Hagman Taking On Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner As Policy Adviser

Two staffing changes, one subtle and another not-so-subtle, were made for two of county government’s most powerful men this week.
The county on September 15 promoted a field representative into the position of senior assistant to the chief of staff of the chairman of the board of supervisors. Simultaneously, it hired one of the county’s most aggressive political personages to serve as a key assistant to the county’s Fourth District supervisor.
On Tuesday the board voted to approve a contract with John Futch to provide support services to the Third District supervisor as deputy chief of staff, effective September 14, 2015, for an estimated annual cost of $93,273, which includes a salary of $76,609 and benefits of $16,664. Since March 26, 2013, Futch has served as Third District Supervisor James Ramos’ field representative for the Loma Linda, Mentone, Redlands, Yucaipa, and Grand Terrace communities. Futch holds a B.A. in political science and an M.A. in social science from Cal State University, San Bernardino. He has knowledge of the issues facing the Inland Valley. He has served in different capacities at Cal State University, San Bernardino and for the San Bernardino Community College District. Futch is to go to work as the right hand man of Phil Paule, Ramos’s chief of staff. Paule is described as a right-wing Republican. He was the district director for Congressman Darrell Issa and one of two Republican candidates for the California State Assembly in District 57 in 2012. For that reason, Ramos’s choice of him to head his staff after his 2012 victory over incumbent Third District Supervisor Neil Derry was perceived as a curious one, given Ramos’s Democratic Party affiliation. There was no clear consensus among local political observers as to the significance of Futch’s promotion to facilitate Paule’s management of Ramos’s office.
More surprising was Fourth District Supervisor Curt Hagman’s selection this week of Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner to serve as his part-time policy adviser during Hagman’s current term in office, running through to 2018.
For that assignment, Wapner will be paid an annual salary of $48,326 and benefits of $1,859.
Wapner’s hiring was presented as a late walk-on item to the board’s agenda this week, as an addition to the consent calendar.
There was considerable speculation as to the compatibility of Hagman and Wapner in the wake of Wapner’s hiring, not because of their differences but rather on account of their similarities. Both are classic alpha males who have functioned in the San Bernardino County political arena for a sustained period of time and are known and even feared in most quarters and disdained and even despised in others for their aggressive domination of the public forums they inhabit. Both are Republicans who have used slightly different formulas to obtain and stay in power. Hagman, a bail bondsman who scratched his way to the top of the Chino Hill political scene by running for city council and acceding to mayor before running successfully for the California Assembly, used his Republican Party affiliation as a stepping stone to office in the GOP leaning expanse in San Bernardino County’s extreme southwest corner and the swath of eastern Orange County and southwest Los Angeles County in which his former 55th Assembly District was located. As his ticket in Sacramento was about to expire last year as a result of term limits, he ousted and then replaced Robert Rego as the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee and from that position of strength utilized the fundraising capability open to him to defeat former Democratic Congresswoman Gloria Negrete-McLeod in the race for supervisor, despite her name recognition, power of incumbency as a congresswoman that offset his as an assemblyman, and the slight voter registration advantage Democrats held over Republicans in the Fourth District.
Wapner, a former police detective with the Ontario Police Department who retired on a service disability, bootstrapped his way into a position on the city council more than two decades ago and has remained in that position for 21 years. From time to time he has been a lightning rod for controversy, and has had a sometimes rocky relationship with his colleagues and other authority figures relating to issues of primacy and policy. An early element of his political success was his support by members of the city’s public safety employee unions. As Ontario has grown less and less Republican in its political orientation, he has relied more on his power of incumbency to raise money, to the point that his political war chest has rendered him virtually impervious to political challenge. This has emboldened him, and his A-personality traits, which have always been apparent, have intensified in recent years. These were never so prominently displayed as in the city of Ontario’s campaign to win back control of Ontario Airport from the city of Los Angeles, which through a joint powers agreement signed in 1967 took management control of the airport to build it from an aerodrome serving fewer than 200,000 passengers per year to one that had 7.2 million pass through its gates in 2007. Ontario deeded the airport to Los Angeles in 1985 and, after ridership at the facility dropped off with the economic downturn that hit in full in 2008, Wapner prompted the Ontario City Council to wage near warfare in getting the airport back through a highly vituperative informational campaign that accused Los Angeles officials of seeking to ruin the Inland Empire’s economy by purposefully mismanaging the airport. That campaign was accompanied by a lawsuit.
With Wapner increasing the tension level with Los Angeles on a regular basis by means of the highly accusatory and insulting statements about the megalopolis he engaged in, a group of political representatives from the Inland Empire including local, state and federal officials, last year opened up a secret back channel of communication with Los Angeles officials, which entirely bypassed Wapner. Endeavoring to prevent Wapner from learning of the existence of the secret dialogue taking place, those participating in it, including Hagman, sought to lower the level of rhetoric and vituperation. On an official track, with Wapner pushing Ontario to pursue his aggressive strategy, Los Angeles dug in its heels, refusing to sell the airport back to Ontario for less than $450 million. By keeping Wapner out of the loop, a backroom deal was eventually worked out by which Los Angeles agreed to let go of the airport to a joint powers agency dominated by Ontario for $150 million in upfront cash, the payment of another $60 million to purchase assets technically belonging to Los Angeles that are in place at Ontario Airport and which are crucial or indispensable to its operations, and Ontario’s assumption of $60 million in bonded indebtedness relating to the financing on past improvements to the airport. In this way, keeping Wapner out of the private negotiations saved the city of Ontario some $180 million.
Hagman acknowledged his and Wapner’s status as alpha males and that their mutual need to dominate the situations in which they involve themselves could be a recipe for a clash. “We’ll play it out and give it a shot and see what happens,” Hagman said. “I have other alpha males and other elected officials on my staff, [West Covina City Councilman]Mike [Spence] and [Chino Hills Councilman] Ed [Graham]. They all present the advantage of knowing the issues in this district and area and what they entail. Alan has more than twenty years experience as an elected official. He knows the challenges facing government and putting policies in place. He is capable of looking at not just the political application but selecting what is the best method for achieving a goal that is good for all of his constituents. If I have a weakness it is in handling the details. I’m a vision guy and I need people who can take a policy and implement it. I have discussed my agenda with Alan and he is on board with it. If on something he has a disagreement for whatever reason and he wants to have a debate on it and as a result we decide to do something a little different or I am convinced to make a change, I’m alright with that. If he tells me the emperor is not wearing clothes, I’ll listen. Sometimes one plus one does equal three.”
Hagman said that in any case, he is not relegating Wapner to a role of dealing with the public, where Wapner’s abrasive manner might represent a liability, but rather in directly advising him. “I hired him to do very in-depth work on policy issues because he is already immersed in issues involving the Fourth District. I am a guy who likes to set goals and have people work toward achieving them. I think there is a real possibility of Alan doing just that. He knows how to deal with bureaucracies and how to get through layers of different agencies and their staff. I think this will be something that will benefit the Fourth District and the entire county.”

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