Needles Hospital Stanching Flow Of Red Ink

NEEDLES—The Colorado River Medical Center’s timely reception of  Medicare money is keeping it afloat, according to Jon Freeberg, the hospitals interim chief administrative officer.
The hospital’s very existence has been threatened by the contracting economy as well as past failures to bill properly and defray the cost of its operation.
While Medicare is the medical center’s economic mainstay, Freeberg said the institution also is making a go of it from the influx of Medi-Cal payments. Money from that state medical program is more sporadic than Medicare payments, he said. Medicare normally pays within 30 days of a claim being filed on behalf of patients eligible for the federal program, Freeberg said. Medi-Cal payments come in within 45 days of a bill being posted, but those billings are subject to greater scrutiny by the state, which routinely disallows payments for some services rendered, Freeberg said.
The hospital is far less efficient in collecting on accounts with self pay patients and those with non-governmental associated medical coverage, according to Freeberg.
The city took on ownership of the Colorado River Medical Center in April 2008 after its previous for-profit owner, Brentwood, Tennessee-based Lifepoint Hospitals, embarked on an effort to move the institution’s equipment and personnel to another hospital it owned in Arizona, roughly 12 miles from Needles.
Because of long-running inadequate billing practices, including failures to invoice Medicare and Medi-Cal as well as insurance companies and patients in a timely fashion, the hospital had consistently lost money, representing a financial liability to the city. The city created a board of trustees to oversee the hospital, and that panel, together with the city council, came to a consensus that spinning the facility off to an independent operator is the best solution for ensuring that the community has adequate medical care without soaking the taxpayers.
In June 2010, Needles voters passed Measure Q, which was intended to keep the hospital’s doors open and absolve the city of the financial burden of subsidizing the facility. Measure Q mandated that a non-profit entity be selected to run the hospital.
The city council in January voted to sell the Colorado River Medical Center and the 5.71 acres it sits upon to Needles Hospital Inc. for $3,587,002. For that amount, Needles Hospital Inc. will purchase most assets and liabilities of the hospital, including accounts receivable, operating inventory in place, outstanding bills and unemployment obligations. Unassumed debts will be deducted from the purchase price but the city is to keep any cash in the hospital’s coffers at the time of sale.
Freeberg said that in the meantime, the hospital is hemorrhaging considerably less red ink than before, as billing and record keeping practices have improved and some grants have been obtained. In briefing the hospital’s board of trustees on April 19, Freeberg noted Medi-Cal recently ratified $274,000 in billing claims by the hospital, another $30,000 will come in from the so-called Disproportionate Hospital Program and the hospital is set to receive an $8,000 grant from the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program that will be used for upgrades on computers and different radiology equipment.
A renewed effort is being made to collect on aging self-pay accounts and unpaid bills outstanding to insurance carriers. The hospital is currently seeking a full-time lab supervisor, Freeberg said.

After Nine Years, Curley Out As Upland City Attorney

UPLAND—The tenure of Bill Curley as Upland city attorney drew to a close this week as the city council, discontented with mounting legal costs,  moved to seek bids on a new contract for legal services.
In response to the city’s action, Curley and his firm, Richards Watson & Gershon, resigned. The city council moved immediately to hire Jimmy Gutierrez, who is currently serving as city attorney in Chino and Rialto. He will serve as interim city attorney while the city conducts its search for a legal firm to represent the city on an ongoing basis.
Curley has been Upland city attorney since 2003. He succeeded another member of the Richards Watson & Gershon law firm, James Markman. Richards Watson & Gershon had been Upland’s legal counsel since 1993.
The city has paid Richards Watson & Gershon over $8 million since Curley took over as city attorney in June 2003. In recent years, the city’s legal bills have escalated, with $6 million of those legal fees having accrued over the last four years.
The costliest of the litigation the city is involved in  is a lawsuit brought by the county of San Bernardino against it, Caltrans and the county’s transportation agency, San Bernardino Associated Governments, known as SANBAG. That lawsuit 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 paid $4.9 million in legal fees to Richards Watson & Gershon to defend against the suit, nearly two-and-a-half times the amount of the settlement 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 that consent. 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 on 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’s legal efforts in this regard had little impact on the collective and in the view of many have now proven to be superfluous and a waste of money 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 G3’s owner in January that he is in violation of federal law and will be subject to federal prosecution if he persists in operating the clinic.
In 2011, Richards Watson & Gershon posted monthly bills to Upland ranging from a low of $117,403 to a high of $213,794.
Richards Watson & Gershon’s legal representation of the city had also become problematic on another score. In November, former Upland city manager Robb Quincey filed a wrongful termination claim against the city, asserting he had been fired in large measure because he had questioned what he characterized as excessive billings to the city by Richards Watson & Gershon.  Quincey’s attorney, Joseph Wohrle, has petitioned the court for arbitration in the matter and with the prospect of Curley and his firm becoming a focus of the case, the city was obliged to get another law firm to represent it against Quincey, who, ironically, was once on good terms with Curley.
Repeated attempts by the Sentinel to reach Curley for comment were unsuccessful.
The city’s legal subcommittee, which consists of councilman Brendan Brandt, himself an attorney, and councilman Gino Filippi, are now evaluating all of the litigation involving the city and sizing up the city’s options with regard to resolving those cases or hunkering down for potentially bruising court battles. An obvious concern is that with the resignation of Richards Watson & Gershon, the investment the city made in having lawyers with that firm familiarize themselves with the issues involved in the litigation the city is involved in has been lost. For example, on the single litigation matter of the San Bernardino County Flood Control District against the City of Upland, in the month of September 2010 alone, Richards, Watson & Gershon racked up charges of $105,830 for the time of seven partners and employees who charged up to $348 per hour. The total hours billed were 367.3 at $288 per hour.
In the meantime, Gutierrez will steer clear of undertaking any work with regard to that ongoing litigation. His duties will apply strictly to holding down the fort until a new city attorney is hired. His work for Upland will consist primarily of attending the council meetings and certain meetings of the city’s department heads, and providing advice on routine matters.
He will be compensated at a rate of $225 per hour.

Carrier To Fill In As Upland Fire Chief

UPLAND—Dave  Carrier, who retired as Ontario’s fire chief in December, has been brought in to serve as Upland’s interim fire chief as that city recruits a permanent replacement for former chief Michael Antonucci. Carrier was fire chief in Ontario for 22 months, having replaced his boss, Chris Hughes, who was tapped to serve as Ontario city manager in February 2010. Carrier was with the city of Ontario fire department for 31 years of a 36-year firefighting career.
Carrier, 55, who continues to pull his pension from Ontario, will be provided with a $12,000 per month salary and no other benefits but workers compensation. His salary will be roughly $3,000 less than what was paid to Antonucci, who left as chief in September but remained in place for six months as a contract fire chief.
Since April 1, police chief Jeff Mendenhall has served in the capacity of fire chief.

Spencer Makes Interference Complaint Against SBIAA In Federal Bankruptcy Court Filing

RIVERSIDE—Attorneys representing Scot Spencer, the figure at the center of the burgeoning scandal at San Bernardino International Airport, are maintaining that airport officials have interfered with Spencer’s legitimate business activities at the aerodrome by cutting off his access to the airport’s fueling facilities. They filed a complaint on April 17 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Riverside on behalf of one of Spencer’s businesses, the now-bankrupt SBD Airport Services, to have that business again be  provided access to the San Bernardino International Airport fuel farm.
Spencer once exercised an ironclad grip over operations at San Bernardino International Airport, where beginning in 2007 he served as the contract developer of the facility. In hiring Spencer, the airport board, consisting of representatives from the county of San Bernardino and the cities of San Bernardino, Highland, Loma Linda and Colton, overlooked the consideration that Spencer had spent four years in federal prison following his conviction for bankruptcy fraud in connection with his failed effort to revive Braniff Airways in the early 1990s. The board, gambling that Spencer’s extensive connections throughout the aviation industry would translate to success in transforming the former Norton Air Force Base into an international airport, provided him with autonomy in directing operations at the airport.
Over the last several years, however, airport officials have been driven to the conclusion that their trust in Spencer was misplaced. Spencer’s management of what was supposed to be a $38 million renovation of the airport’s passenger terminal and a $7 million development of its concourse was dogged by cost overruns, boosting the combined cost of the passenger terminal and the concourse to $142 million. No commercial airlines agreed to fly out of the airport upon the completion of those improvements, as Spencer had confidently predicted and the major beneficiary of the project was the corporate jet-servicing company, Million Air, for which Spencer was the franchisee. Million Air terminated its relationship with Spencer earlier this year after the company claimed Spencer had failed to pay it hundreds of thousands of dollars he was in arrears on. In controlling airport operations, Spencer showed favoritism toward companies he owned or controlled, including SBD Aircraft Services, Norton Aviation Maintenance Services, Unique Aviation, San Bernardino Airport Management, SBD Properties LLC, KCP Leasing and Services, SBAMTechnics, and SBD Aircraft Services, to the detriment of other aviation-related companies located at the airport, such as Aeros Aeronautical Systems Corp and BaySys West. Aeros and Baysis were making substantial lease payments for hangar space at the airport before they were essentially forced to leave.
Questions mounted when Spencer formed at least two business partnerships with T. Milford Harrison, who had formerly served as the executive director of the San Bernardino International Airport Authority (SBIAA) and its sister agency, the Inland Valley Development Authority (IVDA), which is dedicated to the development of the property surrounding the airport. While Spencer allowed vendors to go unpaid and the aviation fuel stores at the airport to deplete to levels that threatened the continuing operation of the airport as a host to corporate jets, Harrison ran up non-aviation related charges of $63,043.45 on an American Express Business Platinum card issued to him through the authority and another $4,642.86 on a second Starwood Preferred Guest Business credit card he secured through the airport authority. Meanwhile, 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 and was in arrears on interest and principal payments on $1.2 million in loans to him through the airport authority.
The coup de grace came on September 21, 2011 when federal authorities, in the person of FBI and IRS agents, together with state law enforcement officers 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 were SBIAA and IVDA headquarters, the San Bernardino Million Air franchise; three hangars, including Hangar 763, where two Spencer-affiliated companies were 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, 2011, Don Rogers, who had served as the executive director of SBIAA and IVDA during Spencer’s tenure as contract developer, resigned. 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 December 23, 2011, the airport board terminated the airport management and development agreement it had with Spencer’s San Bernardino Airport Management, LLC.
Earlier this year, airport officials became alarmed when they learned Spencer had allowed the fuel level in the tanks at the airport’s fuel farm, 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 was to be maintained in the fueling system at all times. The fuel farm supplies aviation engine rated kerosene to the private jets that fly out of San Bernardino International Airport.
On February 7, the authority sought to end its contract with SBD and 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.
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 contract between the airport authority, Spencer and Million Air Interlink had provided Spencer’s franchise with exclusivity at the jetport but it also provided the authority with the ability to separate from Spencer if the jetport remained tenantless for 30 days. When Spencer failed to find a replacement for Million Air by March 22, the airport authority sought to remove him and his companies from the terminal altogether.
In seeking bankruptcy protection in March, Spencer hoped to preserve what little of his dwindling presence at the airport is left. In the bankruptcy filing for SBD Airport Services, Spencer’s legal team claimed San Bernardino International Airport’s leaders were aiming to cripple Spencer’s business operations and that his loss of the Million Air Franchise was a direct result of Spencer having lost access to the fuel farm. In the April 17 filing, Spencer’s attorneys maintain SBD Aircraft Services sustained $20 million in damages after the company lost access to the fueling facilities. “Defendants’ wrongful conduct, including but not limited to the purported termination of the fuel agreement will cause great and irreparable injury,” according to the complaint, which seeks SBD’s reinstatement as the manager of the fuel farm.
Airport officials maintain the fuel agreement was legally terminated when Spencer breached his end of the arrangement by allowing the fuel stores to dwindle to the point that in early February a 727 pilot was unable to fuel his jet to the required level.

Land Swap Paves Way For Mojave Cross’s Resurrection

The 12-year running Constitutional battle over a veterans group’s use of a Christian symbol to honor war dead at Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve was settled on April 23.
The California Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Civil Liberties Union reached a settlement that was endorsed by U.S. District Judge Robert Timlin that will allow the Mojave Cross to return to its original site by having the National Park Service transfer title for the one-acre parcel where the cross was formerly mounted to the Barstow Chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in exchange for five acres of donated land.
In 2001 the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of then-assistant superintendent of the preserve Frank Buono, a Vietnam veteran who argued that the Christian religious symbol was unconstitutionally located on government land.
A practicing Catholic, Buono despite his own religious faith objected to the presence of the cross on public land, saying he did not think it proper for any religious symbol to be displayed on government property.
Buono’s case cut a tortuous path through federal courts, where it was twice ordered that the cross be removed. Shortly after a federal court ordered the removal of the cross the first time, Congressman Jerry Lewis, in an effort to circumvent the court’s authority, arranged a land transfer in legislation he had passed in 2003, by which the five acres of privately owned property was delivered to the federal government in exchange for the acre beneath and surrounding the cross being given to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. That legislative solution was indistinguishable from the land exchange at the heart of the settlement reached this week.
Further legal challenges prevented that legislation from being actuated. Lower federal courts in California ruled that deeding the land to make it private through such a transfer approved by Congress did not separate the religious from the governmental. In 2007 the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals  held that “carving out a tiny parcel of property in the midst of this vast preserve — like a donut hole with the cross atop it — will do nothing to minimize the impermissible governmental endorsement” of a religious symbol.
When the case finally reached the nation’s highest legal authority, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 undid that standard, stating such a land swap if codified through legislation would suffice. In writing his opinion for the ruling majority on the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that the government, faced with an injunction to remove the memorial, had been put in a difficult position. The transfer of land was a reasonable solution, Kennedy said, writing that the government “could not maintain the cross without violating the injunction, but it could not remove the cross without conveying disrespect for those the cross was seen as honoring.”
Nevertheless, the decision to allow the cross to stay was a divided one, reflected in the 5-4 outcome on the issue among the justices. In the decision overturning the past rulings by lesser courts to the effect that the cross had to be taken down, Kennedy asserted for the majority that the memorial, even though it is in the form of a cross which alludes to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, was originally intended to serve as a war memorial, and was not meant as a religious icon.
The American Civil Liberties Union opposed the land transfer on other grounds, but this week the settelment was brought before Timlin, who signed off on it.
Erected in the 1934 by a group of veterans of what was then known as the Great War as a tribute to their colleagues who had fallen in World War I, the cross seven decades later became a lightning rod of controversy because of its religious significance. While some saw it as a symbol intended to honor soldiers who had made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their country, others saw in it a reference to Christianity. The presence of a patently religious symbol on public land, it was argued, violated the spirit and letter of the U.S. Constitution and the ideal of not blurring the distinction between Caesar and God.
The five acres to be traded for the monument site were donated to the Veterans of Foreign Wars by Henry and Wanda Sandoz of Yucca Valley.
The one-acre parcel surrounding the original site of the cross encompasses Sunrise Rock, in the community of Cima, roughly 12 miles south of Interstate 15 in the 1.6 million acre Mojave National Preserve, which was dedicated as a park in 1994. The transformation of the property into public land eventually led to the legal action.

Valles Stresses Self-Reliance And Reform In Run For Congress

Angela Valles says she is running for Congress “because our country is in trouble. We have excessive overregulation that is keeping businesses from expanding so they cannot grow and hire.”
She said she represents the High Desert’s Republican alternative to the Obama administration and that she is against the political philosophy of government giveaways to those who are not actively employed because that discourages hard work. Valles said she is equally against retrogressive taxation on employers, which she said discourages economic growth and innovation.
“I will fight Obamacare,” she said. “I believe everyone should have affordable medical coverage but we should not be forcing employers to pay for it. It should be the choice of the individual. We need to help people but we should not be giving them welfare and unemployment payments. We should be helping them to fend for themselves. If you are in an industry that has disappeared, you need to retrain yourself and go to work in a different field.”
She said, “We need tax reform. I am in favor of a flat tax. We should not be rewarding those who do not work or contribute very little and we should not punish those who are successful because they are hard working.”
Valles said she is sincere about her conservative political philosophy and came by it as a consequence of her life experience.
“I became pregnant at 16,” she said. “My father told me then, ‘You made your bed and now you have to lie in it.’ I thought he was the meanest man in the world. I had to move out and I was living in a rat-infested apartment because it only cost me $100 a month. I continued in school and got jobs as a hostess and waitress and whatever I could find. I made it. I would not have been able to do that if my father had gone easy on me.”
Valles obtained an associate of arts degree from Victor Valley College, a bachelors degree in organizational management from Azusa Pacific University and a master’s degree in organizational development at Pepperdine University. Professionally, she worked as a correctional officer at the Desert View Community Correctional Facility and graduated to prison administration, eventually landing the position of warden at the Victor Valley Correctional Facility. She is now employed as the director of human resources for the Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority.
Valles said she could not have achieved what she did without a commitment to education. “I believe in the value of education,” she said. Despite how well the educational system had served her, Valles said she was intent on altering it. “We need educational reform,” she said. “The government has too much control over education and its approach is ‘one size fits all.’ I support parent control.”
With regard to illegal immigration, Valles said she believes the influx of illegal immigrants is a direct result of “the social benefits we offer. “We provide free healthcare and other giveawys to our citizens,” she said. “If we take those incentives away, we will no longer attract illegal aliens. We also need to fine and punish employers who hire illegal immigrants. I would contract with firms in the private sector to have them monitor companies to ensure that they are in compliance with those regulations and that their employees have proper visas, permits and papers.”
The only soft spots in her heart with regard to governmental spending pertain to national security issues and care for returning veterans, she indicated.
“I would never cut our military budget,” she said.” I am very serious about keeping our nation safe. Anyone who does not see the threat the Middle East represents to our country should not be in office.”
Her hard-edged approach to welfare melted when she considered the plight of veterans. “We should take care of the people who have gone to other parts of the world to stand up for us,” she said. “Our veterans are our true heroes. We should not expect that after they have been in other countries killing people they will come back here and just blend right into society and  go to work and be able to hold down a job.  We should make sure they get all the help and assistance they need.”
Valles was elected to the Victor Valley College Board of Trustees in 2007 and the Victorville city council in 2010. Her value as an elected official has already been demonstrated, she said. “On the Victorville city council I saw the corruption and kickbacks,” she said. She distinguished herself from her council colleagues, referring to action the council took as things “they” rather than “we” carried out.   “I saw them giving raises even while we were failing to make bond payments,” she said. “I fought them.”
In her run for Congress, she said she is an independent who is for the most part financing her own campaign. “I have raised $2,600,” she said, mostly in hundred dollar-or-less-increments. “I have put $32,000 of my own money into the race. If you ask for donations, the only ones who will give you money are the ones who want something in return. I hope the voters will see through all the carpetbaggers in the race,” she said.

May 19 Tchaikovsky Symphony To Mark End Of Ponti’s 11 Year Run With SB Orchestra

SAN BERNARDINO—With the conclusion of the 2011-12 performing season next month, Carlo Ponti, Jr. will end his 11-year run as conductor and music director of the San Bernardino Symphony.
“Maestro Ponti brought the orchestra to unprecedented levels of artistic achievement,” according to a statement from symphony board president Mary Schnepp. “During his tenure with the orchestra, Carlo has brought a dedicated intensity to his role as music director and conductor. Carlo contributed to the community though his artistic presence and by bringing the orchestra to an unprecedented level of financial stability. While he was conductor donations and subscriptions increased dramatically.”
Ponti first conducted the San Bernardino Symphony in March 2000. Ten months later, at the age of 33, he was named music director and principal conductor.
The son of film producer Carlo Ponti and Italian movie star Sophia Loren, Carlo Ponti, Jr. worked at the Conductor’s Institute in Hartford, Connecticut under the direction of Harold Farberman from 1994 to 1996, worked with Mehli Mehta, Zubin Mehta and Andrey Boreyko in Los Angeles from 1997 to 1999 and furthered his studies at the Vienna Musikhochschule from 1999 to 2001 under Leopold Hager and Erwin Accel.
At various different times he has conducted  the American Youth Symphony, the Budapest Concert Orchestra, the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, the Napa Valley Symphony Orchestra, Orquesta Sinfonica de Galicia, Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Orchestra del Teatro di San Carlo, Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, Orquesta de Valencia, Pro Arte Orchestra, Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra, the Russian National Orchestra, the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the UCLA Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra.
He began appearing with the Russian National Orchestra in 1998 and in 2000 was appointed associate conductor of the Russian National Orchestra. In May 2010 he conducted the Russian National Orchestra in a premier performance of His Excellency Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev’s Song of the Ascent before Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican’s Sala Paulo VI.
Ponti is married to violinist Andrea Meszaros. They have two children, both born in Geneva, Switzerland: five-year-old Vittorio Leone Ponti  and Beatrice Lara Ponti, born March 15th, 2012. Ponti currently is with his family in Geneva, where his mother has a home.
He will return to San Bernardino later this month to prepare for the San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra’s May 19 performance of  Concierto de Aranjuez  by Joaquin Rodrigo  (featuring David Cahueque, guitar; Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op.36  by Tchaikovsky and Prelude to “Afternoon of a Faun” by Debussy.
While in San Bernardino, Ponti proved instrumental in furthering the symphony’s education programs, working with student music ensembles at area schools, establishing an endowment fund and expanding and diversifying the orchestra’s audience base.
In a prepared statement, Ponti said, “The San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra, its musicians, board members and staff will always hold a special place in my heart. I am proud of the music we made together and of the impact our collaboration had on this very special community. It has been a privilege for me to serve as the symphony’s music director and principal conductor for 11 exciting seasons, and I wish this wonderful orchestra and its dedicated supporters the brightest of futures.”
Frank Fetta,  conductor of the Torrance Symphony as well as the artistic adviser  and conductor of the Redlands Bowl Summer Music Festival, will succeed Ponti.
Fetta has been guest conductor of the San Bernardino Symphony and has guest conducted the Honolulu Symphony, the Irvine Symphony, the Flagstaff Symphony, the State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara, the Fresno Philharmonic, the Fresno Ballet, the Inland Dance Theatre and the San Diego Symphony. Fetta will continue to be the conductor at the Redlands Bowl

Jury Sides With City In Rejecting Former Police Chief’s Lawsuit

Former Colton police chief Ken Rulon’s wrongful termination suit against the city went down in flames on Thursday when a jury rejected his claims that he had been fired because he was a conscientious whistleblower.
Rulon was terminated as Colton police chief in April 2007 by then-city manager Daryl Parrish, a month after Rulon was placed on paid administrative leave.
The cashiered police chief filed a wrongful termination suit against the city, claiming he was fired for reporting allegations of corruption against city officials to the district attorney’s office.
At the center of that alleged corruption was former councilman Ramon Hernandez’s abuse of his city-issued credit card, against which he charged for unauthorized motel stays and calls to telephone sex lines between December 2004 and May 2006. Hernandez initially said the credit card had been stolen by his nephew, but Parrish did not cancel the card or reissue a new one to Hernandez, and the charges against it persisted.  After the full city council was informed of the circumstance, on June 7, 2006 the city’s finance department cancelled his credit card.
On June 20, Rulon learned of the unauthorized charges Hernandez had made  and initiated an investigation of the matter. Later that day, just before that evening’s city council meeting commenced, then-councilman John Mitchell used his personal credit card to reimburse the city for the $5,457 outstanding against Hernandez’s city-issued credit card. Hernandez would later claim he repaid Mitchell after the meeting concluded. A week later, on June 27, Rulon questioned Hernandez about the credit card billings and phoned the public integrity unit of the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office to provide a tentative synopsis of his findings. .
On August 18, 2006, district attorney’s investigators obtained warrants to search premises associated with Hernandez and on August 24, 2006 Hernandez was arrested and charged with  24 felony counts under California Penal Code Section 424 related to the misappropriation of public funds. He subsequently pleaded guilty. Despite Rulon’s urging, the public integrity unit declined to charge other Colton city officials with illegally assisting Hernandez or delaying or obstructing an investigation into his action.
In October 2006, Parrish without city council authorization hired an outside investigator to look into anonymously delivered accusations against Rulon that he misused his authority and was creating a hostile work environment by imposing citation and arrest quotas on officers and not promoting deserving Latino officers, as well as sexually harassing female employees, including his own secretary.
In March 2007, while the investigation commissioned by Parrish was yet to conclude, the Colton Police Officers’ Association cast an 85-6 vote of no-confidence against Rulon, questioning his ability to lead the department. A month later, Rulon was terminated.
Rulon and his attorney, Dan Stormer, maintained that he was shown the door because he had informed the district attorney’s office of the matter involving Hernandez and the apparent effort of Parrish and others to cover the embezzlement up. Rulon, who was provided with a $132,000 base salary and more than $60,000 in benefits as chief, sought $10 million for wrongful termination, defamation, damage to his reputation and harm to his current and future earning potential
John Higginbotham, the attorney representing the city, produced two department detectives who testified that Rulon initially sought to protect Hernandez by discouraging an investigation. Higginbotham said Rulon did not report the matter to the district attorney until after the matter was gaining wider scrutiny at the council and public levels.
After a 20-day trial concluded early this week, the 9-woman, three-man jury deliberated for two days before returning with a verdict in favor of the city.

Red Light Camera Lawsuit Removed From State Court To Federal Judicial System

VICTORVILLE—The stakes have grown considerably higher in the class action lawsuit challenging the city of Victorville’s use of remotely viewed cameras to issue traffic citations to motorists allegedly running red lights.
The attorney representing the city requested that the matter be moved from Superior Court in Victorville to the federal judicial system and the court complied. Whereas previously the matter promised to merely extend no further than the claim against the city of Victorville and Australia-based Redflex Traffic Systems that 4,300 people who had received tickets from Victorville’s red light camera system stood to recover over $9 million in actual damages and the court’s determination of proper punitive damages from the defendants, a ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor in federal court could now mean the end of the use of red light cameras nationwide.
In lodging his suit, Barstow-based attorney Robert Conaway asserted on behalf of lead plaintiff Michael Curran and the others who have joined him in the suit that the use of cameras to issue tickets is unconstitutional and illegal because those ticketed are not allowed to confront their accuser and that there is a conflict of interest in allowing Redflex, which has a financial interest in seeing alleged red light runners convicted, to collect, analyze, process and store the evidence used against those cited.
According to Conaway, the camera system “violates the long standing legal rule that for an officer to cite a citizen for an infraction, it must be done ‘In the presence’ of the officer.” Conaway maintains that those reviewing the videos are non-sworn Redflex employees, such that the information obtained by the officers who sign the petitions is hearsay and thus inadmissible as evidence.
Specifically cited in the suit was 42 USC 1983, which protects an American citizen’s Sixth Amendment rights to face his accuser. According to Conaway, “The declarations that appear in the citations sent to consumers as part of the Redflex-Victorville red light automated traffic enforcement system, are subscribed under ‘information and belief. An affidavit based on “information and belief” is hearsay and must be disregarded, and it is “unavailing for any purpose” whatsoever. Matters alleged on ‘information and belief’ do ‘not serve to establish the facts … because an affidavit which is to be used as evidence must be positive, direct and not based upon hearsay.’ A ruling ‘of the court is to be based upon acts which may be presented to it, and not upon the belief of the affiant.’ Such allegations on ‘information and belief’ furnish… ‘no proof of the facts stated ….’”
The attorney representing the city of Victorville, Riverside-based Harvey Wimer III, seized upon Conaway’s citation of the U.S. Constitution and US Code, and asserted the matter should be removed to federal court since it deals with a federal law. The law firm for Redflex, Los Angeles-based Davis Wright Tremaine, supported having the matter removed to the federal system as well, since its client’s American headquarters are located in Arizona and Delaware and that the federal venue  is fitting since most of the plaintiffs in the class action suit are from the Victorville area.
The city has now made a motion in U.S. District Court to have the lawsuit dismissed. That motion will be heard on May 21.

Bail Lifted For All Four Defendants In the Colonies Settlement Bribery Prosecution

The four defendants in the Colonies Settlement Corruption case will continue to be prohibited from leaving the country but have now had their bail lifted.
Judge Michael Smith agreed to allow Paul Biane, Jeff Burum, Jim Erwin and Mark Kirk to remain free on their own recognizance as the proceedings, related to  what was once characterized by former California Attorney General and current Governor Jerry Brown as “the most appalling corruption case in decades, certainly in the history of San Bernardino County and maybe California itself,” languish in the pre-trial stage nearly a year after a superseding indictment was handed down by a grand jury.
Smith’s granting of the request by the defendants’ on April 20 freed them from having to pay an annual bond premium. Initially bond was set at $10 million for Burum and $2 million for Biane, Erwin and Kirk. It was subsequently reduced to $500,000 for Burum, $250,000 for Biane and Erwin and $100,000 for Kirk.
In February 2010, Erwin and former county supervisor Bill Postmus were indicted on extortion, bribery and conspiracy charges relating to the $102 million payment the board of supervisors conferred on the Colonies Partners in November 2006. The payout was ostensibly made to settle a lawsuit the Colonies Partners had brought against the county over flood control issues at the Colonies at San Antonio and Colonies Crossroads residential and commercial subdivisions in northeastern Upland.  Both Postmus and Erwin initially maintained their innocence but in March 2011 Postmus entered guilty pleas on 14 separate counts relating to that case and his later activities as county assessor. He agreed to testify against others involved in the alleged criminal conspiracy. In May 2011, a superseding indictment was handed down, renaming Erwin as a defendant and charging Biane, Burum and Kirk, who had been identified as unnamed and unindicted co-conspirators in the February 2010 indictment.
According to the indictment, Burum, one of two managing principals in the Colonies Partners, employed Erwin, a former treasurer and president of the county sheriff’s deputies union, as a consultant in the effort to settle the lawsuit. The indictment alleges that Erwin worked with Patrick O’Reilly, a public relations consultant working for the Colonies Partners, to fashion mailers, known as ‘political hit pieces’ that revealed that Postmus, then the chairman of the board of supervisors and the chairman of the county Republican Central Committee who was engaged in a campaign for county assessor, was a drug-addicted homosexual and that Biane, the co-chairman of the county board of supervisors and co-chairman of the county Republican Central Committee, was on the brink of personal bankruptcy. According to the indictment, Burum and Erwin withheld those mailers, but threatened to post them during the 2006 election season, an act tantamount to extortion. After Postmus, Biane and supervisor Gary Ovitt  in November 2006 voted to approve the $102 million payout to the Colonies Partners over the dissenting votes of supervisor Josie Gonzales and then-supervisor Dennis Hansberger, Burum over the next seven months made two separate $50,000 contributions to two political action committees controlled by Postmus, and separate $100,000 contributions to political action committees controlled by Biane, Erwin and Kirk. Kirk was at that time Ovitt’s chief-of-staff. Prosecutors allege those contributions were bribes made in exchange for the approval of the settlement payout.
According to former federal judge Stephen Larson, Burum’s lawyer, his client and the three other defendants have proven they are committed to establishing their innocence and they represent no flight risk.
“These defendants have demonstrated they are very vigorously dedicated to staying here and proving their innocence,” he said.
Deputy district attorney Lewis Cope, the lead prosecutor for the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office on the case, did not object to the extinguishing of bail.
There have been several delays in the case’s progression toward trial, including filings with the state appeals court by prosecutors seeking to reestablish some of the charges that were dismissed by the trial court in response to a defense demurrer motion as well as filings by defense attorneys seeking dismissal of the remaining charges