In what is universally perceived as a significant political and practical victory for Adelanto Mayor Rich Kerr, Planning Commissioner Joy Jeannette was elected to the city council this week in the special election coinciding with California’s June Primary. The election was held to replace former Councilman Jermaine Wright, who was removed from office in January after consistently missing all of the council’s regularly-scheduled meetings for two months following his November 7 arrest by the FBI on attempted arson and bribery charges.
Jeannette’s ascendancy to the city council virtually assures that the ruling coalition that consisted of Kerr and Wright with the consistent backing of Councilman John Woodard and the less-reliable support of Councilman Charley Glasper will resurrect in a slightly different form. Moreover, it very likely that City Manager Gabriel Elliott, who has been on paid administrative leave since December, will be terminated almost immediately after Jeannette is sworn in.
Kerr, Woodard and Glasper were elected in November 2014 in what was a clean sweep that saw then-incumbent Mayor Cari Thomas and council members Charles Valvo and Steve Baisden displaced. Immediately upon the three taking office, Kerr, working with Woodard and Wright, spelled out to then-City Manager Jim Hart that the newly formed council was willing to depart with the conservative policies of past city councils and embrace the commercialization of marijuana as an economic engine to get the city, which was teetering on the abyss of bankruptcy and had declared itself to be in a state of fiscal emergency in June 2013, back on track financially. This approach engendered a degree of resistance among city staff, and the city burned through employees at an alarming rate, starting with Hart in February 2015. Hart was replaced by former City Engineer and Public Works Director Tom Thornton, but Thornton lasted only three months in the post, returning to his city engineer’s position when he became alarmed with the unbridled fashion in which those intent on growing or selling marijuana were being welcomed to town. Referring to Kerr, Wright and Woodard as “rogue council members,” Thornton eventually left the city altogether. Following Thornton’s tour as top city staffer, the council elevated City Clerk Cindy Herrera to the city manager’s post. She accommodated Kerr, Wright and Woodard for over a year, but began to balk when would-be marijuana industry entrepreneurs seeking permits began to regularly show up at City Hall with briefcases full of cash. Further casualties were city attorney Todd Litfin, who quit rather than facilitate the marijuanification of the city, and Litfin’s successor, City Attorney Julia Sylva, who was doing everything she could legally to make Adelanto marijuana-friendly, but was then obliged to leave when things grew too hot. Former senior planner Mark de Manincor, former public works superintendent Nan Moore, former senior management analyst Mike Borja, conservation specialist/administrator Belen Cordero, and even a public works maintenance worker, Jose Figueroa, were forced out of their positions because they were unwilling to move as quickly as Kerr, Wright and Woodard were demanding in getting as many cannabis-based concerns up and running within the city in as short of a time as possible. Cordero, in particular, was particularly outspoken in questioning the path the council was taking the city down, blasting Kerr, Wright and Woodard in public at city council meetings, suggesting that they resign and pointedly referring to Wright as a “fake” and a “phony.”
Land speculators poured into the city, alongside applicants for marijuana-involved businesses. In many cases, those purchasing property in the city appeared to be functioning on inside information about what properties would later be zoned to allow cannabis-related businesses. By late 2016, federal officials in the form of Securities and Exchange Commission investigators along with Drug Enforcement Agency and FBI agents were interesting themselves in the city’s goings-on. By October 2017, Wright was in regular contact with two undercover FBI agents, one of which held himself out to be an arsonist and the other who made a convincing show of being an applicant for a license for a marijuana distribution business in Adelanto. Wright had been introduced to the two agents by an FBI informant with a criminal background. Unsuspecting that those he was dealing with were actually law enforcement officers, Wright sought the assistance of one in helping him burn down his restaurant to collect on an insurance policy he had on it and agreed to take a bribe from the other in exchange for assisting him in getting his cannabis distribution enterprise on track. Eventually, the FBI agents would close the trap they had laid for Wright, and get his short-lived agreement to cooperate with them in gathering information about graft on the part of other Adelanto officials. Before that occurred, however, Wright and the rest of the city council had extended an offer to Gabriel Elliott, at that time the city’s development services director, to move up into the city manager’s post. Elliott in August 2017 accepted that assignment. Kerr, Wright and Woodard had hired Elliott with the expectation that he would assist them in fast tracking more and more cannabis-related operations in the city. He did so reluctantly and against his better judgment for two months. But upon Wright’s arrest in November, the on-again, off-again support that Glasper had provided to his three council colleagues in lending his approval to the aggressive development of marijuana-based businesses in Adelanto abruptly ended.
With Wright out of the picture, the city council was deadlocked 2-to-2 over permitting more such businesses licenses to operate, as Glasper had joined with Ed Camargo, who had consistently been opposed to allowing the city to become a haven for marijuana entrepreneurs. Kerr and Woodard pressured Elliott to continue as before, expediting the approval of marijuana cultivation operations, cannabis product processing factories, medical marijuana dispensaries and pot shops that would sell marijuana for recreational use a la liquor stores selling beer, wine, whiskey, tequila, gin and vodka. When Elliott refused, Kerr in December orchestrated the filing of sexual harassment charges against Elliott by two city employees and an intern. Using the investigation into Elliott as a pretext, the council put him on suspension. Meanwhile Elliott continued to collect his $18,000 per month salary. In March, the investigation concluded, with the examiner finding that there was insufficient evidence to establish that Elliott had engaged in behavior to sustain the charges of sexual harassment against him. Kerr and Woodard, however, refused to lift Elliott’s suspension, and pressed during the closed sessions held at virtually every city council meeting that took place throughout the winter and spring to terminate Elliott. Three votes were needed to cashier Elliott, however, and neither Glasper nor Camargo would support that.
In the face of the federal investigation into allegations that kickbacks to city officials from elements of the marijuana industry accelerated Adelanto’s headlong rush toward converting its economy to one that is in a major degree dependent upon the growing, processing and sale of marijuana, Kerr and Woodard have maintained that there is nothing venal about their advocacy of those seeking to establish such businesses in town. They assert that the economic shot in the arm that cannabis is giving to Adelanto is the sole reason they are behind the liberalization of the city’s policy and that they are in no way on the take or receiving any inducements from those who have applied to set up marijuana-involved operations that could make those businesses millions of dollars in profits. Kerr and Woodard have not been shaken from this stance, despite the FBI on May 8 raiding City Hall and Kerr’s home as well as the Jet Room marijuana dispensary in Adelanto and its corporate headquarters in San Bernardino.
Kerr and Woodard supported Jeannette in her run for the city council. As a planning commissioner, she consistently voted to uphold the city council’s pro-marijuana policy. Additionally, Jeanette was provided with hefty political contributions by marijuana industry figures active in the city such as Shad Boyd, Terry Delgado, David Serrano, Jerry Davis and Brad Eckenweiler, all of whom are likewise Kerr and Woodard supporters. Their contributions allowed Jeannette to run an energetic campaign, which included billboards, yard signs and paid “volunteers” going door-to-door on her behalf to encourage the city’s voters to support her.
That effort paid off. Of the 1,199 Adelanto voters who participated in the election by submitting mail ballots or going to the polls on Tuesday, 594, or 49.54 percent endorsed Jeannette on their ballots. Diana Esmeralda Holte-Cosato received 354 votes or 29.36 percent. Ronald Beard garnered 253 votes or 21.1 percent.
The first order of business for the new council majority after the panel is again up to full five-member strength will be to fire Elliott. It is expected that Jeannette will join with Kerr and Woodard in doing so. The next issue the council is likely to take up will be to vote to cut out the city’s top code enforcement officer, Steve Peltier, who has also been resistant to Kerr’s plans for the city. Peltier is considered to be a ringleader of several city code enforcement officers who have defied orders to stand down in making exacting inspections of new cannabis-related businesses in the city.