The city of Upland has enlisted the services of a controversial management consultant who became involved in a series of questionable acts in Colton, including entering into a problematic contractual arrangement, fraught with conflicts of interest, involving its former city manager.
According to Upland city officials, the city has hired Bill Mathis, who touts himself as a psychologist specializing in corporate and public management issues, to serve as a “facilitator” to assist city leaders in visualizing goals, hosting workshops and public meetings involving the city council and residents, working with the city manager to derive a code of conduct for city officials and employees, developing “council norms,” overseeing evaluations of the city manager and city attorney and encouraging a high level of performance by the city council.
Upland is seeking to recover from a scandal that involved the indictment of former mayor John Pomierski on extortion and bribery charges relating to shakedowns of business people and others with applications for project approval or permits at City Hall. In recent months, city officials have experienced a less than trusting regard from a skeptical public. A keynote in Mathis’ approach is to call upon city officials and those participating in public meetings to take a positive approach, be respectful of others and allow all involved to participate without interruption.
Despite what Mathis is purported to offer, some have questioned why the city has engaged his services.
In Colton, a contractual relationship with Mathis declined into contretemps three years ago.
In October 2007, then-Colton city manager Daryl Parrish used his administrative authority to approve without prior city council authorization a $15,000 contract with Mathis to provide ethics training to the city council. Parrish was instrumental in convincing four of the council’s seven members in August 2008 to extend the contract with Mathis until June 2009, upping his contract to $50,000.
In time, however, Mathis would soon step into an ethical morass of his own. In addition to his work as a psychologist and ethics trainer, Mathis also works as a headhunter, i.e., recruiter, for municipalities, agencies, governments and businesses looking for executives or department heads. One of those entities Mathis was working for was the city of Covina, which was seeking a new city manager. While he was working for Colton, Mathis was evaluating Parrish as a candidate for the city manager’s post in Covina. Neither Parrish nor Mathis disclosed that to the Colton city council. Based on Mathis’ glowing recommendation of Parrish, Covina officials chose Parrish to head the city staff in that Los Angeles County city.
Questions would later emerge as to whether Parrish’s successful effort in August 2008 in convincing four of the council’s seven members to extend Mathis’ contract through June 2009, and thereby confer upon him another $50,000, had anything to do with the fervor with which Mathis recommended Parrish to the Covina city council.
After Parrish jumped to Covina, he induced Dilu De Alwis. then Colton’s finance director, to leave Colton and go to work in Covina. It is unclear whether Mathis was used as a headhunter in Covina’s recruitment of De Alwis, but the departure of Parrish and De Alwis in 2009 came as the actual extent of Colton’s dire financial condition, which had been shrouded in secrecy for some time, was revealed to the council. After Mathis’ $50,000 contract with Colton expired in June 2009, he was awarded another contract with Colton, this time in the amount of $18,900 to coordinate the city manager recruitment process.
Thus, Mathis was able to reap another monetary reward for having effectively relocated Parrish out of Colton.
When details of what had occurred were publicly revealed, including how Parrish and Mathis had taken steps to benefit each other while keeping the city councils in both Colton and Covina in the dark about their interaction with each other, a minor scandal ensued. Then-Colton mayor Kelly Chastain sought to defend the continuation of the city contract with Mathis. But Chastain’s defense of Mathis soon redounded to her embarrassment when it was revealed that after the council at Parrish’s behest in August 2008 signed off on a not-to-exceed $50,000 contract with Mathis, Parrish issued two purchase orders to Mathis, one for $50,000 and another for $15,000. The council never approved the $15,000 purchase order and questions about whether it constituted a gift of public funds or possible embezzlement ensued. Then-acting city manager Bob Miller, who was also the city’s police chief, refused to make the $15,000 payment to Mathis. Chastain’s effort to serve as an apologist for Mathis took its toll on her credibility, and despite the city’s eventual decision to sever ties with Mathis, Chastain’s reputation took a beating over the matter and she was turned out of office in the November 2010 election.
Upland city manager Stephen Dunn said “I am fully familiar with the Parrish thing and how he left Colton. I am very sensitive to it. I just felt that for what I am trying to get done, he [Mathis] could be of some help. My peers in other cities spoke highly of him. I did not know him until early last summer when he approached the city after we advertised we were looking for a facilitator. I picked him because he is well known and comes highly recommended. I am not in his pocket by any means. He is not a buddy of mine. He is just a consultant that came recommended.”
Dunn continued, “For those that have been following what has been going on, we had the Pomierski problem and we now have two new councilmembers, Gino [Filippi] and Debbie [Stone] and Ray [Musser] who has been on the council all these years but is relatively new as mayor and we have brought Bill Mathis in to help the council and myself with teamwork because I think we have not been in sync and have been a little bit disjointed in how we operate. I think he can make us work in harmony and facilitate strategic planning between myself, the council and the department heads. I think he can make us look at the challenges facing Upland and determine what our goals are.”
Dunn said Mathis had shown his value during a workshop involving the council and the public that was held on Saturday, January 24. “We had basically four hours of real productive stuff,” Dunn said. “Two of those hours consisted of him asking questions and setting everything in motion. Once we got past that part, the department heads took over, but he was very good about keeping us on track and keeping people engaged and speaking to what was on the agenda. I truly believe we got something accomplished. People can say that he is too touchy-feely in his approach because he has a tendency to come across as an understanding grandpa, but I did not see it that way. We were not standing in a circle singing Kumbaya.”
Dunn reiterated that “As far as him being a facilitator, I don’t see a problem. He is there to help the council function as a cohesive unit. We are not using him as a recruiter or anything like that, nor would I use him for anything like that. Like any good consultant, he is looking to expand his role. He offered to help in the fire chief recruitment. I turned him down. We are definitely going to be staying away from anything like that. What we have left for him to do is there will be another workshop in late March or April to develop council norms. I don’t see him being used again by us this year. We will evaluate what he has done for us after that, whether we might want to use him at some point in the future.”
Efforts to reach Mathis at his office in Napa, his mobile phone and a number his website lists for his Rancho Cucamonga office, elicited no response.