Adelanto Council Mulls Live Streaming To Overcome Perception Of Secret Agenda

ADELANTO — As a lull in the political unrest that gripped the city of Adelanto has set in, city council members in the city of 31,765 are contemplating videotaping city council and planning commission meetings for live streaming and internet viewing.
Adelanto, which was incorporated as a city in 1970, has historically been the most politically unstable city in the county. Particularly in the 1990s, but continuing into the early 2000s, Adelanto was a hotbed of recall efforts, with warring factions that vied for political ascendancy continuously. Two of those warring factions were ones led by Patricia Chamberlain, who had been active in the founding of the city and went on to serve as a council member, mayor and city manager in the city, and Ed Dondelinger, a flight line sergeant at George Air Force who settled in Adelanto and went on to be elected as mayor there. An erstwhile Chamberlaine ally, Dondelinger gradually developed differences with her and, as mayor, moved to terminate her as city manager. This precipitated a bitter feud between the two, with Chamberlaine organizing a political resistance to the Dondelinger regime that involved a series of both unsuccessful and successful recall attempts of Dondelinger and his council confederates. Once out of office, Dondelinger engaged in political reprisals of his own, organizing a multitude of recall efforts that both successfully and unsuccessfully targeted Chamberlaine and her legion of affiliates.
This bitter back-and-forth grew to include activity by the then-Adelanto Police Department, which ultimately sided with Chamberlaine in the dispute based upon her promises of promotions and raises to the city’s police officers, who utilized on a number of occasions their power of investigation, including that of obtaining and serving search warrants, as well as their authority to make arrests, all of which were employed in targeting the Dondelinger forces. Ultimately, the politicization of the police department would lead to its disbandment in 2002 and its replacement by the sheriff’s department.
While the vitriol of the Chamberlaine/Dondelinger era faded after their respective withdrawal from the political picture roughly a decade-and-a-half ago, Adelanto has retained its much deserved reputation as a place that is highly volatile politically. A matter of speculation and debate is whether that volatility is a cause or an effect of the city’s precarious financial circumstance. Lacking a strong commercial tax base and hosting less than stellar real estate and thus hampered by marginal property tax revenues, the city has been hovering over a financial abyss for a half dozen years, sliding ever more perilously toward bankruptcy with every annual budgetary cycle.
In 2013 the city council declared that the city was in a state of financial emergency and sought to have city residents impose a new tax on themselves to shore up City Hall financially. Voters rejected that proposal, however, and former city manager Jim Hart’s efforts to generate revenue through a host of strategies foundered.
Last year, the city’s dire economic circumstance contributed to yet another manifestation of the city’s political volatility, when all three city council members up for reelection – mayor Cari Thomas, councilman Steve Baisden and councilman Charles Valvo – were ousted in favor of Rich Kerr, who replaced Thomas, and Charles Glasper and John Woodard. In the final throes of their tenure in office, Thomas, Baisden and Valvo voted with councilman Ed Camargo to allow two more large-scale detention centers to set up operation in Adelanto, complementing three such existing facilities within the city limits. This move was not favored by a vocal minority of the city’s population, who believe the city should move beyond its role as a host for prisons.
After the new council was sworn in in December, the old ruling coalition of Thomas, Baisden, Valvo and Camargo was defunct, replaced by Kerr, Glasper, Woodard and councilman Jermaine Wright. Kerr’s loosely-knit political machine was in ascendancy. Nevertheless, by February, there was considerable frustration on the council at the city’s inability to get its arms around the looming financial crisis. With Kerr stepping up his pressure on Hart and staff, Hart abruptly took leave of his post, delivering the city’s state of the city address on the afternoon of February 25 but not showing up at the city council meeting that evening. Within the next month, the city’s finance director Onyx Jones, likewise departed the city. The inability of staff to act forthrightly in addressing the financial challenges or to make sacrifices in response to it, led the ruling council coalition to the conclusion that wholesale city staff reductions were in order. By late spring, the Kerr-led council was moving to implement those changes.
In the political cauldron of Adelanto, however, the abrupt and substantial changes the council was advocating triggered alarm. Spurred by information provided by city employees whose jobs were now on the line, a collection of city residents, including ones close to Thomas as well as Carmargo began discussions about addressing alleged misconstructions of Kerr’s mayoral authority and misapplications of such, as well as the either passive or active support that Wright, Woodard and Glasper had given him.
Several current and former employees joined in with the growing juggernaut of resistance that Kerr was encountering.
The group, armed with a cache of internal city documents, including emails and memos that passed between Kerr and others, alleged that Kerr routinely overstepped his authority and in fact broke the law. In July, city public works director/city engineer Thomas Thornton, who had served as interim city manager upon Hart’s departure and was promoted to the position of actual city manager on May 12, resigned the city manager’s post to return to the post of city engineer/public works director. In that atmosphere, the collection of residents formalizing into a coalition against the city’s newfound direction signaled its readiness to initiate a recall effort that would target Kerr and quite likely name Wright and Woodard as well.
Recall advocates allege that Kerr, Woodard, Wright and perhaps Glasper had met covertly to discuss official city action outside the forum of agendized council meetings, a violation of the Brown Act, California’s open meeting law. During the course of those meetings, it is alleged, Kerr, Woodard and Wright formulated a strategy of paring city staff and subsequently directed Thornton to carry out hirings and firings. Evidence that has been marshaled to support this includes emails from Thornton to city attorney Todd Litfin. In those emails, which have now put Thornton, who is returned to the position of public works director, in Dutch with a majority of the city council, Thornton states that three of the council members appear to have gone “rogue” and are giving him improper orders and “constantly” intruding into “the day-to-day operations of the city.” Thornton bemoaned the motives of and methodology the council majority was using to clean house at City Hall. He said the council probably had “the authority to eliminate positions [but that] it is my opinion based on many actions that have transpired since Dec 2014 that their reasons are personal in nature and not in any way connected with saving money,” Thornton stated.
Thornton expressed concern that directives outside the proper chain of command he had received to fire public works superintendent Nan Moore and senior planning management specialist Mike Borja would lead to a lawsuit against the city.
Kerr, a retired Marine, acknowledges having a “gung ho” attitude and having moved aggressively to redress the city’s problems from the start and having failed to follow the often-times plodding procedure required in the carrying out of public policy. But he has rejected the assertions by recall proponents and other critics such as former city conservation specialist Belen Cordero, who have leveled charges that Kerr and his council allies are power mad, have routinely violated the Brown Act – the state of California’s open meeting law – and are targeting specific employees for personal reasons. Cordero said she was forced to resign after refusing to terminate certain of her colleagues.
Kerr has gone on record as disputing those assertions, saying he is interested in altering the city’s charter to institute a “strong mayor” form of government in Adelanto so he and his successors can cut through the red tape and malaise that is preventing Adelanto from instituting the reforms needed to ensure the city remains solvent, provides the essential public services it should and avoids bankruptcy. He said there is no personal animus toward anyone in particular but the city needs to trim its staff of inefficient and unproductive employees who are not making a positive contribution toward the city’s current function or its future survival.
He said that despite the recall effort, he wanted to encourage more citizen participation in government rather than less. He said an informed citizenry was necessary to make positive change. He dismissed the suggestion the council is being secretive or violating the Brown Act. Accordingly, he wants to have the city live stream city council and planning commission meetings and have them available on the city’s website for viewing by residents after the meetings have concluded.
The precise ins-and-outs of doing so have not been established, but the council has asked city staff to come up with options.
“Adelanto is changing, for the better,” said Kerr, “and we want our citizens to see first-hand what we are doing to make Adelanto a better place to live.”
He acknowledged the council has run into a problem of perception with some city residents and that giving them a ready window on the operations of the governmental decision-making process will at least partially alleviate that. “Live-streaming will not only help us to engage our electorate, but it will serve to keep those on the dais honest and transparent,” Kerr said.

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