Devereaux’s Backing Makes McMahon’s Ascendency To Sheriff A “Done Deal”

(December 7)   The elevation of John McMahon to sheriff is all but inevitable in the wake of Rod Hoops’ resignation midterm, nearly a dozen current and former sheriff’s department, top county and municipal officials have told the Sentinel.
Several of the officers and officials used the term “done deal” in describing McMahon’s appointment. None held out any realistic chance that any of a handful of other potential candidates for the post could be chosen, though a few acknowledged that among those alternatives were individuals with a combination of impressive law enforcement and administrative credentials rivaling or exceeding McMahon’s.
Crucial to the advantage McMahon possesses is his status as a department insider, the favor he has with Hoops and the reservoir of good will McMahon has developed lately with county chief executive  officer Greg Devereaux, along with the history and political power of the sheriff’s department.
Upon becoming sheriff, McMahon will be the de facto descendent of the political dynasty first established by former sheriff Frank Bland in 1954, when Bland defeated the county’s then-incumbent sheriff, Eugene Mueller. Bland remained in office for seven terms, gaining reelection in 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1974 and 1978. In 1982, Bland retired, designating Floyd Tidwell as his successor. Tidwell handily won election in 1982 and reelection in 1986. He retired and endorsed his undersheriff, Dick Williams, in 1990. Williams lasted a single term, retiring in 1994.  He endorsed Gary Penrod. Penrod served three terms and was elected to a fourth. Half way through that term, he resigned, naming Hoops as his successor. The board of supervisors ratified  his selection. Hoops ran for election in his own right in 2010, comfortably beating two challengers. On November 7 this year, the day after the general election, Hoops announced he would retire as sheriff, and he called upon the board of supervisors to replace him with McMahon.
While Bland was sheriff, he cultivated a political machine, consisting of donors and supporters, together with a support network of campaign and public relations experts and consultants that dwarfed any competing campaign resources of his potential or actual opponents. In 1982, he handed that machine off to Tidwell and the machine, adaptively transformed to fit each succeeding generational change in political reality, has been passed along to each of Bland’s successive descendants. That machine, presented to McMahon by Hoops, now stands at the ready for use by McMahon, should he be called upon to undertake an electoral effort to become sheriff.
Moreover, McMahon as Hoops’ choice now enjoys the advocacy of Devereaux, the county’s top administrator, upon whom the board of supervisors is highly dependent for direction. The timing of Hoops’ departure in this regard is fortuitous for McMahon. As recently as a year ago there existed a degree of tension between Devereaux and Hoops that observers of both said was palpable. This was at least partially an outgrowth, sources have told the Sentinel, of the manner in which the sheriff’s department handled its internal accounting of officer overtime. From the outset of his tenure with the county, Devereaux has been very sensitive to the need to get a firm fix on costs in all divisions within the county governmental structure, and at least initially he was disconcerted over the way in which the sheriff’s department was crunching numbers and keeping its books. There were other disagreements between Hoops and Devereaux as well with regard to the department’s actual or planned apportioning of its resources. Despite whatever wariness with which Devereaux and Hoops may have regarded one another, a positive relationship between McMahon and Devereaux has nevertheless developed over the last year. Devereaux is pursuing a permanent solution to what is categorized as a “structural deficit” plaguing the county and his formula for eliminating that fiscal challenge is to forge contract agreements with the county’s various employee bargaining groups involving concessions on either salary or benefits into the future that will reduce county outlays. McMahon was designated as the sheriff department administration representative to work with Devereaux on those negotiations and participate in the face-to-face meetings with the representatives of the sheriff’s deputies’ union. In this way, McMahon was crucial to an important part of the success Devereaux has experienced in this undertaking so far. A positive relationship between the two men has developed and Devereaux has told several city council members from cities which contract with the sheriff’s department for law enforcement service that McMahon is the logical choice to succeed Hoops, and that his takeover of the department should prove a seamless transition.
There were indications of what was afoot several months ago. In September 2011, a report surfaced that Hoops had told Devereaux and the board of supervisors he wanted to retire and have McMahon succeed him. He was dissuaded from doing so at that time because of the perception that his leaving would come too soon after his election in 2010. There was no public confirmation of that report, but officials in several sheriff’s department contract cities, including Rancho Cucamonga and Victorville, told the Sentinel they were given to understand that a change in the department’s leadership was under way and that McMahon was being groomed for the top spot.
McMahon’s ascendency to the head of the internal department list of potential replacements for Hoops was a natural one.
Before Penrod left the department, McMahon was already considered a likely candidate to someday succeed Penrod, who like Tidwell and Bland before him was an equestrian enthusiast. Having grown up in Apple Valley, McMahon himself has raised and rode horses throughout his life.
McMahon is younger than the current crop of likely competitors within the department for the sheriff’s position. Undersheriff Robert Fonzi is, or at least was, McMahon’s most serious challenger for the scepter. Fonzi, as the second in command of the department, outranks McMahon. Indeed, several sheriffs served in the position of undersheriff before acceding to the top spot. What is more, Fonzi harbored ambition of becoming sheriff. Though he remains as the undersheriff, he has been on medical leave for some time, during which he underwent a first shoulder surgery and is awaiting, reportedly, a second surgery. His absence from sheriff’s headquarters over the last several months has proven crucial in his having been outmaneuvered by the younger McMahon.
Another of McMahon’s potential internal department rivals is deputy chief Paul Cook, who technically boasts experience and qualifications to match McMahon’s but is not seen as being as hungry, aggressive, or politically connected as McMahon.
Few consider deputy chief Sheree Stewart, the first female captain in the department and the first deputy chief of her gender in the department, a realistic candidate as sheriff. Deputy chief Ron Cochrane is also widely perceived as having the pedigree and gravitas to succeed Hoops. He is known to have ambition, having applied for two municipal department police chief positions which he did not achieve. Cochrane, however, appears to have accepted McMahon’s ascendency as inevitable. He has recently been seen accompanying McMahon to meetings and conferences involving other government officials and it is widely assumed Cochrane will move into the undersheriff’s post some time after McMahon becomes sheriff.
Hoops’ retirement announcement on November 7 together with his recommendation of McMahon generated a backlash in the form of charges that a backroom deal had been worked out between Hoops and the board of supervisors to install McMahon with little or no scrutiny or fanfare. Board chairwoman Josie Gonzales added to that perception when she publicly stated that the board of supervisors wanted to reach a decision on Hoops’ successor rapidly so an appointment could be made that would avoid any gap in the ultimate leadership of the sheriff’s department. In the face of pointed claims that Hoops had “brokered” a deal with the board to rubberstamp his selection of McMahon as sheriff, Gonzales offered assurances that the board had entered into no such sub rosa compact with Hoops and McMahon and that the board would conduct an open, thorough, honest and aboveboard examination of the qualifications of those to be considered as Hoops’ replacement before any decision is made. She indicated that the protocol for making the appointment would be discussed publicly as early as the November 27 board of supervisors meeting. No such discussion took place that date, but at this week’s meeting on December 4, Gonzales again indicated the board would carefully consider the qualifications of all candidates for the post, including those who personally step up or whose names are brought forth. The board then appointed a subcommittee, consisting of Gonzales and supervisor Gary Ovitt, to consider and interview if necessary any candidates for the sheriff’s position that emerge. Gonzales further indicated that the subcommittee will consider input from any other interested parties, in particular the sheriff’s deputies’ union, before the committee makes its recommendation to the full board.
It thus appears that the Gonzales/Ovitt committee will at the very least be obliged to look at the resumés of Fonzi, Cochrane, Cook, and Stewart before giving the nod to McMahon. Additionally, given Gonzales’s assertions that the process will be an open and thorough one, the committee will also need to consider  a handful of other candidates from outside the department, some of whose credentials equal or exceed those of McMahon. Those include:
* Paul Schrader, a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy who ran against Hoops in 2010, finishing second. Schrader has consistently said that he intends to run for sheriff again in 2014. He maintains that as the second choice of the electorate to serve as sheriff in 2010, he deserves strong consideration to succeed Hoops, given Hoops’ decision to resign.
* Frank Scialdone, who was Fontana’s police chief and later a member of the Fontana City Council and ultimately Fontana mayor. He served as the interim police chief of the Rialto Police Department as well as the police chief of Pasadena City College. He is the president and chief executive officer of PMW Associates, which provides management and training services to law enforcement agencies.
* Martin Thouvenell, formerly the city of Upland’s police chief. In addition to heading the police department, Thouvenell was also fire chief on an extended interim basis. He further served as Upland’s interim city manager for more than a year in the 1990s.
* Former Rialto police chief Mark Kling. Kling has a master’s degree in administration of justice, an MBA, and a doctorate in public administration. He also served as Rialto’s city administrator for an extended period.
* Former San Bernardino County Marshal Keith Bushey. After the marshal’s office was merged with the sheriff’s department in 1999, Bushey was brought into the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, where he served in the capacity of deputy chief. Prior to becoming marshal in San Bernardino County, Bushey was a commander in the Los Angeles Police Department, where he had previously held the ranks of patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant and captain. After leaving the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Bushey was an executive staff liaison with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. He has a master’s degree in public service and is presently employed by the FBI’s Law Enforcement Executive Development Association providing  administrative level training to police executives. Bushey is a former Marine Corps colonel.  .
One department and government insider dismissed suggestions that Hoops had brokered a backroom deal with the board of supervisors to elevate McMahon.
Rick Roelle, a sheriff’s lieutenant and Apple Valley councilman who ran for county supervisor in November with Hoops’ endorsement but narrowly lost to Robert Lovingood, said he was unaware of Hoops intention to retire until the official announcement of the sheriff’s departure was made after the election.
“I’ll tell you honestly, I was surprised to hear that,” Roelle said. “If word was going around, it was kept from me. I really don’t believe there was any kind of a deal cut to get John McMahon in there. I was running for supervisor at the time and just about everyone seemed to think I had an even chance of winning, so you would have thought someone would have whispered in my ear, ‘We’re going to need your vote for McMahon to be the next sheriff once you are in there.’ That never occurred. I think I would have been brought in on it if there was going to be some kind of a fix.”
Roelle said that he is not yet convinced at this point that McMahon’s appointment is a fait accompli. “Josie [Gonzales] said they are going to take a look at everybody who applies,” he said. “Whether their decision will be to select John McMahon, I have no idea.”
Thouvenell told the Sentinel he had not contemplated being sheriff but that “I would consider it, depending on the circumstance, but I haven’t really thought about it. I’d have to really think about what I was getting into before I’d put my name out there.”
He said he conceives of the sheriff’s department to be something akin to a very large and geographically dispersed police department with multiple span of control issues. Serving as police chief, he said “was just about 85 percent administrative, probably about the same as being sheriff.”
Thouvenell said it was his impression that Hoops’ successor as sheriff would most likely be chosen from within the department. “The guy that’s in there stays until he is ready to leave and then he steps down and then he selects from within whoever it is that takes his place,” Thouevenell said. “That’s the way they’ve done it as far back as I can remember.”
As to McMahon’s qualifications, Thouvenell said, “I don’t really know him at all but I assume he is capable.”
Indeed, McMahon would not be where he is now if he were not capable. With no glaring skeletons in his closet, he is trusted by most if not all of the department’s rank and file. He is young enough to represent the possibility of change in the future, but enough of a part of the department establishment to not rattle any cages. He is supported by the old guard and seen by those in control of the department as the embodiment of the best foot forward for the organization. Already, Hoops has left the department except for occasional appearances at headquarters, and McMahon is serving as acting sheriff.
Even though Gonzales has stated she is willing to consider other candidates, the other member of the sheriff replacement search committee, Gary Ovitt, is extremely close to Devereaux. Devereaux was city manager in Ontario when Ovitt was mayor there before he was elected supervisor. Ovitt led the effort to lure Devereaux to the county as its top administrator and is entirely dependent upon Devereaux’s guidance. In addition, the board has two new members, Robert Lovingood and James Ramos, who were just elected in November. They are not likely to deviate far from the guidance of the county’s chief executive officer, especially on so monumental of an issue as the replacement of the county sheriff, the person destined to become the most powerful political figure in the county.
No informed entities have said they expect anyone other than John McMahon to be sheriff of San Bernardino County for the next decade.

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