By Mark Gutglueck
The 2018-19 Grand Jury’s examination of the financial crisis besetting Upland makes no mention of the involvement of former Upland Mayor John Pomierski or that of his handpicked city manager, Robb Quincey, in creating the City of Gracious Living’s dire fiscal circumstance.
According to the grand jury report, which was released on June 28, “A complaint was received by the grand jury indicating that the financial status of the City of Upland was in poor condition. The main concerns were the financial health and practices of the city along with unfunded pension liabilities. In addition, the complaint alleged the city manifested a culture of poor management, hostile work environments, and nepotism as well as possible ‘Brown Act,’ violations. California Penal Code Section 925a provided the grand jury jurisdiction to inquire into these allegations. The grand jury subcommittee for the County of San Bernardino was formed to investigate the City of Upland complaint.”
The committee, the report states, obtained additional information and “evidence began to support various aspects of the original complaint, which also expanded to other functions and levels within the operation of the city that had been an issue for some time. The grand jury did not discover sufficient evidence of poor management, hostile work environments and nepotism to make findings and recommendations at this time. The committee found no evidence of “Brown Act” violations. The committee in its efforts to understand the city’s financial situation, contracted with a San Bernardino County-approved auditing firm to conduct an independent audit of the city’s financial health. Upon conclusion of said audit, the committee learned that the City of Upland, while not in great financial shape, was no different from other California cities of like size. The City of Upland did however, have future financial issues related to employee pension payments.”
According to the grand jury, “[T]he City of Upland’s revenue is relatively flat in nature and expenditures are rising at an exponentially higher rate. The City of Upland’s current overall financial status, although recently improved, still does not resolve future financial pension related issues associated with payments to other post-employment benefits and the California Public Employees Retirement System and the impact these payments have on the financial health to the City of Upland.”
The report presented figures to show that in Upland, over the last four years revenue has in general trended down while spending has trended up.
In fiscal year 2013-14, the report said city had revenue of $52,999,442 and expenditures of $46,156,242. In 2014-15, the city had revenue of $59,292,159 and expenditures of $50,605,012. In 2015-16, the city had revenue of $56,284,601 and expenditures of $53,658,982. In 2016-17, the city had revenue of $58,277,968 and expenditures of $54,532,470. In 2017-18, the city had revenue of $53,864,481 and expenditures of $54,646,392, according to the report.
The city had pension costs of 5,261,392 in 2013-14. Its pension costs will jump to a projected $15,661,000 in fiscal year 2027-28, the report stated.
According to the grand jury, “The City of Upland’s revenue grew at a flat rate of 1.5% from fiscal year 2013/14 through fiscal year 2017/18, which equates to an average annual growth rate of 0.3%. The City of Upland’s expenditures increased 18.2% from fiscal year 2013/14 through fiscal year 2017/18, which equates to an average annual growth rate of 3.64%. The City of Upland’s annual payments for retiree pension payments from fiscal year 2017/18 to fiscal year 2027/28 are projected to grow at an average annual mean rate of 7.47%, in plain terms from $8,963,000 in fiscal year 2017/18 to $15,661,000 in fiscal year 2027/28. Based upon the San Bernardino County contracted audit team and two grand jury interviews with the City of Upland’s management [it was] determined that the City of Upland does not have a formal plan in place to fund future payments to the employee pension plan.”
While the grand jury gave an overview of the City of Upland’s deteriorating financial circumstance, it did not offer any trenchant analysis of what put the city behind the eight ball monetarily beyond saying, “The vast majority of the growth in current and future expenditures are associated with the increase in employee pension costs.”
According to the report, the methodology for the investigation was limited to interviewing the complainant and receiving additional documentation and information, interviewing management personnel from the City of Upland as well as a union employee representative, researching numerous documents online and in various periodicals, as well as reviewing sister cities’ reports and financials, and contracting with an independent auditing firm to conduct what the grand jury report characterized as “an in-depth audit of the City of Upland’s fiscal situation.”
No review of historical factors relating to how Upland was maneuvered by its various employee unions into providing its employees with salaries and benefits, including pensions, the city could not afford was made.
In 2000, John Pomierski was elected mayor. He was reelected in 2004 and again in 2008. By late 2001 Pomierski had formed political alliances with his fellow council members Tom Thomas, Ken Willis and Michael Libutti. In May 2002, Libutti was appointed by then-Governor Gray Davis to a position on the Superior Court Bench to replace Judge Lou Glazier after his retirement. Libutti was thereafter replaced by Brendan Brandt on the city council. Pomierski thereupon formed a political alliance with Brandt.
Relatively early on in his tenure, Pomierski used the power of his position at City Hall to shake down individuals and companies with business pending before the city. In particular, Pomierski preyed upon applicants for project approval with the city’s planning division and community development department. Pomierski arranged for these kickbacks and bribes to be filtered to him in multiple ways. He owned a construction company, and those seeking approval of projects had the option of hiring his firm, JP Construction, as a subcontractor on those projects. To get money to Pomierski, project applicants could also provide work to a construction business owned by one of the mayor’s associates, John Hennes, who was also Pomierski’s designated appointee to the Upland Municipal Housing Authority. Another money conveyance and laundering mechanism Pomierski used was to have the project proponents hire him as a “consultant.” Additionally, Pomierski used the ruse of having those seeking the city’s approval of their projects use the consulting services of two of his “associates,” Jason Crebs and Anthony Orlando Sanchez, in perpetrating his extortion and pay-off schemes.
In time, a number of city employees became aware of Pomierski’s depredations. To buy their silence, Pomierski arranged for them to obtain raises. Yet raises being provided to a select group of city employees in itself raised suspicions, not to mention the hackles of city employees who did not receive increases in their pay and accompanying benefits. To smooth over ruffled feathers, Pomierski prompted his fellow councilmen to raise employee salaries across the board. Ingratiating himself even further with the city’s employees, he and the council consented to having City Hall transition to a four-day workweek. When a pattern of the city’s employees failing to show up for work at 7 am and remaining in place until 6 pm in keeping with their Monday through Thursday work schedule manifested shortly after that transition, Pomierski and his fellow council members chose to ignore those transgressions.
In 2005, Pomierski forced then-City Manager Michael Milhiser to leave, followed by then-Police Chief Martin Thouvenell, both of whom were nearing the outer margin of their tolerance for Pomierski’s antics. Pomeirski replaced Milhiser with Robb Quincey and promoted Steve Adams to police chief, considering the installation of both to be a hedge against any interference in his illicit maneuverings and exploitation of this mayoral authority.
After Quincey was in place, Pomierski persuaded his council colleagues to grant Quincey the perquisite of granting him the same level of pay and benefit increases to be provided to the city’s police officers. The Pomierski-led council then designated Quincey to carry out the city’s collective bargaining with the city’s police union, the Upland Police Officers Association. During the course of his slightly more than five-and-a-half years as city manager, Quincey was provided with eight salary enhancements, which zoomed his total annual compensation package from $269,000 per year to $429,000 annually.
The unions representing the city’s work force – the San Bernardino Public Employees Association, the Upland Police Officers Association and the Upland Professional Firefighters Association – uniformly endorsed Pomierski in his campaigns for reelection. Though the city was rife with reports of Pomierski being on the take, the police department under Adams undertook no investigation into the plethora of bribery schemes he was involved in.
In 2010, after years of inaction by the Upland Police Department, Pomierski was locked onto by the FBI, which in June of that year carried out raids at Upland City Hall, Pomierski’s home and office, as well as the offices and homes of Hennes, Crebs and Sanchez. In 2011, Pomierski, Hennes, Crebs and Sanchez were indicted and charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with engaging in extortion and bribery. Pomierski pleaded guilty to bribery charges in 2012. Quincey followed Pomierski into infamy, being unceremoniously shown the door by the Upland City Council two months after Pomierski’s indictment. Quincey was subsequently criminally charged by the district attorney’s office with several felonies, including unlawful misappropriation of public money, gaining personal benefit from an official contract, and giving false testimony under oath. In September 2014 three of those charges against Quincey were dismissed and a felony conviction on a single count of conflict of interest by a public officer was entered against him.
After Pomierski’s fall, subsequent administrations shied away from asking the city’s employees or its unions to make any givebacks of what they had been provided as part of their corrupt bargain with the former mayor to let him continue with his exploitation of his political office, though in June 2011, Quincey’s successor as city manager, Stephen Dunn, did roll out a massive lay off/termination of 27 city workers, among whom were some but not all of those suspected of having, or known to have, assisted Pomierski and Quincey in their despoiling of the city.
By 2012, the degree to which the Pomierski-orchestrated giveaways to city employees had compromised the city’s financials was becoming apparent. The following year, an auditor’s opinion from the certified public accounting firm Mayer Hoffman and McCann that accompanied an audit of the city’s books through June 2012 stated that there were such serious questions with regard to the city’s solvency to the point that it was on a trajectory toward being “unable to continue as a going concern.”
Now, more than eight years after the end of the Pomierski era, city employees and their unions are lodging complaints about having gone seven years without raises, and they are pressuring the current council and its acting city manager, Rosemary Hoerning, to provide them with 10.5 percent raises.
By Mark Gutglueck