Adelanto Mayor Richard Kerr’s political game plan consists of keeping city manager Gabriel Elliott suspended until after the June election, at which point the mayor has hope that planning commissioner Joy Jeannette will emerge victorious in the special city council race coinciding with this year’s California Primary, sources close to Kerr have told the Sentinel.
Kerr has strong reason to believe that Jeannette will join with him and councilman John Woodard in helping him reestablish the ruling council coalition he used to dominate the city for nearly three years but which was lost with the demise of former councilman Jermaine Wright.
Kerr was elected mayor along with Woodard and Charley Glasper in a clean sweep in the November 2014 election, which saw former mayor Cari Thomas and councilmen Steve Baisden and Charles Valvo displaced. In short order, Kerr, with the solid backing of Wright and Woodard, and the more tentative support of Glasper, set about seeking to revitalize the city economically, no small task given that the previous council led by Thomas and then-city manager Jim Hart had in June 2013 declared the city was in a state of fiscal emergency, which was considered to be a precursor to seeking bankruptcy protection. A central element to Kerr’s revitalization plans consisted of using that provision of California’s 1996 Proposition 215/Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act that would allow the city to host venues for selling and/or producing marijuana for medical use. Initially bypassing the concept of allowing dispensaries at which cannabis was to be sold to end users to set up shop, the council majority, with councilman Ed Camargo in opposition, moved toward massive scale agricultural production of the substance for wholesale marketing to dispensaries outside the city, by permitting secured greenhouses to be established within the city’s industrial park. This resulted in a frenzy of land purchasing and leasing activity, as many would-be marijuana millionaires sought to anticipate, in many cases it turned out accurately, which areas of town would be zoned for marijuana growing operations, and they purchased properties there or entered into leases on existing buildings. The enthusiasm that Kerr, Wright, and Woodard, and to a lesser extent Glasper, displayed in embracing these cannabis-related entrepreneurs and the degree to which some city officials appeared to be facilitating the marijuana growing operations raised suspicions with regard to possible collusion or graft. That intensified when the council in 2016, in anticipation of the passage of Proposition 64/the Adult Use of Marijuana Act that was on the ballot that year, made preparations to expand the city’s tolerance of marijuana-related operations from cultivation facilities to ones engaged in end-use sale of the drug.
Throughout this time, the city council burned through a succession of city managers or interim city managers starting with Hart, none of whom appeared willing to move quickly enough or with the requisite abandon to facilitate the granting of commercial marijuana permits and licenses on a pace that pleased Kerr, Wright and Woodard. The determination of Kerr, Wright and Woodard to get Adelanto in on the ground floor of the marijuana revolution and the consequent intensified flood into City Hall of those seeking permits and licenses to market the drug, including applicants who were literally bearing briefcases full of cash, raised further concerns that city officials were on the take. The validity of those concerns was vindicated when in November 2017, Wright was arrested by the FBI and charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with having arranged for and accepting a bribe from an undercover FBI agent posing as an applicant for a marijuana distribution permit. Wright was incarcerated at once, and has remained locked up ever since. His absence in short order compromised Kerr’s ruling coalition, as Wright’s arrest severely chastened Glasper, whose support of Kerr’s agenda all along had been lukewarm, at best. Glasper was no longer willing to support the unrestrained courting of marijuana-related businesses.
Wright’s arrest also had an impact on Gabriel Elliott, the city’s one-time director of development services who had been elevated less than three months previously to the position of city manager. Elliott had never been comfortable with the city’s aggressive efforts to attract marijuana-related businesses and facilitate the approval of permit applications for such uses with only cursory vetting. Recognizing that Kerr and Woodward did not have the requisite votes to push their energetic plan to load the city up with cannabis-related enterprises, Elliott began to resist them. And indeed, a standoff ensued, as the council, without Wright present, deadlocked 2-to-2 on a whole host of issues, with Camargo and Glasper on one side and Kerr and Woodard on the other. In December, Kerr orchestrated the filing of a set of sexual harassment complaints by city employees and an intern against Elliott. That triggered a mirroring sexual harassment complaint against Kerr from another intern with the city. The investigation into the allegations against Elliott was used as grounds to put him on paid administrative leave.
While that investigation was pending, Wright’s prolonged absence from his council duties triggered the provisions of a state law which resulted in Wright’s mandatory removal from the council position he held. To fill that void, Kerr sought to appoint planning commission chairman Chris Waggener, who has steadily supported converting Adelanto to a cannabis-based economy. But Glasper and Camargo, recognizing that if Waggener were to be installed as Wright’s replacement they would be giving Kerr carte blanch to continue with the marijuanafication of Adelanto as well as the crucial third vote needed to fire Elliott, refused to confirm Waggener. Rather, against Kerr and Woodard’s wishes, the council was forced, because no consensus could be reached on an appointment, to let the matter be decided by the city’s voters in the upcoming June Primary. Waggener, for whatever reason, did not throw his hat in the ring for the June 5 race. One of his planning commission colleagues, Joy Jeannette, did, however, as did Diana Esmeralda Holte and Ronald Beard.
During the last week of February and the first week of March, the dual investigations into the sexual harassment charges against Kerr and Elliott were completed, with the investigator concluding that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the complaints against either the mayor or the city manager.
Despite the investigator’s determination that the accusation against Elliott did not provide grounds to either discipline or remove him, Kerr has used Elliott’s suspended status to keep him at bay. Since a majority vote of the council is required to rescind Elliott’s suspension, the city manager has remained, since December, on paid administrative leave, pulling $18,000 per month while remaining off work, forbidden from returning to his office.
On seven separate occasions, Kerr has scheduled a closed door discussion of disciplining or firing Elliott. Though he has Woodard’s support in terminating Elliott, he has been unable to get Glasper or Camargo to support doing so.
When Elliot was placed on leave in December, the council summoned Mike Milhiser, who was the interim city manager in the seven months prior to Elliott’s hiring, to return to the city manager’s post in a caretaker role. Milhiser is slated to leave effective May 1, next Wednesday. In recent weeks, Kerr has resisted calls to simply reinstate Elliott as city manager. Instead, he has been angling to have the city’s director of development services, Charles Rangel, move into the post, at least on a temporary basis. This week, at the Wednesday April 25 council meeting, the council met in closed session to discuss promoting Rangel into the city manager’s position upon Milhiser’s official departure. Though Kerr made his best pitch to Camargo and Glasper, neither would give him the necessary third vote to hand the keys of the city to Rangel on a temporary basis.
According to one well-placed source with a close spection of the goings-on at City Hall, Rangel is a mere stopgap measure that Kerr wants to use as a bridge to reasserting his political primacy in Adelanto. Ultimately, Kerr wants to reestablish a trajectory of permitting scores of marijuana related business to flourish in the city, and install the city’s current economic development director, Jesse Flores, into the city manager’s post, the Sentinel is told.
“What I know is Rich [Kerr] wants Charles [Rangel] as interim city manager,” the source said. “He [Rangel] is the guy who has been filling in for Michael [Milhiser] the last few council meetings. When Gabriel [Elliott] became city manager, Charles replaced him in the planning department. Now Rich wants Charles to be interim city manager because Michael apparently could only commit till May First. Charles would be the sixth city manager since 2015, just after Rich took office. Charles became close with Rich and Jesse [Flores] by fast passing the marijuana projects that have been coming into town. At the same time, there has been a lot of covering up of all the illegal operations running without proper permits and orders for code enforcement to stand down. Rich wants the marijuana operations to be given permission to operate, no matter what, and he doesn’t want what he considers to be minor code enforcement problems or issues delaying things. Charles will go along with that. Gabriel wouldn’t. They will still continue to pay Gabriel 18K a month to stay home until June. At that time Rich is praying that Joy Jeanette wins as Jermaine’s replacement and will be the third vote he needs to replace Gabriel with Jesse. Rich’s friends, and by friends I mean the ones who want to set up their own dispensaries or marijuana nurseries or cannabis product manufacturing concerns, are walking Joy Jeannette around town as part of her campaign and sponsoring her. They are relying on her to win. If Joy doesn’t win, Rich will have to lie, beg and maybe even steal from the other – either Ron [Beard] or Diana [Esmeralda-Holte], whichever one wins – to convince them to vote his way. Otherwise Gabriel will come back sometime in June because the vote will be 3-to-2 with Ed [Camargo], Charlie [Glasper] and the newbie calling the shots.”