Nepotism Controversy Manifests With City Clerk & Police Chief In Upland

(September 9)  The long dormant conflict within the administrative level of Upland’s government has now manifested into an actual crisis that has impacted a significant number of employees in the police department and which threatens the continued tenure of either police chief Jeff Mendenhall or administrative services director/city clerk Stephanie Mendenhall, or both.
In 2010, Jeff Mendenhall, then a captain in the police department, was elevated to the position of acting police chief when then-police chief Steve Adams took what was expected to be a temporary stress leave. Adams’ stress leave continued well into 2011 and in September of that year, he retired. Shortly thereafter Jeff Mendenhall was elevated by then-city manager Stephen Dunn to the position of police chief, and that choice was approved by the city council.
Meanwhile, Jeff Mendenhall’s wife, Stephanie, who was Upland’s city clerk, had likewise advanced professionally, having been given the added assignment of administrative services director. Stephanie Mendenhall remained in the post of city clerk in the newly created assignment of administrative services director, which carried with its authority oversight of the city clerk’s office, human resources, information technology, and risk management, and provided her with  a base salary and add-ons of $175,606, plus benefits of  $55,624 for a total annual compensation package  of $231,230.
There was concern at the time that the promotion of Jeff Mendenhall to the position of police chief created a circumstance that was fraught with conflict and peril for the city and its taxpayers. Essentially, filling the administrative services/city clerk  and the police chief positions, which on occasion require some degree of articulation with one another and/or superintendence of or answerability to one another, with individuals who were married to one another raised the specter of favoritism or the possibility that standards that would otherwise be applied to conduct, actions and the review thereof might be compromised.
City officials, however, sought to downplay such concerns, indicating that arrangement would be permitted, since such conflicts were merely theoretical or potential. They suggested that if such a conflict were to manifest, it would be addressed at that time and Dunn, as city manager, would intervene to alleviate the conflict.
The city had no nepotism policy in place. Previously, the city had faced similar, though not identical circumstances. In the 1980s, while Frank Carpenter was a member of the city council, his wife Dee had been city clerk. In the 1990s, while Gail Horton was a member of the city council, her husband, John Scanlon, was fire chief.
Despite what government reform and open government activists decried as unhealthy arrangements, no scandal over these incestuous relationships in Upland has, until now, erupted.
Within the last two months events have manifested that are threatening to put the Mendenhalls and the concentration of authority over internal municipal administrative processes in their hands in sharp relief, to the embarrassment and potential legal detriment to the City of Gracious Living.
In recent years, the Upland Police Department, like nearly every other law enforcement agency in California, has outfitted its patrol cars with high powered shoulder fired weapons to augment the sidearms their officers carry. In the case of Upland, each patrol car carries an AR-15, a lightweight, intermediate cartridge magazine-fed, air cooled rifle with a rotating-lock bolt, actuated by direct impingement gas operation or long/short stroke piston operation.
The officers almost universally endorse the AR-15 as a highly practical back-up to their 9 millimeter or .45 handguns, which have proven, in some cases, to be inadequate in the face of the heavier weaponry often in the possession of criminals. The AR-15 provides officers with adequate response capability in those circumstances where they encounter armed and determined resistance.
Law enforcement agencies are required to keep their officers up to date in both training and certification for the equipment and weapons they utilize.  In California, the Commission on Police Officers Standards and Training is the state entity that provides the criteria and protocol by which law enforcement officers are given training and certified.
To remain employable in the field, officers must undergo periodic training and certification for the firearms they are issued and use in the course of their employment.
Because the city of Upland through its police department had obtained the AR-15s for its patrol cars, traditionally the department had paid for the periodic AR-15 use training the officers had to undergo, provided them with the means, i.e., the ammunition and shooting range availability, required to complete that training, paid its officers for the time they attended the range certification and the classes related to the AR-15 use, and  reimbursed them for whatever mileage costs they accrued in driving to the range and the class.
This summer, police chief Mendenhall, in keeping with budgetary restraints imposed on his department, informed the officers under his command that they would need to complete their retraining and recertification with regard to the AR-15 entirely at their own expense and on their own time, and that the department would not cover the cost of their ammunition used in the training and certification, that they would not be reimbursed for their mileage in achieving recertification and that they would not be paid for the time they spent attending AR-15 classes and the certification testing.
An individual officer’s failure to attend the training and obtain certification would result, without exception, in his/her disqualification for patrol duty in any department patrol car  outfitted with the AR-15s.
While the change in policy dictated by chief Mendenhall without conferring with the police union was not gladly received by the rank and file, the predominant attitude among officers was that they would comply with the new order of things and that the AR-15 is too important of a tool for them to function without. The officers  begrudgingly agreed to attend the classes at their own expense to obtain the necessary certification.
The officers learned, however, that the sergeant conducting the training for the department was, per chief Mendenhall’s orders, being paid for conducting the classes and was being reimbursed for all his incidental expenses.
The Sentinel has learned that several of the department’s officers, angered by the apparent favoritism shown toward the sergeant, consequently took exception to chief Mendenhall’s order, asserting that he had violated not only the employment contract the city has with its police officers through its union, the Upland Police Officers Association, but California labor law as well.
A law enforcement professional who was in contact with the Sentinel said that what he characterized as a “significant minority” of the department’s officers – as many as a dozen or more – expressed a belief that the filing of a grievance over the matter was called for.  No such grievance was filed, however, the Sentinel is told, because the individual with whom such grievances are lodged would be Stephanie Mendenhall, who in her capacity as administrative services director is the head of human resources, i.e., personnel.
“No one wants to go into her office and say, ‘Your husband just did this to us and we don’t think it’s right,’” a law enforcement officer told the Sentinel. “If it wasn’t his wife, people would go right down there and complain. But they can’t because of who she’s married to and the fear of retaliation and harassment. No one believes they could really get a fair hearing in that situation. People just have to accept it. In this case there really isn’t a grievance process.”
Stephanie Mendenhall declined the Sentinel’s invitation to discuss the matter.
“I don’t have a comment for you,” she said. “Sorry.”
As chance had it, however, at this week’s city council meeting, the council was poised to consider the proposed reorganization of the city’s executive staff, which included the elimination of an executive assistant in the city manager’s office, filling the vacant position of accounting supervisor in the finance department and arranging it so that the finance manager reports directly to the city manager.
When that item came up for a vote, councilwoman Debbie Stone made a motion to amend the reorganization proposal such that the city would eliminate the position of administrative services director altogether. Saying he believed elimination of the administrative services position would, ironically, help to meet chief Mendenhall’s call for the hiring of more police officers, Councilman Gino Filippi seconded Stone’s motion and supported it with his vote. The motion died, however, when Mayor Ray Musser and councilmen Glenn Bozar and Brendan Brandt voted against it. They approved the reorganization proposal, as originally put forth by interim city manager Martin Lomeli and incoming city manager Rod Butler.
Lomeli, who is vacationing in Hawaii, was not present at the meeting. Chief Mendenhall was filling in for him as stand-in city manager. Chief Mendenhall did not appear pleased at Stone’s motion to terminate his wife, nor at Filippi’s support of the gambit.
After the meeting, Stone told the Sentinel, “I want to make it clear on why I made the motion that I did tonight in regards to the administrative services director. The position of administrative services director was created in 2011 to justify the high compensation of the then city clerk, by creating a position.   Now that the finance manager directly reports to the city manager and is adding another employee in the form of an accounting supervisor to the tune of approximately $90,000, it seems that further reorganization is in order.  We are on this council to make the hard calls and this is one of them.”
When she was informed about the looming controversy in the police department relating to officers’ reluctance to utilize the grievance process because they must file those complaints with the police chief’s wife, Stone said she had not been aware of the matter.
“We are all professionals here and if there are emotions or personal relationships involved  then we should still expect that those people have to be able to look beyond that and do what their job requires,” Stone said. “If we have people who are not willing to file a grievance because of that relationship, then it is a problem and we are going to have to do something about it.”

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