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With the 2020 balloting in which he is due to stand for reelection less than two months away, Needles Mayor Jeff Williams has fallen seriously ill to the point that his life is reportedly in danger.
Because of privacy restrictions in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a 1996 Federal law that limits access to individuals’ private medical information, precise details about the mayor’s condition are not available.
This is not the first major health crisis Williams has faced. In 2015, the then-53-year-old Williams began experiencing kidney issues. In 2016, doctors discovered and removed a cancerous growth on his right kidney. Thereafter, Williams has constantly, three days a week, undergone an exhausting four-hour dialysis session.
Reportedly, Williams experienced a major cardiac episode as well as another nephrological crisis, and is now intubated and undergoing dialysis. It was said that his condition has grown so critical that he remains hospitalized, and is being kept alive mechanically.
Already a legend, which is perhaps apocryphal in some or all of its particulars, has risen with regard to the mayor’s travail. According to that narrative, Williams is hospitalized at the Colorado River Medical Center, where he is under the watchful care of none other than Dr. Ed Paget, for decades Needles’ leading physician. Going back more than a decade, Williams and Paget have alternated holding the mayor’s position, which in Needles consists of a two-year term. Williams, a former sheriff’s deputy who later worked as an investigator for the public defender’s office, was first elected Needles mayor in 2000. He ran unopposed for mayor in 2006 and in 2008 held off a challenge by longtime Needles political figure Roy Mills. In 2010, Paget, who had and continues to have tremendous visibility and popularity in Needles as a physician who cares for many in what is the county’s smallest city population-wise at less than 5,000 residents, challenged Williams for the mayor’s post, besting the incumbent 634 votes or 56.76 percent to Williams’ 483 votes or 43.24 percent. In 2012 and 2014, Paget was unopposed in his mayoral electoral bids. In 2014, Williams reentered Needles politics, successfully running for city council. In 2016, Paget was again unopposed in running for mayor. In 2018, Williams ran for mayor and Paget opted to instead run for city council.
As elected official colleagues, since 2014, Paget and Williams have built a rapport. Indeed, a father-son relationship between the 81-year-old Paget and the 58-year-old Williams appears to have evolved.
With Williams felled by his current health issue, he found himself under the care of Paget, who a decade previously, had been his political rival.
So serious, apparently, is Williams’ condition that Paget has found himself engrossed in seeking to keep his one-time opponent alive. An indication of that came this week after Paget was obliged to leave Williams’ bedside at the hospital to attend the city council meeting. As the vice mayor, Paget officiated over the meeting in Williams’ place. But because the lion’s share of his waking hours for the previous days had been spent in looking after the wan and fading Mayor Williams, Paget did not have time to familiarize himself with the agenda for the meeting. Indeed, so distracted was Paget, that he was dependent upon City Manager Rick Daniels prompting him with regard to the agenda’s contents and guiding him through the proceedings. Immediately upon gaveling the meeting to adjournment, Paget departed at once to the hospital to ensure that Williams was able to make it through the night.
While any brush with death is unwelcome, Williams’ ordeal comes at a particularly inauspicious time, with the November election approaching. Williams is locked in a race against Sandra Queen Noble, a politician and mayoral hopeful of national note. Noble ran unsuccessfully for Cincinnati mayor three times, including in 2005, when she received 121 votes. She ran for Congress representing Washington, D.C., in 2010, challenging Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, receiving 785 votes. Noble was a candidate for U.S. president in 2004, 2008 and 2012. She was a candidate for mayor in Springfield, Missouri at one time, and ran for mayor in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, as well as for a position on the Los Angeles City Council. Noble is the founder of the H.E.R.O.S.H.E.R.O. Party. The mother of two, she has stated she is an “innate law enforcement officer,” and that she holds a “Jim Crow Education K-12 Ph.D.” She further describes herself as a political rapper. She has been employed as a fashion designer and special education assistant. She once filed a $994 trillion lawsuit against the “Stolen United States of America,” as she termed it in court papers.
Because Noble is Williams’ only competitor in the mayor’s race, it appears that her run in Needles may offer her the best chance at success in her long quest to achieve elected office in the many locales she has resided throughout the country.
An internecine battle has broken out between members of the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee over the committee’s failure to make an endorsement in the mayoral race in heavily Democratic Rialto.
There have been several twists in the matter, which is now threatening to have an impact on two of the more powerful African-American Democratic women in the county and divide the party after it made what many were celebrating as a crucial move in July to overcome nearly a decade of internal bickering that has allowed the rival Republican Party to dominate local government.
On July 18, the central committee during a remotely conducted meeting selected Kristin Washington to serve as the county party chairwoman, displacing Chris Robles, who had headed the local party since 2012.
The number of registered Democrats in San Bernardino County eclipsed the number of registered Republicans in 2009, more than 40 years after the political rise of Ronald Reagan had engendered a four-decade-long era of Republicanism in San Bernardino County and in much of the Golden State. Yet despite the rising numbers of Democrats that continued to widen the gap over their Republican counterparts, Democratic candidates consistently failed at the polls in local races, such that at present, four of the five members of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors are Republicans and on 17 of the county’s city and town councils members of the GOP outnumber Democrats.
On August 27, the Democrats again held a full meeting of the central committee by means of teleconference, this time to make endorsements of the local candidates running in the November 3 Presidential General Election. Only Democrats were eligible for those endorsements, which are granted by means of that endorsement being accepted by 60 percent of those participating in the vote. By previous arrangement, a team of interviewers had been carrying out an evaluation process of the various candidates for office, and prior to the August 27 meeting, recommendations based on that evaluation process were provided to the committee members.
In Rialto, Deborah Robertson had been elected mayor in 2012, after a decade on the city council. She garnered the party endorsement in her maiden run for mayor when she was opposed by Republican Rialto City Councilman Ed Scott. In 2016, when her opponent was Republican Rialto City Councilman Ed Palmer, she again received the Democratic Party endorsement. Among most observers, it was widely assumed that Robertson, as one of the most consistently electable Democrats in San Bernardino County going back two decades and as one of the highest-profile African American politicians in the county as well, would naturally receive the party endorsement again. And indeed, the evaluating committee had given her the nod prior to the August 27 meeting.
Washington, another rising African-American Democratic woman in San Bernardino County, has been given high marks for the manner in which she has been inclusive of virtually every one of the central committee members who want to weigh in during meeting discussions in a way that contrasted favorably with the manner in which Robles oftentimes slighted committee members. Nonetheless, some consider her to be less impressive in terms of adhering to procedure and protocol in conducting the central committee’s meetings.
At the August 27 endorsement meeting, if a candidate, upon being considered for the party’s endorsement, received the requisite 60 percent of the votes cast to get the endorsement, he or she was endorsed.
A problem ensued, however, when the committee took up the endorsement in the Rialto mayoral race. A notable twist of parliamentary procedure took place under Roberts Rules of Order and the San Bernardino County Central Committee’s bylaws, when committee member Debra McAffee made a motion to substitute Lupe Camacho, the other Democrat in the Rialto mayoral race, for Deborah Robertson as the party’s endorsed candidate. The background to that was that Robertson has lately involved herself in a degree of controversy, which includes the City of Rialto having undertaken an investigation of her relating to a conflict of interest involving the city’s pass-through of community development block grant funding to a nonprofit organization headed by her daughter, as well as her association with and support of embattled West Valley Water District Board Member Channing Hawkins.
A vote was taken, and it was announced that Camacho had received less than 60 percent of the votes cast. Subsequently, however, it was asserted by committee member Tim Prince that those abstaining or not casting a vote were being counted as no votes. In running the numbers, the regional director kept a count and backed up what Prince said. Washington stated she would take that information under submission, but did not reverse the decision to deny Camacho the endorsement. As a consequence, the Democrats are making no endorsement in the race, which involves the Republican Palmer competing against Democrats Robertson and Camacho.
This circumstance is one that is detrimental to the Democratic Party, some party members maintain.
In Rialto, a majority of the city’s 48,181 voters – 25,434 or 52.8 percent – are Democrats, while registered Republicans in Rialto number 7,660 or 15.9 percent. Though those numbers would seem to lock the Republican Palmer out of any realistic chance of winning in November, with the far greater voter turnout that Republicans normally muster, the concern is that the poorer Democratic voter turnout combined with no clear distinction between the two Democrats in the race could result in the Democratic vote being split somewhere very near the middle, boosting the chances that Palmer could prevail.
Moreover, some Democrats say, Washington was showing partiality in favor of Robertson. Scoring uncast votes against a candidate is an invalid vote counting procedure per the committee’s bylaws, they say.
Strong feeling in the local Democratic Party about this circumstance has combined with concern over Washington’s refusal to adhere to the local party’s bylaws, the Sentinel has learned, to induce central committee member Ruth Musser-Lopez to seek from the California Democratic Party’s statewide leadership a review of the matter. Musser-Lopez’s hope is that the state party leaders will impose some discipline on the county party, and reverse Washington’s ruling that Camacho is to be denied the endorsement. “I want the party’s compliance review board to look at the numbers and determine whether Lupe actually received 60 percent of the vote when the abstentions are not figured into the tally,” Musser-Lopez said.
Whether that will come about or whether action to ensure that one of the Democrats competing against Palmer will enjoy an advantage going into November is yet to be determined
By Mark Gutglueck
In a remarkable turn of events, the attorney retained by the City of San Bernardino to look into charges of sexual harassment against Mayor John Valdivia found relatively slim evidence to verify those charges, but found more compelling indications that the mayor had engaged in corruption of his function as a public official.
Carla Barboza, a Los Angeles-based attorney, was paid $68,000 to conduct interviews and examine available evidence relating to accusations leveled at Valdivia in a series of claims lodged with the city by former municipal employees within the mayor’s office.
In January 2020, the atmosphere in the San Bernardino Mayor’s Office that had been deteriorating for months devolved into a crisis that resulted in the resignations of Valdivia’s citizens service representative, Mirna Cisneros, and his personal assistant, Karen Cervantes, and the firing of his field representative Jackie Aboud. On February 13, Cisneros and Cervantes, who had retained attorney Tristan Pelayes to represent them, filed claims against the city and Valdivia.
Cisneros, who was hired by the city and was assigned to Valdivia’s office shortly after he became mayor in December 2018, and Cervantes, who was hired as Valdivia’s assistant in September 2019, maintained they were subjected to Valdivia’s sexual harassment and advances, and endured a hostile work environment along with a string of humiliations after rejecting his advances. The claims by both Cisneros and Cervantes use the same language in stating that Valdivia “repeatedly subjected” them “to… offensive and/or graphic sexual comments, and sexually suggestive language and gestures.”
According to Cisneros’s claim, formulated by Pelayes, Valdivia “offered her his credit card and kept telling her to buy whatever she wanted, specifically asking her to buy high heels” and that “He just wants her to feel taken care of. He repeatedly told her nothing is off limits.” Cisneros’s claim further states Valdivia at a September 25, 2019 gala in Los Angeles during the cocktail hour, “continuously made lewd comments about women and kept commenting on claimant’s appearance” and “continuously made comments about a specific woman at the gala. He said that she offered to ‘suck his dick’ in Washington. The following day, September 26, 2019, Valdivia renewed his discussion about the woman from the night before. He said, ‘Did you see the slut from yesterday who was wearing the black outfit showing her back? She is always at events; she is an escort who has offered to suck my dick in the elevator in Washington. She is such a whore. She kept looking at me yesterday. She always tries to contact me. But I don’t want to get my dick sucked by a whore.’”
On November 4, 2019, according to Cisneros’s claim, Valdivia spoke openly to her about an “Assembly member who had [an] affair with his chief of staff,” telling her “that his wife wants a divorce from him. He further told [Cisneros] that if she ever needs anything, to let him know. He said that if he wanted to buy something for her, his wife would not know because she doesn’t see that credit card statement.” During a December 16, 2019 trip Cisneros said she was forced to make to San Jose with Valdivia against her will, according to the claim, “Valdivia stood next to her and told her that she could ask him anything and nothing was off limits.”
According to Karen Cervantes, two weeks after she was hired as Valdivia’s assistant on September 30, 2019, on Saturday October 12, 2019, Valdivia initiated an intensified effort at effectuating a physical relationship with her. That day, Valdivia insisted that Cervantes attend a weekend event, failing to get her to “carpool” there with him, according to the claim. Cervantes said she attended the event despite being told by Valdivia’s chief of staff, Matt Brown, that attending weekend events was not part of her duties in Valdivia’s office. According to Cervantes’ claim, during the event, “Valdivia insisted claimant drink gin and tonics even though she repeatedly told him she did not want to drink. Upon his insistence, claimant became uncomfortable, refused to drink, and left the table momentarily. Valdivia then proceeded to drink his cocktail and also finished the cocktail he had tried to force claimant to drink. Shortly thereafter, Valdivia told claimant he was feeling intoxicated and started moving closer to claimant, invading her personal space. He touched claimant while he whispered in her ear that at events such as this one, he is ‘not so strict,’ and that he is ‘cool.’ He said, ‘This is not like at work and we can have fun.’ The touching was unwanted and offensive.”
According to Cervantes’ claim, as a consequence of Valdivia’s constant advances, “Claimant became increasingly more uncomfortable and became unable to hide that discomfort. It was obvious to her that Valdivia noticed claimant’s discomfort and disapproval. Because claimant refused Valdivia’s advances and despicable behavior, Valdivia began to belittle, bully, degrade, and embarrass claimant in front of her coworkers during staff meetings and other gatherings. This retaliatory behavior continued and escalated throughout the next few months.”
According to Cervantes’ claim, “On various occasions, Valdivia would tell her to do something, then later switch it up and tell her that she didn’t follow his direction. He further sabotaged her work. During staff meetings, in front of her coworkers, he would yell directly at claimant, saying she doesn’t do her job.”
Pelayes said that as their attorney, he guided Cisneros and Cervantes in their efforts during the latter stage of their employment with the city to be moved into positions outside the mayor’s office. When the city demonstrated it was not amenable to placing them elsewhere, they resigned. In short order, it was revealed that Pelayes was representing three other city employees working within the mayor’s office, as well as a city commissioner who, according to Pelayes, had similarly been subjected to abusive treatment by the mayor. Those clients were Jackie Aboud, who had served as Valdivia’s field representative for nearly ten months from April 2019 until he fired her in January 2020, and Alissa Payne, whom Valdivia had nominated to serve on the city’s Arts and Historical Preservation Commission and the San Bernardino Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission. The others were Don Smith, who had worked on Valdivia’s campaign for mayor and was subsequently hired by the city to serve as Valdivia’s part time field representative, and Matt Brown, Valdivia’s chief of staff who had begun in that capacity in August 2019, roughly a month after Valdivia’s original chief of staff, Bill Essayli, had resigned.
According to Commissioner Payne, Valdivia engaged in unwanted sexually-tinged overtures with her, including inappropriate physical contact. “He went as far as offering to provide me an apartment, would tell me how to vote and what to say or do at the commission meetings, asked me to meet him alone in the evening after hours, and promised – guaranteed – me a seat on the city dais as the Second Ward council member,” Payne said. She recounted that Valdivia “invited me to attend a dinner event as his personal guest where he was persistently trying to get me intoxicated, which I declined. The mayor was preying on me.”
Neither Smith nor Brown were subjected to sexual harassment of the sort visited upon Cisneros, Cervantes, Aboud or Payne, according to Pelayes, though Smith said that during his conversations with the mayor, Valdivia engaged in what Smith said were for him unwanted references to Valdivia’s sexual encounters and complaints about his wife’s unwillingness to accommodate him sexually.
In a claim filed with the City of San Bernardino by Pelayes on behalf of Brown on July 22 of this year, it is related that Valdivia insisted on giving his employees improper assignments that they proved unwilling, after a time, to carry out; that Valdivia’s caddish behavior crossed the line into sexual harassment of Cisneros and Cervantes and Aboud; that after the resignation of Cisneros and Cervantes and the firing of Aboud, when the city was hit by the Cisneros and Cervantes claims, an increasingly desperate Valdivia sought to preemptively destroy the credibility of his former staff members to head off the legal trouble his treatment of them had created.
After the city had brought Carla Barboza in to delve into the accusations against the mayor, Brown’s claim states, Valdivia pressured him and the remaining members of the mayoral staff to cook up falsified charges against Cisneros and Cervantes.
“On or about February 4, 2020 during an early morning telephone call, Valdivia told claimant about his intent to go on the offensive with Cisneros and Cervantes and refute their allegations against him,” Brown’s claim relates. “Valdivia indicated he had spoken with Chris Jones, his spokesman and political consultant, and that Jones had convinced Valdivia he needed to be aggressive in dealing with Cisneros and Cervantes. Valdivia requested that [Valdivia’s office intern Alexander] Cousins, [Mayoral/City Council Secretary Renee] Brizuela and claimant provide him with false written statements refuting the allegations from Cisneros and Cervantes. Claimant was stunned because he knew the allegations to be true since he witnessed them. Additionally, Valdivia requested that claimant write fake work performance evaluations for both employees emphasizing their poor work habits. Claimant refused to participate in the falsification of the said records, [as] he would be required to testify under oath and perjure himself in a deposition, given that Cisneros and Cervantes had already filed their tort claim, which was a precursor of filing a lawsuit against the City of San Bernardino. Claimant, by refusing to engage in the falsification of records, documents, and performance evaluations, had reasonable cause to believe that if he had agreed to engage in these acts, it would result in violations of federal, state, and/or local laws, rules or regulations.”
Brown’s claim states that Brown “told Valdivia that Jones was giving him bad advice and recommended Valdivia discuss these requests with City Attorney Sonia Carvalho. This enraged him. Because claimant refused to provide Valdivia with the fake statements and fake work performance evaluations he had requested, Valdivia began to doubt claimant’s loyalty towards him. On or about February 10, 2020, claimant had a meeting with Valdivia for approximately one hour and 45 minutes. Valdivia attempted to ask a lot of questions about the status of the personnel investigation and claimant declined to provide any details. Valdivia requested claimant speak with Smith and Cousins and ‘coach them’ prior to their interviews with the human resources investigator because he wanted their interviews to reflect positively on him. Claimant refused.”
When Brown told Valdivia he should not be interfering in the investigation, according to the claim, Valdivia retaliated against him and created a hostile work environment.
A common theme in the claims filed by Cisneros, Cervantes and Aboud was that after they had rejected his advances, the mayor repeatedly engaged in denigration and derision of their work and performance.
In the main, the public focus with regard to the complaints initially filed was on the so-called sexual harassment aspect of the allegations, which was reflected in the city’s reaction to the charges against the mayor. Thus, Barboza’s investigation largely pertained to issues falling under the sexual harassment rubric. As the Smith, Aboud and Brown claims were filed after the Cisneros and Cervantes claims, Barboza’s analysis did not extend to the Smith and Brown claims, which did not assert any direct sexual harassment. Released this week was Barboza’s determination with regard to the Cisneros, Cervantes and Aboud claims. The lion’s share of Barboza’s analysis dwells on what the city defines as sexual harassment allegedly perpetrated by Valdivia, which comprises the central gist of the narratives in the Cisneros, Cervantes and Aboud claims.
According to the executive summaries of Barboza’s investigation of the three claims, the one filed by Mirna Cisneros could be reduced to 43 separate and distinct accusations; that filed by Karen Cervantes comprised 44 allegations; and the claim filed by Aboud boiled down to 29 accusations. According to Barboza, she used what she referred to as the “preponderance of the evidence standard,” in making her analysis of all three claims, which she explained as being a conclusion “whether it was more likely than not that the complained-of action or conduct occurred.”
For some, however, the limitations surrounding the investigation were highly problematic, undercutting the integrity of the investigation altogether and bringing Barboza’s conclusions into question. Cisneros, Cervantes and Aboud, advised by Pelayes that the city’s investigation was angling toward a preset conclusion, declined to be interviewed by Barboza. Valdivia likewise refused to be interviewed. In each case, Barboza maintained that she had interviewed 17 witnesses for the Cisneros claim, 17 for the Cervantes claim and 17 for the Aboud claim, which would suggest that she was referencing the same 17 witnesses. Barboza did not identify who those witnesses were. In the executive summary, when referencing a witness, Barboza used a series of Xs, either six capital Xs followed by six capital Xs or five capital Xs followed by five capital Xs, to signify a first and last name or five or six capital Xs to apparently signify a last name. In some cases, the identify of an anonymous witness in Barboza’s summary could be extrapolated by comparing the summary with the claims. In other cases, the witness’s identity could not be easily surmised. Two obvious witnesses were Brown and Mayoral/City Council Secretary Renee] Brizuela. Despite having retained Pelayes to represent him in early March and Pelayes’s advice to Brown against cooperating with the city’s investigation, Brown remained as a city employee until May, and he thus may not have had the option of not submitting to Barboza’s questioning. Similarly, Smith remained employed with the city until sometime in the spring. Whether, however, Brown and Smith were among the 17 witnesses Barboza references is not acknowledged in the executive summary of Barboza’s report. It is possible that the information from Brown and Smith considered by Barboza consisted of the claims they filed with the city.
Barboza was similarly limited in the documentation she was provided. In the executive summaries, she states that the Cisneros, Cervantes and Aboud claims were the only documents available to her containing the specific allegations relating to Valdivia. This would suggest that the city itself withheld from Barboza the reports Cisneros, Cervantes and Aboud filed with Brown, the human resources department, Human Resources Director Helen Chan and City Manager Teri Ledoux prior to Cisneros’s and Cervantes’ voluntary and Aboud’s forced departures from the city in January.
Another professional investigator involved in workforce and workplace evaluations told the Sentinel that Barboza’s willingness to continue with the investigation in the face of her inability to question all of the percipient witnesses to the circumstance being investigated and the city’s withholding of relevant documentation brought her professionalism, competence and integrity, as well as the validity of her conclusions, under question.
According to Barboza, her analysis of the allegations, the available evidence and the statements of witnesses led her to conclude that 20 of Cisneros’s 43 accusations relating to Valdivia and his conduct could be substantiated; that 13 accusations of the 44 allegations in Cervantes claim could be fully substantiated and elements within another of those allegations were verified; and that three of the 29 accusations lodged against the mayor by Aboud could be substantiated.
Of some note was that Barboza was unable to find support, she maintained, that city officials had failed to act in the face of the complaints lodged with various city officials about the mayor’s conduct.
Despite Cisneros, Cervantes and Aboud all maintaining that when they sought from various city employees protection from the treatment they were accorded by Valdivia they were told by the city officials they approached that nothing could be done because Valdivia was an elected official, Barboza found those statements unverifiable, uncorroborated and therefore unsubstantiated.
In Barboza’s findings, Valdivia slipped out from under most, though not all, of the accusations pertaining to sexual harassment in the most direct sense, that is, overt sexually-tinged comments or suggestions. Of Cisneros’s 21 allegations of such patently sexually-based transgressions on the mayor’s part, Barboza found seven substantiated and 14 unsubstantiated. Of Cervantes’ allegations against the mayor, 10 related to direct sexual comments, requests, suggestions or references. Barboza said nine of those were unsubstantiated, finding only one to be, in her parlance, “partially substantiated.” Of the 29 allegations against the mayor in Aboud’s claim, 15 related to him sexually pressuring her. One passage in Aboud’s claim said what she experienced while serving as the mayor’s field representative consisted of Valdivia having “told her that she needed to ‘develop a personal relationship’ with him and that she also needed to spend more time with him ‘outside of work’’ and Valdivia telling Aboud “he would ‘terminate’ her if she did not develop this ‘personal relationship’ with him.” Aboud’s claim also stated that “Valdivia’s intention for compelling claimant to develop a personal relationship with him was to date claimant and advance Valdivia’s sexual desires on claimant.” Barboza found all 15 of those sexually-based allegations unsubstantiated.
Despite Barboza’s determination that most of the accusations relating to sexual harassment by the mayor could not be substantiated, she sustained as verifiable numerous accounts, particularly ones emanating from Cisneros, that Valdivia had engaged in improprieties with regard to taking money, gifts and favors from questionable sources in ways that bordered on or crossed the line into the province of bribery, and that Valdivia played fast and loose with regard to the rules relating to filing the reports, certified under the penalty of perjury, required of public officials relating to the reception of those gratuities as well as his travel and expense vouchers for activity he engaged in while junketing or traveling on what was supposed to be official city or government business. Moreover, Barboza found credible the reports that Valdivia used the authority of his office and public assets, facilities and personnel, to engage in political activity, which is strictly forbidden under the law.
Barboza said her investigation substantiated an allegation by Cisneros that Valdivia pressured his staff members to participate in what was scheduled [but later canceled] to be a campaign event for him on opening day of the 2020 baseball season at Dodger Stadium in April; that Valdivia pressured Cisneros and another female co-worker [identified by the Sentinel as Brizuela] to work on the reelection campaigns of two of his council allies, Juan Figueroa and Bessine Richard, running in the March 2020 election; that Valdivia had accepted a $900 bottle of wine gifted to him by an ambassador without reporting the gratuity on his statement of economic interest as required by California law; that Valdivia had stated he was constantly receiving gifts he did not properly report; that he had instructed Cisneros to be “vague’ in filing Valdivia’s request for reimbursement for hotel accommodations and meals from the San Bernardino International Airport Authority, of which he is a board member, when the activity he carried out on that particular trip apparently related to his having met with donors to his campaign fund; that he was the recipient of free travel, including flights in a Gulfstream, from a particular businessman or businessmen; and that Valdivia told Cisneros that he had an inside contact at the district attorney’s office who was delivering to him information relating to any investigation or investigations that office was conducting relating to his activity.
Barboza also said she had substantiated Cervantes’ allegation that Valdivia, acting on the knowledge that Cervantes had graduated from Cal State University San Bernardino, engaged in a demeaning monologue in front of numerous people in Cervantes’ presence about the ineptitude of Cal State University San Bernardino students, remarking that he did not want to work with them because they were incompetent and were not high functioning.
Valdivia’s lawyer, Rod Pacheco, was not impressed with the quality and integrity of Barboza’s investigation nor the validity of her conclusions, though he said she for the most part got straight that his client had not engaged in classic sexual harassment.
To make a finding of sexual harassment against an individual, Pacheco said, the perception of the harassment occurring had to be “objective, not subjective. That’s the problem with this. None of this is objectively sexual harassment. What you have are a series of concoctions from a clever lawyer who wants a quick payday. What the mayor was doing was paying them [Cisneros and Cervantes] a compliment and they are making it into something it isn’t. Complimenting a woman on her shoes and asking who the designer is or who made them is not sexual harassment. That is the conclusion the investigator has apparently come to, also. We appreciate that she stated that, but we disagree with some of her other conclusions and are dismayed that this investigation was even carried out. This is a legal game to smear the mayor and get money out of the city, and now the mayor’s political enemies are using all of this as a hammer against him, when they know the allegations do not even measure up to a minimal standard. The facts are not there and will never be there. We have taken the position that this will be taken to trial so that a jury, which is the conscience of the community, can decide if this is objectively sexual harassment, and determine if the mayor complimenting a woman on her shoes amounts to sexual harassment.”
Pacheco said, “The concept and definition of sexual harassment is very clear. Sexual harassment is typically defined by groping and touching, none of which happened here. Nobody was propositioned. No one was improperly approached. Clearly, what the mayor did was ask them to work hard. He asked them to work past 5 o’clock. He asked them to attend functions such as those put on by the chamber of commerce or other groups where those people who run the city, where members of the business community, movers and shakers, other political figures were going to attend. Once you are in politics, your day is just starting at 5 p.m. When I was a member of the California Assembly, I was constantly meeting mayors, all kinds of business leaders, members of the chamber of commerce and other politicians after business hours. There were as many of those people in my life as there are hours in the night. I would give speeches at these affairs. That was my job. That was what I was supposed to do. I wasn’t alone. Everyone I served with in the Assembly did pretty much the same thing. I went to every service organization there was, before city councils, before chambers of commerce, before school boards. My staff often accompanied me to those events.”
Valdivia was simply rallying his staff to work with him in promoting the city as a place to do business, to help him lure development to San Bernardino, Pacheco suggested.
“The mayor [Valdivia] wanted to go to those kind of events,” Pacheco said. “The city is in a death spiral. It desperately needs somebody to pull it out of that death spiral. That is not a nine-to-five job. That is what all those young people the mayor brought in to work for him thought this was, a nine-to-five job. Now there is this lawsuit because they didn’t recognize that in politics, quitting time isn’t at 5 p.m. The mayor doesn’t need a lawsuit when he is trying to accomplish what needs to be done. If it weren’t so slanderous, the whole thing would be silly. He is married and has children. He has thrown himself out there. He is taking tremendous abuse. He did not have to run. That is why a lot of other decent people don’t run for office. They don’t want this kind of crap thrown at them. Public office is not some kind of glamour thing.”
With regard to Barboza’s substantiation of the accusations that Valdivia engaged in improprieties and abuses of his authority as an elected official such as taking gratuities tantamount to bribes, failing to disclose receiving those gratuities, misappropriation by accepting government reimbursement for travel and engagements relating to obtaining political donations, and misappropriation by seeking to have his mayoral staff engage in political activity, Pacheco said, “It is entirely legal for an elected officeholder to be involved politically. The law and American society recognize that elected officials are politicians and are involved in the political process. The law recognizes that elected officials are involved not only in running things in their capacity in elected office but that they are involved politically in going out to encourage their supporters and other citizens to get behind various causes political and otherwise, to support other like-minded candidates. A politician can encourage his employees to support the same causes and candidates he supports. There is nothing wrong with that behavior by the mayor. It is entirely legal. As long as what the employees are doing is done voluntarily, there is nothing wrong with them being active politically. The people who work for elected officials are sometimes given the opportunity to engage in politics. They don’t have to do so, but it is up to them.”
Pacheco said that Barboza had overreached.
“Barboza was hired as the result of the government claims,” Pacheco said. “She wasn’t hired to come in and do a smear job. In my first encounter with her, in a letter to the city attorney, I asked, ‘What is the scope of your investigation?’ Ms. Barboza lied to me about a number of things. First, she told me the investigation was related only to the governmental claims. Later, she told me her purpose was to investigate anything and everything. That is not proper. She is using tax dollars to investigate anything and everything. What the hell is that? That is what she did. I have concerns overall about this stuff she is dredging up, which is not accurate, and it is not proper for her to have gotten into this type of investigation, which is a mix of political and official issues.”
Pacheco compared Valdivia’s efforts to support Figueroa and Richard in their reelection efforts earlier this year and seeking to have his staff join in to President Donald Trump, joined by his entourage, engaging in stump speeches while he yet holds the position of president. “There is nothing illegal about that,” Pacheco said. “The fact that people are trying to find things and exaggerate things that are not illegal is an indication that what this is all about is the mayor having made the mistake of hiring a bunch of young people who do not want to work hard and get paid for doing as little as possible.”
Pacheco said the city had seriously overpaid Barboza for poorly executing a job that need not have been undertaken in the first place.
“The city could have used that $68,000 to hire another police officer instead of an investigator to dig up goofy stuff,” he said. “It was apparent to me from my first conversation with her, she [Barboza] was trying to do as extensive of an investigation as she could, a hit piece on the mayor, but she was completely unsuccessful in gathering any worthwhile information. The claimants did not talk to her. The claimants’ lawyer says he had all of this damning evidence but he does not provide it. I don’t know how she could go forward on this investigation, and I cannot comprehend how she could charge $68,000 to talk to a few clerks and secretaries, and read the claims and a few newspaper articles and use that to justify what the city was charged for that. The city didn’t need her to read something that everyone could read themselves. And the city isn’t just paying her on this. It is also paying another downtown Los Angeles lawyer to supervise her. What she did was read the claims and she wrote a report about what she read, essentially a book report. We spent, as taxpayers, $68,000 for a book report. They have an investigation that relies on anonymous sources. It is a blame piece. What the mayor did wrong was he agreed to let the city hire some people who were unfit for the job they were to do in his office. We are not going to settle this case. We will let a jury decide. We will let the jury hear them say, ‘The mayor was tough on me and he made me work hard.’”
Pacheco lambasted the city council for allowing Barboza’s investigation to proceed.
“The city needs help,” Pacheco said. “The mayor is being attacked by the other elected officials. What are they doing to fix the city? The city looks like a bombed-out mess. It looks like Syria, for God’s sake. What are the other elected officials doing to bring in businesses? What are they doing to make the city safe? Why aren’t they doing anything? One city council after another has been elected in San Bernardino and they have failed to get anything done in the city. This is important to me, because San Bernardino is my hometown.”
Councilman Henry Nickel told the Sentinel, “The report is completed. There has been discussion about what it might contain for some time. We spent thousands of dollars on a report through which we didn’t learn too much more than what we already knew. Ms. Barboza made clear she was unable to interview the litigants, and that she was relying on secondhand and press accounts and the statements given in the claims made primarily by the litigants. Ms. Barboza made statements about whether some of the accusations were substantiated or unsubstantiated. But that, at this point, has no legal bearing. Noting in the report will mean anything. It is just her professional opinion as to whether those allegations in the claims may be factual, can be substantiated or may not be substantiated. Some of the things which she now says are unsubstantiated may in fact be substantiated because at this point we have not begun the process of discovery and interviews and depositions.”
Without outright saying the city had squandered $68,000 on having Barboza undertake the investigation and complete the report, Nickel essentially opined that the report did not advance the city toward a resolution of the mayoral crisis and, accordingly, it accomplished nothing.
“The best we can do at present is speculate at the validity of the claims based on the limited information that Ms. Barboza was privy to,” Nickel said.
Saying, “Our city has not had a competitive election for council in eight years,” Big Bear Lake 5th District City Council hopeful Bynette Mote pledged that if elected, “I will bring a fresh outlook, flexible time, very active energy, proactive communication, transparent actions and a strong motivation to plan our future that stems from a love of our valley and community.”
Mote is competing against Bob Jackowski, a longtime incumbent on the city council who along with Councilman Bill Jahn faced no opposition in the 2016 contest.
She is running for city council, Mote said, because “I have a strong love for our Big Bear Valley, our neighbors and businesses, and would like to offer my expertise in helping to plan the best present and future for everyone. I have spent the last two years educating and preparing myself by attending various board meetings across our valley to understand the issues we currently face, along with building solid relationships within the leadership community. I look forward to serving and being an active voice for District 5 residents.”
She is qualified to hold the position of city councilwoman, Mote said, in that “I offer 25 years of business management experience with strong skillsets in leadership, finance and operations, along with strategic planning. I have also held the position as planning commissioner for the City of Big Bear Lake since November 2018, appointed and re-appointed unanimously by the city council, so I offer two years in government as well. I am a full-time resident and very actively involved in our community, from volunteering to supporting.”
Mote said, “Currently, due to the pandemic, our valley has been incredibly overwhelmed with tourism, so our residents have been very vocal of late with issues surrounding short-term rentals, traffic, trash, noise and so on. Short term rentals have also seen an increase in numbers, so long-term, affordable housing is very limited and hard to find for our full-time residents.”
To redress that issue, Mote said, “I would like to see proactive discussions taking place between our leadership, our residents, our businesses and any other stakeholders to bring forth ideas and work on solutions together. There are several similar tourist destinations with excellent plans, extended regulations, improved code enforcement, rental caps, and so forth that we could also learn from.”
Mote said there needs to be inclusive brainstorming among residents and civic leaders in order for the community to come up with ways to fund improvements in the way the city operates.
“This is a matter of committing time for discussions at this point to the issue of municipal financing,” she said.
Mote and her husband, Greg, have lived in Big Bear Lake since 2016.
“My husband and I moved to Big Bear Lake full-time nearly 4 years ago,” she said.
Mote attended two high schools. She spent her first two years at Clovis West High School and last two at Thousand Oaks High School. She has attended three colleges, including Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as a math major; Moorpark College where she achieved her general education degree; and Cal State Northridge, where she was an English major.
Currently, Mote’s time is taken up with her service on the Big Bear Lake Planning Commissioner and, she said, “remodeling our house, everything from framing to drywall to flooring, etc.”
Mote told the Sentinel, “My husband Greg is also running for a seat on the board of directors for the Bear Valley Community Healthcare District. We are both very involved in the Big Bear community and wish to help plan the best future for our valley and residents. We are not taking political endorsements or campaign donations. Should anyone wish to support us in our venture, please consider making a small donation to one of our local charities as they have not been able to fundraise this year due to the pandemic: https://themotevote.com/#donate-to-big-bear.
“For a more extensive review of my background and qualifications,” she said, “you are welcome to peruse my resumes at https://themotevote.com/#about.”
Hesperia Mayor Larry Bird associates the city where he is now seeking reelection to the city council with his family.
“My family has lived in the community for over 60 years, starting with my grandfather and grandmother, Larry Bird Sr. and Pauline Bird, my father and mother Larry Bird Jr. and Jane Bird, and now my wife, Julie, and me. We have served here in a variety of ways – as educators, pastor, radio programmers, youth coaches, officiant for weddings, with local churches and service clubs and organizations. My wife and I are so grateful for the tremendous ways our family has benefited from living in our Hesperia community. Our children graduated from Sultana High School, having attended Hesperia Unified School District schools for all thirteen years. Julie and I have been educators in Hesperia for over thirty years. We want to give back to our community by protecting our children, building our infrastructure to support our growing city, and ensuring that all citizens can live, work, play and serve here. By working with our schools and local and county businesses, we need to prepare our students for jobs that we are able to bring here through partnerships.”
After selecting its municipal political leadership through at-large elections for the first thirty years after its 1988 incorporation, Hesperia in 2018 switched to district elections. Bird, who was first elected in 2016 in the city’s last at-large election and was elevated to the position of mayor in December 2018 as part of the city’s policy of rotating possession of the city council’s gavel among its members, was reappointed to the mayoral post in December 2019. He is now standing for election in the city’s first District 5 balloting. He is competing with Hesperia Unified School District Board Member Mark Dundon.
He is qualified to remain in the position of city councilman by virtue of his acquired knowledge relating to the city both while in office and in his other capacities within the community, Bird said.
“Having been blessed to be able to serve for the past four years, I have a good understanding of what our community is asking us to do – provide jobs, build infrastructure (roads, traffic lights, sewer, recycled water, street lights, curbs and gutter), reduce crime, ensure quality of living, and address the homeless concerns that are developing throughout the valley.”
He is distinguished from his competitor, Bird said, by his understanding of how City Hall functions and what the city’s residents want from local government. “These past four years, I have served as a council member of our city, mayor for the past two years,” he said. “Julie has been a great First Lady. We have listened to our neighbors, our friends, and citizens about what they want and need from their community. We have worked hard to ensure that we have provided this support over four years, and we are asking for another four years to complete what has been started.”
The major issues facing the city, Bird said, is “providing for the infrastructure to support our current city and the expansion that the previous council voted for in the Tapestry Development. My home overlooks Summit Valley. While I wasn’t a big fan of the project before my election and voiced my concern, I pledged to mitigate the effects of the project. Our city will receive $12 million dollars as soon as the project begins to take care of the roads and other needs that will come. Potentially tens of thousands of dollars will come through development impact fees over the length of the development. We will use this money to make sure our current citizens are not taxed or expected to contribute to the development of this project. The Ranchero Road project, including a $16 million bridge over the aqueduct, will be paid with some of these monies, as well as money from other county and transportation sources.”
Bird continued, “As the homeless concerns spread from neighboring communities, we must work with other local cities to address the underlying issues for these people that have moved into our area by supporting local valley efforts to focus on drug/alcohol rehabilitation and mental illness. While we want to give these folks a hand up, we must also protect our Hesperia citizens’ safety.”
Additionally, Bird said, “We need more jobs here in our city so that our citizens do not have to continue driving down the hill, and so our children will want to stay here or come back here after furthering their education.”
Economic development and wise expenditure of the financial resources the city has are important functions that have to be overseen at City Hall, Bird said. “We need to expand our revenue sources through attraction of new businesses that can provide a steady stream to ensure support of our infrastructure needs and our safety agencies,” he said.
Hesperia’s current population has eclipsed 95,000 and will soon pass 100,000. As such, Bird said, the city will need to feature a hospital within its city limits to provide its residents with medical care.
“We are opening up a new Kaiser Medical Facility,” Bird said. “The plan is to eventually expand up to and including a hospital. Hesperia needs to have a hospital. I am working toward the expansion of local hospital systems to support Hesperia, as well.”
Bird sequentially spoke to how those issues should be redressed.
“In terms of infrastructure,” he said, “we already have a master plan for our city for roads, wastewater, sewer, and safety. We hold workshops each year to discuss current needs and areas our citizens are requesting we address. We have on our website reporting avenues for us to address potholes and other immediate safety issues.”
To deal with the homeless challenge, Bird said, “We must work with neighboring cities to address underlying issues of our homeless, connect them to family if possible, and provide treatment, medical, health and other. We should ensure our citizens are not placed in danger.”
Pertaining to jobs and employment, the mayor said, “Before COVID, we were ready to announce some major revenue-producing opportunities that provided local jobs. We are working with our local school district to train our students in a variety of fields to address shortages locally and to attract businesses with a ready job pool. By addressing key sewer, water, roads, safety issues, labor pool, and lower start-up costs, we will create an environment that is attractive to businesses.”
On the subject of safety in the City of Progress, Bird offered, “We should continue to attract revenue-producing businesses and secure federal, state, and county grants to support our contracted agencies to continue to bring crime down and ensure rapid response to fire and medical needs.”
With regard to medical issues, Bird said it is his intention to “help our current medical facilities with reducing the ‘red tape’ and bureaucracy that gets in the way of expansion.”
Hesperia can defray the cost of the solutions he is suggesting, Bird said, through sensible growth. “By attracting new businesses and revenue sources to our area, we can pay for infrastructure, safety, medical, address the homeless situation, and help create new jobs,” he said. “We are on our way to doing just that after being sidetracked due to COVID.
“We can apply for and secure federal, state and local grants and money sources,” he continued.
He and the council of which he is a part are fiscal conservatives, Bird insisted.
“We are the only city without a new tax proposal on the ballot,” he said in reference to the High Desert’s cities. “We took a 10 percent cut to staff pay and city council stipends. We have the best financial books of any city in the valley. Fiscal solvency and adding new revenue sources will ensure addressing all areas of focus.”
Bird said he had experience relating to government beyond his stint on the city council.
“I worked in Washington D.C. as an intern and then in other positions for 1½ years after college,” he said. “I also worked on the Naval Base in China Lake in various responsibilities during summers when in college and then for almost a year after my time in Washington, D.C. City council is the only political office I have held, but I have led schools as principal at the elementary, middle school, and high school level. I have been director at the district office level as well. I have served as an elder in my church. I have been the president of Kiwanis.”
Bird said, “I have lived in Hesperia for 30 years and worked in Hesperia for 33 years. I was born at St. Mary’s Hospital and lived in Apple Valley until I was ten. I moved back at 25 to teach in Hesperia and lived there for 3 years until marrying my wife in 1990 and moving to Hesperia. My grandfather was a pastor in Hesperia from 1970 until 1990. My dad taught at Hesperia Junior High from 1966 until 1971. I went to Burroughs High School in Ridgecrest where my parents were teachers. I have been principal of Sultana High School for over ten years.”
Bird graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in history/political science at Point Loma College in San Diego. He received his masters degree in teaching and learning at Point Loma Nazarene University.
Bird and his wife, Julie, have been married for 30 years. Julie has been a teacher for over 30 years in the Hesperia Unified School District. She attended Point Loma and received her bachelor of arts degree in elementary education and her masters degree in teaching and learning.
“We have three children – Lainie, Cassie, and Wesley,” Bird said. “All three graduated from Sultana and attended school Kindergarten to the 12th grade in Hesperia. Lainie and Cassie graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University. Lainie graduated from UCLA Law. Wesley is in his senior year as a business student at Point Loma. Lainie is an attorney and Cassie is a nurse.”
Bird said, “I love my city and have been blessed to have received such an outpouring of support for over thirty years. I love being there for business openings and supporting our community at different events, including Eagle Scout ceremonies and being the officiant to marry former students. Julie and I are invested in Hesperia. We want to see it continue to be the wonderful community that it is. As different organizations that do not represent the values of our city try to gain access, we will continue to stand at the ready to protect our citizens and community.”