Board Quietly Directs Devereaux To Orchestrate Lamberto’s Exodus

San Bernardino County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux is seeking to arrange embattled county human resources director Andrew Lamberto’s exodus from the county, the Sentinel has learned.
Lamberto’s arrest on a charge of soliciting a prostitute last March resulted in his plea to a misdemeanor count in August, which netted Lamberto a sentence of completing ten days of community service work and three years of unsupervised probation. Three days after his arrest, Lamberto informed Devereaux of the matter, and Devereaux handled the issue as an internal administrative one, docking his pay for two weeks and curtailing his privileged status as a county department head to that comparable to an at-will employee. “Mr. Lamberto clearly understands, and has agreed, that even one additional issue involving his conduct, public or private, will result in his immediate dismissal,” Devereaux said in a public statement late last month after the incident became public.
Though Lamberto complied with county policy in disclosing to Devereaux his arrest, Devereaux did not inform the board of supervisors. There is no requirement within the county’s codes or policies that the chief executive officer make disclosure of the arrests or misdemeanor convictions of county employees to the board. Two months after the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, in the jurisdiction of which Lamberto’s arrest took place, publicly released information relating to his plea conviction, word wended its way to San Bernardino County, where it took several days for news outlets to confirm that the individual arrested near Newport Beach on March 27 was the same Andrew Lamberto who headed San Bernardino County’s personnel division. A firestorm of controversy erupted, with some heat vectored at the board of supervisors because Lamberto had remained in place. Within a few days, on October 23, Devereaux put out a public statement in which he explained that “Historically, disciplinary actions have been handled as purely administrative matters and not brought to the attention of the board of supervisors. Therefore I did not bring this matter to the board’s attention.”
In recent years, both Devereaux and Lamberto have come under increasing attack by the unions representing the county government’s employees, in no small measure because of their efforts, many of which were successful, in wringing contract concessions from those bargaining units as the county had to reduce spending as the result of the persisting economic downturn that has only recently begun to abate. The perceived faux pas with regard to Lamberto’s arrest and conviction and the exposure of the matter in the face of what was perceived as an effort to cover it up brought on calls for the immediate sacking of both men. This Tuesday, the board held a specially scheduled meeting that consisted primarily of a closed door discussion devoted almost exclusively to the Lamberto crisis.
In public, Devereaux offered a public apology to the board of supervisors over the handling of the matter and the board directed Devereaux to work with county counsel – the county’s stable of in-house attorneys – to draft by December 15 a policy for the board’s public consideration that would prevent a repeat of a similar situation.
The meeting was followed with widespread speculation on internet blogs and in print that hinted at Devereux’s pending demise. In particular, it was suggested, both Board Chairman James Ramos and supervisor Robert Lovingood were gunning to have Devereaux removed as county chief executive officer.
In fact, the Sentinel, has learned, no such threat to Devereaux exists. Indeed, his tenure at either the helm as county chief executive officer or the primary advisor to his successor is guaranteed contractually to last at least three more years. According to highly reliable and highly placed sources within the county government structure, all five members of the board of supervisors are aware of this contractual reality, understand the logistical and political difficulty of overcoming it and have no illusions that they could muster the grounds or consensus to force Devereaux’s departure.
Upon his hiring in 2010, Devereux was given extraordinary accommodations and protections in his contract. The position he took on, which formerly carried the title of county administrative officer, was changed to county chief executive officer. Furthermore, his predecessors could be terminated on a simple majority vote of the board members present, 3-2 with all five participating, 3-1 with four participating or 2-1 with three participating. Under Devereaux’s contract, to relieve him of his command, the board would need to muster four votes to do so. Also included in his contract is a one year/three year evergreen clause which prevents the board from firing him immediately without citing cause. In this way, even if the board were to assemble the four or five votes needed to cashier him, his departure as chief executive officer would not take place until one year after the vote. Additionally, the evergreen clause requires that Devereaux remain as an executive consultant to his successor for two years after that.
Moreover, in the instant case, i.e., that involving the decision to discipline Lamberto without bringing the underlying situation to the attention of the board of supervisors, does not technically qualify as a violation of the county’s policy. On a yearly basis hundreds of county employees are cited for infractions pertaining to non-work connected violations of codes and scores more are arrested and/or convicted of misdemeanors for crimes that do not take place in or at the workplace or during business hours. There is no requirement that those citations, crimes and/or convictions be reported to the board of supervisors. It is only when a county employee is convicted of a non-work related felony or a crime of any magnitude is committed or alleged to be committed in the county workplace by a county employee that a review of his/her employment status is initiated. Even in such cases, there is no requirement that the board of supervisors be in the loop.
The Sentinel has learned that members of the board of supervisors are cognizant of a “fine line” between what one county source said is “the need for the board to stay ahead of the curve on events” such as the Lamberto situation and “things of a private nature that get reported by an employee to his boss or supervisor. If a county employee tells his boss that he needs time off because he is going into rehab for an alcohol or drug problem, I’m not sure we want a policy that says that confidence has to be broken. If an employee is going through a challenge but it’s not affecting his work, does that have to be reported? In retrospect, this thing with Andrew could have been and probably should have been handled differently. Greg was a little naïve in thinking it could stay quiet forever. But his handling it administratively was not outside the county’s policy. What the board did is ask that we change the policy so the CEO has to report more detail when these types of things come and staff knows the board is engaged.”
The closed door meeting in which the board questioned Devereaux was an intense one, one of those privy to what went on during it told the Sentinel. About ninety percent of the discussion pertained to Lamberto, the Sentinel was informed. The other ten percent focused on Devereaux’s action. A concern the board had was the degree to which Devereaux might be withholding information about other county employees’ criminal convictions from them. When Devereaux was pointedly asked if there were other county department heads who had been charged with or convicted of serious crimes which Devereaux had knowledge about which he had not disclosed to the board, Devereaux directly responded that there were none. At least some of the board members were reassured by that. “One event doesn’t make a pattern,” one of the supervisors remarked.
The Sentinel was told that reports subsequent to the meeting that supervisors Ramos and Lovingood were gunning for Devereaux but did not yet have the votes lined up to effectuate their goal were far off the mark. Both rationally and calmly participated in the discussion but did not push Devereaux toward the door and did not wheedle their colleagues for action against him either, according to the well-placed source. To the extent that Devereaux was pressed hard by any of the supervisors, the Sentinel has learned, it was Josie Gonzales who was the most aggressive, though her pointed questioning fell short of demanding his resignation or an effort to assemble votes to oust him.
“Josie was more fired up against Greg than anyone else,” the Sentinel was told.
Devereaux remains on firm ground.
Nevertheless, there was a consensus among the board members that Lamberto has to go. Devereaux was told to find a way to persuade the human resources director to leave of his own accord, offer him some form of incentive to pack it in, ease him out, make it too uncomfortable for him to stay, force him out, throw him out or, failing all other means, terminate him.
According to the source, the sole reason the board is temporizing on pulling the trigger on Lamberto immediately and prefers to have Devereaux construct an exit that preserves some sense of decorum is that its members do not want to court the perception that “if someone is unhappy or discontented with somebody or something all they have to do is stage some protests or come before the board and we’ll start firing people left and right.”

Leave a Reply