, the 1996 law that approved medical marijuana in the state, but Sandusky appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court. Ultimately, however, the city’s legal efforts against the clinic, which have so far failed to shutter the operation, may prove to have been  superfluous as the federal government, in the form of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, have taken steps against such operations throughout the state, including a November raid of the G3 clinic in Upland. Drug Enforcement Agency officers told Sandusky in January that he is in violation of federal law.
In 2011, Richards Watson & Gershon posted monthly bills to Upland ranging from a low of $117,403 to a high of $213,794.
With legal bills of roughly $2 million per year, and the presentation of information to suggest that the city had sustained legal costs in both the County Flood Control District and G3 Holistics cases that were unnecessary, pressure has mounted on the council to rein in the legal work being done by Richards Watson & Gershon.  At the urging of city councilwoman Debbie Stone, the city council met in closed session for an hour-and-a-half on February 27, during which the soundness and expense of the legal services provided to the city were issues.
After the council emerged from that executive session, councilman Brendan Brandt, a member of the city’s legal affairs committee, addressed the public.
“We met in a extended closed session to talk about the city attorney and sealing litigation issues,” Brandt said. “We want to assure the citizens of Upland we are as a council closely scrutinizing and making sure taxpayer money is being used in a very efficient and responsible manner. There has been a lot of discussion about the amount of money paid for attorney services, most notably with regard to the San Bernardino County Flood Control District vs. the city, SANBAG and Caltrans. There is a lot of talk about the money the city is spending to defend itself. I have to put it in context a little bit.  The latest figures I have were reported by the Press Enterprise, which got the information through a public records request. The county of San Bernardino and SANBAG have spent $30 million in legal fees in the county of San Bernardino and county flood control district vs. the city, SANBAG and Caltrans.  At the same point Upland has spent  $4 million. We are being faced with a serious lawsuit in which the demand is $160 million. We have had to spend $4 million to defend ourselves. We cannot crawl under a rock or ignore this or default and we must defend ourselves in this lawsuit. I would like to report the legal subcommittee is going to further whittle down and sharpen and ensure we are getting the best bang in terms of our action and all five of us are keeping an eye not only on the litigation itself but the billings, and we will make sure we are spending our money wisely.”
With regard to the offer by the county to settle the county flood control/Colonies case for $2 million, which is less than half the cost of the legal services provided by Richards Watson and Gershon for representing the city in the litigation, Brandt said, “That was made almost five years ago.  We were not a party to that settlement agreement.  We had at least one public speaker who said if we had settled for that amount it would have been a gift of public funds. Potentially doing that would not have absolved our liability or ended the litigation with SANBAG and Caltrans. We would still be in this fight and involved in having to defend ourselves against Caltrans and SANBAG.”
Councilman Gino Filippi suggested the city has allowed Richards Watson & Gershon too much autonomy in handling decisions with regard to legal matters facing the city.
“In my opinion, there has been a serious lack of oversight by the former mayor and members of the council over the past several years,” Filippi said. “Although I was not on the city council at the time that the city had discussion with the San Bernardino County Flood Control District, and could have resolved the case with the county for approximately $2 million, I am obviously concerned that the city received direction from its legal professionals that such a settlement was inappropriate or unwarranted.  So, instead, and without having a cost/benefit analysis, the city spent approaching $5 million dollars in legal fees when the city could have resolved this matter for $2 million.
“Even if there was perception years ago, as charged by some critics, that settling for $2 million was unwarranted or even a gift of public funds, such an action years ago has resulted in the city spending an additional $3 million dollars with no end in sight on the legal fees,” Filippi continued. “This is just one reason why I fear Upland is on a course of insolvency.”
Filippi said Curley and Richards Watson & Gershon had not kept the counsel informed about important issues related to the litigation that would have allowed the council to make more informed decisions.
“Until stated in Monday’s city council meeting that the county was demanding $160 million, I had not been made aware by our legal counsel that such a huge amount is being demanded,” Filippi told the Sentinel. “Even if the city of Upland were to be found minimally responsible, such a result would be financially catastrophic.  It appears to me at this time that the most prudent thing would be to explore any and all settlement opportunities.”
Curley declined to comment on the outcome of the city council’s closed door evaluation of him and his law firm, referencing Brandt’s statement with regard to the matter.

Spencer Being Shown Door At SB International Airport

Scot Spencer’s once-ironclad grip over operations at San Bernardino International Airport has eroded further, as the agencies dedicated to the civilian use conversion of Norton Air Force Base that once viewed him as their deliverer are systematically moving to disengage from him. In the face of mounting evidence that Spencer has utilized his position of authority and trust to benefit himself and his corporate affiliates at the expense of the public facility he was hired to manage, his days as the airport’s contract manager appear numbered.
The San Bernardino International Airport Authority, known by its acronym SBIAA, is a joint powers authority consisting of the county of San Bernardino and the cities of San Bernardino, Highland, Loma Linda and Colton dedicated to transforming the grounds of Norton Air Force Base, which was shuttered by the Department of Defense in 1994, into a viable civilian aerodrome.
Spencer, who has long enjoyed extensive contacts throughout the aircraft industry, was brought in by the San Bernardino International Airport Authority in 2007 under a no-bid arrangement and entrusted with converting the facility into a true international airport. In hiring Spencer, local authorities disregarded a crucial portion of his history.
In 1991, Spencer and financier Jeffrey Chodorow sought to utilize the remaining assets from Braniff International Airways to create Dallas-based Braniff International Airlines, Inc. Braniff Airways, which had been in operation since 1928, had faltered under its corporate successor, Braniff, Inc., which was created after the former company’s 1982 bankruptcy.  Spencer’s effort was unsuccessful and Spencer and Chodorow were both convicted of fraud for absconding with $14 million of the company’s funds.  Spencer served a four-year prison term from 1995 until 1999 as a result of that conviction.
After paying his debt to society, Spencer took up where he had left off, becoming involved in the aircraft industry largely on the strength of his contacts with manufacturers, airlines, mechanics and maintenance companies.
He leased from the San Bernardino International Airport Authority the lion’s share of property at the airport, where several companies he was an owner or investor in set up shop, and in 2007, Spencer entered into the agreement with SBIAA and the Inland Valley Development Authority (IVDA), a joint powers authority overseeing the development of the property surrounding the airport,  to direct what was supposed to be a $38 million renovation of the airport’s passenger terminal and a $7 million development of its concourse. Spencer undertook that assignment amid confident predictions that upon completion of those projects, the airport would attract at least one passenger carrier and as many as a half dozen airlines. The cost of the passenger terminal and the concourse escalated to $142 million and the airport has yet to host any commercial airlines, although corporate jets and other private pilots have been landing at the Million Air corporate aviation facility, for which Spencer was the franchisee, since 2010.
The cost overruns for the terminal project, the failure of San Bernardino Airport to attract commercial airlines and Spencer’s relationship with former San Bernardino International Airport Authority and Inland Valley Development Authority executive directors Don Rogers and T. Milford Harrison as well as Timothy Sabo, the legal counsel for the authorities,  have raised eyebrows and brought SBIAA and IVDA under increasingly critical scrutiny.
On June 30, the San Bernardino County 2010-11 Grand Jury delivered a report that questioned several elements of Spencer’s performance and that of Rogers, calling into question what was characterized as lax oversight of the airport’s operations and favorable treatment accorded Spencer with regard to leasing arrangements.
Spencer’s influence over operations at the airport, where several companies he owns are housed, was perceived by many observers as being in conflict with and counterproductive to the goal of bringing in aeronautics-oriented companies interested in remaining at the airport for the long term. In some cases, Spencer’s pursuit of his own imperatives conflicted with the corporate aims of other companies functioning at the airport, resulting in those companies departing.
One such company was Aeros Aeronautical Systems Corp., a blimp builder which did work on dirigibles and other lighter-than-air craft in Hangar 695, which it had leased at the airport.
In 2008, business was booming for Aeros, and the company was making its lease payments to the airport authority on time and in full. But that year, two companies Spencer was a controlling partner with, SBD Aircraft Services and Norton Aviation Maintenance Services, entered into a subcontract with another Spencer-affiliated outfit, Unique Aviation, which, it was represented, had orders from the Democratic National Committee for the renovation and refurbishing of a then-35-year-old Boeing 727-227 for use in the Barack Obama presidential campaign. Spencer claimed he needed the hangar space Aeros was using to have SBD and Norton Aviation do the work. Despite the consideration that Aeros was a tenant paying top dollar for the space it was using and that it had secured in June 2008 two successive short term leases with 30-day termination notices to undertake tests on a dirigible, Spencer used his leverage with SBIAA to have SBIAA/IVDA legal counsel Timothy Sabo of the law firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith author a letter which IVDA general manager Don Rogers signed that essentially evicted Aeros.
In July 2008, before Aeros vacated the hangar, Spencer and SBIAA signed a lease for Hangar 695 at a rate less than half of what Aeros was paying for the space and despite the consideration that Aeros had yet to vacate it. When Aeros did not leave quickly enough to satisfy Spencer, who said he was prevented from completing $750,000 worth of repairs on the 727 to be used by the Democrats, he threatened SBIAA with legal action. Before the incident was over, Aeros, which had offered the promise of remaining as a longtime paying tenant, left in a huff, never to return. The authority kowtowed to Spencer even further by providing him over $1 million worth of concessions, including the forgiving of a $155,000 balance on a previous loan, the extension of another $550,000 loan at 5 percent interest, and an ongoing $315,000 hangar rental subsidy.  It is now alleged that the Democratic National Committee had not commissioned the 1973 Boeing 727-227 from Unique Aviation and had no contract with Spenser or any of his companies.
Also in 2008, Spencer forced the exodus of another paying tenant, Virginia-based BaySys West, from San Bernardino International Airport. BaySys West had established an aircraft maintenance operation in San Bernardino employing 300, which Spencer apparently felt was in competition with Norton Aircraft Maintenance Systems. BaySys left in December 2008 under pressure from Spencer.
Another troubling consideration for many was that by the summer of 2011, Spencer owed the county more than $604,000 in unpaid taxes on property and equipment at the airport since 2005. The airport authority’s relationship with Spencer and the settlement of the dispute with regard to Hangar 695 was mentioned in the June 30 grand jury report.
There are questions as well about Spencer’s relationship with T. Milford Harrison, a one-time Loma Linda city councilman who served for a time as the executive director of IVDA. Harrison was given several lucrative positions with companies involved at the airport which Spencer owns or controls. With Spencer, Harrison is a manager of KCP Leasing and Services. Harrison and Spencer are also listed as officers with Million Air Development Company, LLC, as well as Million Air San Bernardino LLC. Harrison also has an unknown relationship with SBD Aircraft Services. That company had issued to Harrison an American Express Business Platinum card, against which Harrison charged $63,043.45 in expenses and a second Starwood Preferred Guest Business credit card, which Harrison used for $4,642.86 in purchases. There was a question about how those charges were related to airport business and American Express was not paid. Eventually American Express sued Harrison for payment. Harrison did not respond and American Express obtained a default judgment for $75,147.75.
Despite questions over those several issues, the SBIAA and IVDA boards of directors maintained faith in Spencer, preparing a defiant response to the grand jury criticisms that had been leveled at both the authority and Spencer. But on September 21, Spencer’s seemingly charmed existence at San Bernardino International Airport fell into eclipse when federal and state authorities descended upon San Bernardino International Airport, serving search warrants at five offices, businesses or facilities there as part of a comprehensive investigation into allegations that millions of taxpayer dollars were illegally diverted, mismanaged, laundered, misappropriated or siphoned off by officials or individuals affiliated with the airport’s development.  Targeted in the raid led by the FBI were SBIAA and IVDA headquarters, the San Bernardino Million Air Franchise; three hangars, including Hangar 763, where two Spencer-affiliated companies, Norton Aircraft Maintenance Services and SBAM Technics are located; a storage facility at the airport, and Spencer’s Riverside residence. According to the search warrants, the authorities were seeking information regarding suspected misuse of federal funds, bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy.
On September 28, Rogers resigned as SBIAA and IVDA executive director. On November 9, the SBIAA board hired A.J. Wilson, a municipal manager with an extensive list of top administrative assignments inside and outside of California, to the position of interim executive director of San Bernardino International Airport. The no-nonsense Wilson conducted a crash review of the operations at the airport and on November 30, the SBIAA and IVDA boards took a tentative step toward removing Spencer as the contract developer of San Bernardino International Airport. Noting that Spencer had not properly managed the airport’s billing, the board transferred management of the remaining project work from Spencer to itself and Wilson. The board also moved to authorize paying subcontractors for work done on a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility after their bills had gone unpaid by Spencer for months.
On February 17, Superior Court Judge Brian McCarville ruled that the airport authority was legally entitled to assume from Spencer and his company, SBD Properties, control of the airport’s fuel farm, consisting of tanks from which the private jets that fly out of San Bernardino International Airport are fueled.  Spencer had allowed fuel in the tanks, which have a capacity of 150,000 gallons, to dwindle to 1,100 gallons as of February 1. Under the authority’s contract with SBD, a minimum of 20,000 gallons of aviation fuel must be maintained in the fueling system at all times.  On February 7, the authority sought to end its contract with SBD.
On February 21, Million Air Interlink, the Texas-based provider of landing and take-off services for operators of private and corporate jets that had already sued Spencer for $837,290 in long past due franchise fees, revoked Spencer’s franchise. That move significantly attenuates Spencer’s primacy at the airport. Because of previous contractual commitments, Spencer’s Million Air franchise was given exclusivity of use at the plush private jetport, described by one pilot as “opulent beyond anything I’ve ever seen.” The terminal was reportedly offered by Spencer to two of the major principals in both the IVDA and SBIAA, San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris and county supervisor Josie Gonzales, who are the co-chairs of the SBIAA and IVDA boards, for use as a forum for campaign fundraising events. Spencer’s granting of these alleged political favors to Morris and Gonzales had dragged them into the FBI investigation and had previously paralyzed the authority in its effort to disengage from Spencer. But the same contract that had provided Spencer’s franchise with exclusivity at the jetport also liberated the authority to separate from Spencer if the jetport remains tenantless for 30 days. If Spencer does not find a replacement for Million Air by March 22, the airport can remove him from the terminal altogether.
Coby King, a spokesman for Spencer as well as San Bernardino Airport Management, SBD Properties LLC, KCP Leasing and Services, SBD Aircraft Services and Norton Aviation Maintenance Services and Unique Aviation, vowed legal action against SBIAA and IVDA if those entities are deprived of their rights to operate out of San Bernardino International Airport.

Former GOP Right-Winger Adams Now Seeking Rebirth As Moderate

Three years after he crossed party lines and cast a vote to pass California’s 2009-10 budget laden with tax increases that resulted in his ignominious exodus from the state Assembly, Anthony Adams this week announced he will attempt to resuscitate his political career with a run for Congress in the newly drawn California 8th Congressional District.

Anthony Adams

In doing so, Adams sought to reinvent himself as a “no party” candidate. In his earlier incarnation, Adams represented himself as a rock-ribbed, right-wing conservative Republican. He incubated his political career as a member of former San Bernardino County First District supervisor Bill Postmus’s political team. Adams worked on Postmus’s campaigns and was hired by Postmus as one of his field representatives, garnering a reputation for aggressively defending Postmus and his expressed right-wing ideology. Postmus then promoted Adams to the position of senior executive analyst on his staff.  By 2004, Postmus had acceded to the position of chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Party and from that position, Postmus vectored party support to Adams in 2006, providing him with money from the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee’s coffers to assist him in overcoming three other Republican stalwarts in the primary race for the Republican nomination in the 59th Assembly District, Henry Scolinos, Barry Hartz and Chris Lancaster. Postmus used his authority as chairman of the board of supervisors to move Adams into the position of director of legislative affairs for San Bernardino County. With the power of the Postmus political machine behind him, Adams in 2006 captured the Republican nomination in the 59th Assembly District, in which the Republicans held a commanding 42 to 33 percent registration advantage over Democrats and in November 2006 he cruised to easy victory in the general election. In office during his first term, Adams hewed to a basically conservative Republican agenda and was handily reelected in 2008, signing a pledge not to raise taxes along the way. Adams’ political career was reaching its apex, with some suggestions that he might be selected as Assembly minority leader upon his reelection in 2010. But seemingly overnight, Adams political career seemed to go into a high speed wobble and then veered sharply left.  2008 was particularly unkind to his political godfather, Bill Postmus, who in 2006 had successfully run for county assessor. Events overtook Postmus when he created four high level positions in the assessor’s office that did not previously exist and installed in those positions political appointees, including two of his boyfriends, who knew nothing about assessing properties. The inability of Postmus’s political appointees to meet the demands of the assessor’s office together with their exploitations of their authority for political purposes led to a series of misadventures and resulting revelations that absolutely undid Postmus’s political career. After investigators with the district attorney’s office began to delve into illegal utilization of the assessor’s office’s facilities and personnel for partisan political purposes, the veil over first Postmus’s drug use and then his homosexuality was pierced. In time, Postmus and all five of his political appointees to positions within the assessor’s office would be charged with crimes.
Meanwhile, in Sacramento, the incipient crisis with regard to Adams and his political identity was beginning to set in. Many of his constituents and supporters were hearing for the first time that the putative conservative right wing political cauldron that Adams had been hatched from was in fact a hotbed of homosexuality and drug use whose principals had cynically manipulated the gullibility of the county’s Republican establishment and voters. The shock to those voters’ socially conservative sensibilities in short order was followed up with Adams’ departure from his long-enunciated fiscally conservative principals.
On February 18, 2009 Adams joined with all of the Assembly’s Democratic members, GOP leader Mike Villines and Republican Assemblyman Roger Niello to muster the bare minimum number of votes required to pass the 2009-10 California budget worked out by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenneger and the Democratic leadership that included $12.8 billion in temporary tax increases, and $11.4 billion in borrowing. In making that vote, Adams said it was not a decision “I make lightly. This will probably be the end of a political career for me.”
A firestorm erupted that ultimately chased Villines, Niello and Adams from office. An effort to recall Adams was undertaken, but ultimately failed when the respective registrars of voters in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties disqualified a portion of the signatures on the recall petitions. Nevertheless, Adams’ viability as a candidate in the 59th Assembly District was done and in 2010 he chose not to seek reelection.  Further damage was done to his reputation when just weeks after he left the Assembly, Adams was appointed by Schwarzenegger to a $111,845-a-year post on the state Board of Parole Hearings, resulting in charges that Adams had sold out his principals for a cushy governmental sinecure.
Adams passed the California Bar in May of last year and is now “of counsel” with the Riverside-based law firm of Wagner & Pelayes. In tossing his hat into the 8th Congressional District ring, Adams forsook the vitriolic right wing rhetoric he utilized in getting elected to the Assembly in 2006 and reelected two years later. “The citizens of this district are fed up with the partisan bickering that has deadlocked Congress,” Adams said in announcing both his candidacy and his shedding of his Republican Party affiliation. “Democrats and Republicans are putting their party ahead of our country. I believe there is a better way.”
Adams’ strategy is a risky one. Republicans in the 8th Congressional District hold a 42.15 percent to  32.57% registration advantage over Democrats. Adams joins seven other Republicans – Assemblyman Paul Cook, Minuteman Civil Defense Corps of California co-founder Gregg Imus, Victorville Mayor Ryan McEachron; former Hesperia Mayor Bill Jensen, San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, Victorville Councilwoman Angela Valles, and certified public accountant Phillip Liberatore – and one Democrat – Jackie Conaway – in the race. This year a change in the state’s election code dispenses with party primaries for so-called open primaries, such that the two highest vote getters in the June primary of whatever party affiliation qualify for the general election.

Representative David Dreier To Retire After 32 Years In Congress

Congressman David Dreier on February 29 announced on the House floor that he will not seek re-election to Congress.
Dreier, a Republican who was first elected in 1980 with the Ronald Reagan landslide who has now risen to be chairman of the House Rules Committee, is departing in large measure because his logical area of representation is now in the redrawn 32nd Congressional District rather than the 26th Congressional District which he currently represents. In the 32nd, Democrats hold a decided voter registration advantage over Republicans. The current 26th District is a Republican bastion straddling San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties, and includes La Canada, Flintridge, La Crescenta, Pasadena and  San Dimas along with Upland, San Antonio Heights, Mt. Baldy  and Rancho Cucamonga. Members of Congress are not required to live within the district each represents.
After this year’s redistricting, Dreier’s options included running in the 32nd, which contains heavily blue collar Duarte and El Monte, or seeking election either in the newly drawn 26th Congressional District, where Democrats hold a slight majority and incumbent Congressman Elton Gallegly had been considered a likely contestant along with Democratic Ventura County supervisor Steve Bennett, or running in the redrawn 31st Congressional District, where the Democrats have a narrow registration advantage and well-financed Gary Miller, an incumbent Republican, is running. Dreier opted to retire, as did, curiously, Gallegly. Bennett has also chosen not to run for Congress.
Despite Gallegly’s and Bennett’s change in plans, Dreier’s withdrawal from Congress appears irrevocable, given his announcement on the House floor. “Mr. Speaker, I have chosen to leave Congress at the end of this term,” Dreier said. “I take the unusual step of announcing this from the floor of Congress for two reasons. First, this is where my fellow Californians sent me to represent them. Second, I am a proud institutionalist, and I believe that this institution is as great as it has ever been.”
Dreier, 59, has had an extraordinary career as an elected official, given the conflicts in his personal and political life. As a self-described conservative Republican, he voted in support of the  Defense of Marriage Act,  against gay adoption, against inclusion of homosexuals as a protected class in hate crime legislation and against the repeal of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell” policy. Nevertheless, Dreier is an uncelebrated homosexual, having quietly maintained a domestic relationship with his partner of more than 20 years, Brad Smith, who is also his chief of staff and earns a $156,600 salary before benefits, the highest possible salary allowed by law for a committee staff member in Washington, D.C.
Dreier’s domestic situation has gone unremarked in most of the press within his district, although it is widely known in Washington, D.C.  Within the nation’s capital, Dreier’s sexual orientation has been recognized in several circles, partially because in the 1980s, as a rising young Republican Congressman, he briefly dated but then spurned Dorothy Bush, the daughter of then-vice president and later president George H.W. Bush.  Dreier’s sexual orientation became internationally known in June 2005, after the British press addressed the issue when then-British prime minister Tony Blair’s son Euan went to work as an intern for Dreier’s committee.