Election To Replace Wright Puts Camargo & Glasper On Par With Kerr & Woodard

In the aftermath of the arrest, prosecution and political demise of a city councilman who was one of those who shepherded Adelanto’s ongoing transformation into the Cannabis capital of California, two of his council colleagues yet remaining in office appear determined to stay the course in keeping the city of 31,457 at the forefront of the Golden State’s marijuana revolution. Both mayor Richard Kerr and councilman John Woodard, however, were unable to succeed in convincing the other two remaining members of the council to acquiesce in their choice of a replacement whose enthusiasm for and commitment to creating an economic boom by cashing in on the production and sale of the formerly controlled substance matches their own.
Councilman Jermaine Wright remains in federal custody following his November 6 arrest on charges that he accepted bribes from one FBI agent masquerading as a would-be marijuana entrepreneur and that he offered money to another FBI agent masquerading as an arsonist-for-hire to assist him in torching the restaurant he owns in an effort to collect on his fire insurance policy. By the end of November, arrangements were in place for Wright to be released in accordance with the posting of a $100,000 bond on his behalf, but he was unable or unwilling to meet the other conditions of his bail release, which included surrendering all of 12 firearms registered to him or believed to be in his possession, his refraining from continuing to participate in civic affairs in his capacity as an elected official, and undergoing a psychological assessment.
Prior to his arrest, Wright in October was confronted by FBI agents, who induced him into cooperating with their investigation into what is perceived to be a wider circle of graft and corruption involving Adelanto public officials. That perception grew out of the cutthroat competition between would-be marijuana-related entrepreneurs seeking to take advantage of the city council’s succession of moves, beginning in 2015, to first legalize the cultivation of medical marijuana within the city’s industrial park, followed by voting to allow the licensing of medical marijuana clinics, and the eventual acceptance of recreational marijuana cultivation and retail outlets following the passage of California’s Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, in 2016. In making that pledge of cooperation, Wright committed to keeping the investigation a secret and acting as an informant. The next day, however, he violated the promise he had made to the FBI, compromising the existence of the bureau’s investigation. Casting about to get out from under the circumstance he found himself in, Wright approached the individual who had put him into contact with the two undercover FBI agents, who unbeknownst to Wright was an FBI informant himself. Wright sought from the informant assistance in locating a hitman to kill one of the FBI agents whom he characterized as a “snitch,” as well as arranging for someone to administer a beating on himself so he could claim loss of memory and avoid having to make good on his vow of cooperation in the criminal probe.
At a specially-called meeting of the city council on January 3, the council voted to remove Wright as a council member based on provisions of both California Government Code §36513 and the Adelanto City Charter §505, under which city officials are obliged to vacate a council member’s position when that official has been absent from all regularly scheduled city council meetings for a period of 60 consecutive days from the date that the city council member last attended a regular meeting of the city council. Wright last attended a regular council meeting on October 25, 2017. Citing the consideration that he did not attend any regularly scheduled city council meetings for the 60 consecutive day period ending on December 24, 2017, the council declared Wright had abandoned his office and that the position he had held on the council was therefore vacant. Under the city’s charter, the city council had the duty to either appoint someone to fill the vacancy or call for a special election.
Initially, believing that holding an election would cost the city in the neighborhood of $70,000, all members of the council appeared purposed to make an appointment.
FBI agents working the investigative detail in Adelanto are ultimately answerable to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray, who are intent on finding a bulletproof case with which to drive home the point that federal law, under which marijuana is yet classified as a Schedule I narcotic, trumps state law, despite the selected liberalization of state marijuana policy such as in California. Moreover, local agents are in possession of indications that other Adelanto officials beyond Wright have taken money in the form of bribes or kickbacks from individuals competing for marijuana-based business permits or licenses in Adelanto.
Mayor Rich Kerr and councilman John Woodard, who was elevated to the position of mayor pro tem to replace Wright in that position on January 3 upon the latter’s removal from the council, were solid votes along with Wright and the sometimes flagging support of councilman Charley Glasper in favor of shifting the city to a marijuana-based economy. Both Kerr and Woodard are ringed with a bevy of supporters who are wholeheartedly in favor of aggressively embracing the cannabis culture and getting a corner on the marijuana market early to establish for the city an advantage over other cities who are less energetic or less prompt in taking advantage of the moneymaking opportunities legal tolerance of a drug heretofore outlawed represents for both the private and public sectors in Adelanto. Nevertheless, there are others who suspect or are even convinced that Kerr and Woodard are merely using the assertion that marijuana offers the city a lot of what it takes to get along as a way of masking that they are themselves personally cashing in on the bonanza. In defiance of those perceptions, Kerr and Woodard have refused to retreat, doubling down in their support of the marijuana game plan, insisting that the city, which in June 2013 declared it was in a state of fiscal emergency, will not be deterred from the path that will rejuvenate its economy.
This week, on Tuesday January 23, Kerr presided over a specially scheduled council meeting at which the council was to engage in a discussion relating to filling the gap on the council, including a possible motion and vote to make such an appointment. It was anticipated that the six individuals who had applied to replace Wright would be allowed to make a public statement or presentation of their qualifications to hold the office.
With the progression of the early evening proceedings, carried out before a crowd that included an FBI agent, it became clear that the three votes needed to fill the post by appointment were not to be had. The reason for this was twofold. The first was that Kerr and Woodard were intent on having planning commission chairman Chris Waggener, who has steadily supported converting Adelanto to a cannabis-based economy, installed as Wright’s replacement, giving them carte blanch to continue with the marijuanafication of Adelanto. Councilman Ed Camargo has been a steady opponent of that approach in forging Adelanto’s financial recovery all along. And while Glasper did go along with that game plan, he had done so only reluctantly, coming to accept that the city was heading down that road in late 2015, acquiescing at that time only on the condition that the city would permit the cultivation of marijuana plants within the city’s industrial park without permitting the drug to be sold to end users within the city limits. As the council majority of Kerr, Woodard and Wright shifted further toward embracing retail sales of medical marijuana in the city in 2016, and then in 2017 reached for the gusto and even greater tax revenue for the city by militating toward having the city get out in front of virtually every other city in the state in terms of taking advantage of the liberalization of marijuana law following the passage of Proposition 64, Glasper went along with the troika only in the most desultory of fashion, seemingly resigned to the New Age political reality. While he was not enthusiastic about the prospect of the city being saturated with marijuana, which he considers to carry with it a hefty social cost, Glasper believed the city’s tolerance of reefer held the promise of having the redeeming effect of creating a revenue stream that might right the city’s listing financial ship. Wright’s travails, however, have given Glasper significant pause, and intensified his questions and doubts about what the city has gotten itself into. By Tuesday night Glasper was convince that further acquiescence, consisting of letting Kerr and Woodard handpick a council member to back them in taking the city in a direction he had seriously begun to rethink, would be a mistake.
Additionally, a motivating factor on January 3 that had pushed the city toward simply making an appointment was the belief that the election would cost $65,000 to $70,000. But what had emerged since that time was that the city had the option of holding the election on June 5, consolidating it with the California 2018 Gubernatorial Primary Election. So doing would drop the price to less than $6,000, they were told, after city clerk Cindy Herrera, who had been in touch with the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Office, was given a cost estimate of $5,442 to put the matter on the ballot.
When the council’s discussions began, Kerr yet harbored hope that either Camargo or Glasper could be persuaded to forego the election in favor of an appointment.
Camargo put the kibosh on that. “With this new information we have with the $5,442, I think it… would only be appropriate to go to the special election, and as I made in my comments before, letting the residents decide,” Camargo said. “[It’s] not that we’re incompetent. It’s given within [the city and government code], the choice, the right to vote. That would be my direction.”
Glasper noted that an appointment would put Wright’s replacement in office for close to three years.
“The amount of time this person would be in this seat is three years, and that is an appointment,” Glasper said. “That’s just a year short of a regular elected position and I feel that if it’s possible [to hold] an election that is not that costly, it should go to an election.”
Woodard said the city should not spend money on an election and it should not leave the position unfilled for another four-and-a-half months. “My opinion is to not have an election,” he said, suggesting the nearly $5,000 the election will cost could be spent on sidewalk improvements. “Why not pick ourselves a guy now and not wait four months?” Woodard asked.
Kerr took a shot at shaking either Camargo, Glasper or both loose. “I agree the five or six thousand [dollars] it would cost is money the city doesn’t have,” Kerr said. “And I also want to throw this in: This is something we’ve been going at for two weeks now that we decided to go ahead and go to interviews. I think this council is more than capable of picking a successor to Mr. Wright to sit up here. You’ve got six people out there who have applied for it. They have done their due diligence. They filled out the paperwork. They’ve lobbied yourselves as well as me and stated their cases to the citizens and everything, so my thing is we go ahead and listen to them and vote one way or the other and pick somebody ourselves.”
Woodard endorsed that sentiment, saying “I think that’s more than fair.”
Camargo said the council on January 3 had rushed toward the concept of making an appointment because the information on the expense of holding an election was not available and it was widely assumed that it would cost in the neighborhood of $70,000. With the actual cost being less than one-tenth of that, Camargo said, “I feel strongly. Go to the election. Let the people speak.”
Glasper again weighed in. “If this duration was six or seven months, I’d say, ‘Make the appointment.’ We’re talking about three years, folks. Three years is a long time for a person to get an appointed position. I had to run for this position. I had to get out there and campaign for this position. I had to spend my money for this position. I think the person has to go out there and campaign with the people of this city. Ask them what they think of him. Get out there and walk the streets and knock on doors. [An appointment ] cuts out the citizens. An election is coming up. That election is not going to break us. That election is something we should spend our money on if we have to, and give the people a chance to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to that person who is going to come up here and sit. This is an elected position. The process of getting up here is to knock on doors and show people what you have, that you are bringing something to have them vote you into this seat.”
After residents and local entrepreneurs expressed mixed views on the advisability of an election vs. an appointment, Kerr pressed forward with trying to forge a consensus on making an appointment. He held off on making any motions toward a vote. He called city clerk Cindy Herrera to the podium and in questioning her sought to have her say that the $5,442 the city would need to pay the registrar of voters to hold the election would not be the sole cost the city would bear, in that it would need to pay city employees extra money, presumably in overtime, to ready the city for the election. Herrera did not give Kerr much ammunition in making that argument, however.
Herrera said the city has held numerous special elections in the past and that in the current case her office is working from “a template. We are fast-pacing this. Basically, it is not going to take me a lot of time to do that. You’re not looking at a lot of time. It is pretty much boilerplate. The registrar of voters does this all the time.” She said the $5,442 was a conservative estimate and that the election might cost a little less than that, although it might cost more, though she said not much more.
Kerr gave the candidates for appointment four minutes each to state a case for their selection.
In his presentation, Waggener enunciated a clear advocacy for the policies Kerr, Woodard and Wright had enthusiastically embraced, which seemed to have the precisely opposite impact on Glasper and Camargo that Kerr was hoping for.
“We need to get someone, in my opinion, appointed now,” Waggener said. “You have good, qualified candidates and we need to get that done.”
By some of his remarks, Waggener seemed to suggest that a strong and perhaps even prevailing political opposition to Kerr, Woodard and Wright had taken root in town, and that holding an election might give it the opportunity to flex its muscle.
“If this election com[ing] up takes a turn for whatever direction, you guys could lose the city, because we have fought long and hard for three years to get this back in the black, and we don’t want this back in the red over somebody’s opinion or what they don’t want in our city and start to influence a new board,” Waggener said. “So, it is very important that we do what is best for the city now. You voted on a decision [on January 3 to make an appointment] and I personally think you need to stick with that vote.”
Waggener noted he has been a member of the planning commission since 2008 and is currently that panel’s chairman. He suggested the city’s incipient success in creating a marijuana Mecca was a positive development and that he “wanted to be a bigger part in moving it forward. I have supported the city council on many decisions, including the medical cannabis industry, which added very unique things to modifying our zone changes and how to bring up zoning to the demands of the incoming businesses and utilize the properties’ maximum output.” He said he pushed for achieving those strides even “when our old staff, prior staff, recommended denial.”
Camargo reiterated that “I still feel strongly about taking this to the voters.”
Glasper dismissed suggestions that having four members of the council equally divided on certain issues for the next four months would spell ruin for the city. “With an election coming up in June, I feel that the position should be filled through the elective process with the people speaking,” he said. “There’s four of us up here. We can run this city without that vacant seat being closed down. You might come up with some 2-2 ties all the time, but sooner or later we’re going to come up with a 3-to-1, or whatever. We’ll get the job done.”
Woodard made a last impassioned plea to his colleagues Camargo and Glasper to decide who the fifth crucial element of the council’s composition will be with a vote of council rather than of the city’s voters.
“This is a new time in the city of Adelanto,” he said. “In the history of Adelanto, they have never moved as quickly as we have in the last three years. There are some factions here who would perhaps like to see it go to an election. I think that would kind of leave us in the back seat for four months We don’t’ have to wait around and jerk around and goof off and have a little circus going on for four months. We have some fine candidates to choose from. Some of them are highly qualified. To spend five grand and wait around for four months takes us backward. We have to have a fifth vote up here. The city is moving at a rapid pace like never before.”
Kerr said that as a dedicated Marine before he embarked on his political career, he had fought to ensure the right of all Americans to vote. But he suggested that elections should occur on regular cycles and that making sure an elected decision-making panel remains at full strength in the face of extraordinary developments such as what had occurred in the case of Wright did not require that the city go to the bother, expense and delay of holding a special election. “This is not the time [for an election],” Kerr said. “I swore to take care of this city, and that’s what I intend to do. I am a firm believer that we as a council can make that decision as to who will sit in that seat up here.”
Trinidad Perez, who had served on the council previously in both an elected and appointed capacity over a period of 12 years and was one of the six candidates for appointment to replace Wright, took stock of the circumstance facing the city that night and advised the council to dispense with trying to make an appointment, and instead hold an election.
“You guys are under a microscope, all four of you,” Perez said. “Why? Because of one person. Let it go to an election. It keeps you out of trouble,” he said, gesticulating to indicate Kerr and Woodard, “and it keeps them out of trouble,” he said, indicating Glasper and Camargo.
At one point, in an exchange with city attorney Ruben Duran in which Duran’s statement was not audible because he was not speaking into his microphone, Kerr’s frustration with the circumstance grew evident. “The charter says we have the right to friggin’ do this,” Kerr said to Duran in what appeared to be a remark intended for Duran but was picked up by the mayor’s microphone. Shortly thereafter, Kerr said, “It is the city of Adelanto’s charter that gives us the right to go ahead and make the appointments on here, and I believe the citizens of Adelanto voted on that charter that gave us the right to do that.”
At last, Kerr pushed forward, hoping that either Camargo or Glasper would give him the support he needed to keep his control of the council and the city intact.
Deadlocked 2-to-2 over the issue, the council did not make an appointment Tuesday night. Wednesday, at its regular council meeting, the council confirmed the process begun the previous night of calling for the special election in June. The council needed to initiate that process in order to meet an election request deadline with the registrar of voters office, as the council’s next meeting in February will fall after that deadline.
  -Mark Gutglueck

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