City Says Mayor Was Cleared In Sexual Harassment Probe

The investigation into allegations that Adelanto Mayor Richard Kerr had sexually harassed a Victor Valley College coed working as an intern with the city has resulted in a finding the mayor did nothing “unlawful,” according to a press release put out by the city’s publicist this afternoon.
The announcement comes more than ten weeks after the accusations against the mayor were first made public and within the context of similar allegations that were previously leveled at the Adelanto city manager.
There were continuing questions with regard to the matter, however, as the press release heralding the announcement was sent out to news organizations prior to at least two members of the city council having access to the investigatory report, its back-up material including interviews, and its conclusions. Moreover, word was that the city’s contract economic development director, a political ally of the mayor, had threatened the alleged victim who is the mayor’s primary accuser in an effort to dissuade her from cooperating with the investigation.
In mid-December, three woman, two city employees and a college student working an internship at the city through the CalWORKS program, filed allegations of impropriety with regard to city manager Gabriel Elliott’s personal comportment with them, consisting of claims he had made unwanted sexual advances toward them or engaged with them persistently in ways they deemed inappropriate or too forward. By December 19, he was put on paid administrative leave. On December 21, another Victor Valley College student involved in the CalWORKS program filed a declaration in which she said she had been the object of Kerr’s unwanted advances, which included text messages and a gift, and that Kerr had touched her on her neck and shoulders. Moreover, the accusations against Kerr were augmented by statements from others that the mayor had made expressions of carnal desire toward the young woman in certain of his utterances, as well as by evidence he had improperly utilized a city employee to access the intern’s personal information and provide him with her phone number.
Relatively early on, it was being bruited about City Hall and the circle of those involved there that the complaints against the city manager had been sparked or orchestrated by the mayor and that the city manager was in some fashion involved in triggering the complaint against the mayor.
Within the last fortnight the investigations undertaken against both Elliott and Kerr were concluded, and the city council deadlocked both last week and this week with regard to using the report and its conclusion with regard to Elliott as the basis for terminating him, with Kerr and councilman John Woodard favoring cashiering Elliott and councilmen Charley Glasper and Ed Camargo unconvinced that the report suffices as adequate grounds for his removal. Elliott remains on paid administrative leave, and is receiving more than $18,000 per month while he is in his current state of suspension. The city is simultaneously paying Mike Milhiser just under $12,000 per month to serve as the interim city manager in Elliott’s absence.
Coexistant with this circumstance is the vacuum on the council that has resulted as a consequence of the FBI’s November arrest of then-councilman Jermaine Wright and the filing of charges by the U.S, Attorney’s Office against him alleging bribe-taking on his part together with involvement in an arson-for-hire/insurance fraud plot. Wright’s continuous incarceration since then led to his being removed from the city council in January. Accordingly, there has been a 2-to-2 divide on the council with regard to several issues of consequence in the City of Adelanto, with Kerr and Woodard consistently on one side of that divide and Glasper and Camargo on the other.
It was against that backdrop that the city’s official spokesman, Mike Stephens, today sent out a very carefully worded press release, in which it was suggested that Kerr had been exonerated of breaking the law. According to Stevens, “Adelanto Mayor Richard Kerr did not engage in unlawful sexual harassment, an independent investigator has concluded following a two-month investigation. The investigator concludes that Kerr did not engage in unlawful sexual harassment nor did he violate city policies.”
Stevens stopped short of stating that Kerr had not harassed the woman in question, maintaining essentially that Kerr’s action was not a violation of any existing statutes. As to the actual findings of the investigation, including its precise language and whether the conclusion reached by the investigator verified the intern’s claim or showed that someone on city staff had accessed her confidential information for Kerr, Stevens was unwilling to say. “Because of confidentiality laws, the investigator’s report and its findings are confidential and will not be released or discussed publicly,” according to Stevens.
Nor did Stevens expand on questions about the integrity of the investigation or the consideration that neither Glasper nor Camargo had been vouchsafed the opportunity to read the investigator’s report. There have been persistent reports that after the investigation began, efforts to prevent the investigator from obtaining a full rendering of the facts were made.
One consideration in this regard is that the college student lodging the complaint against Kerr was doing her internship in the city’s code enforcement division. For more than a year, the city’s code enforcement officers have been bridling over what they consider to be the mayor’s violations of Section 6.09 of the city’s code, which directs the mayor and members of the city council to engage with city employees through the city manager and down the chain of command, and prohibits them from interfering directly in the day-to-day function of city employees. On multiple occasions, according to city employees, code enforcement has been ordered to “stand down,” i.e., desist in enforcement or to short circuit or rescind already issued citations involving certain businesses, properties or entities in town with what are considered affiliations, personal and/or political, with the mayor and/or city council members. In recent months, members of the code enforcement division have begun to resist such instruction from Kerr, with the support of the division’s leader, community safety manager Steve Peltier. Several of the employees in the code enforcement division supported the intern in her resolve to lodge the complaint against Kerr. Peltier provided her with crucial assistance in doing so, in the form of a text message Kerr sent to him on October 6, 2017 in which Kerr requested that Peltier obtain for him the intern’s phone number. A printout of that text conversation was included in the intern’s sexual harassment complaint.
Shortly after the complaint was lodged, Kerr advanced the idea of terminating the code enforcement division’s employees and contracting out the city’s code enforcement service. In January, shortly after public revelation of Peltier’s involvement in providing the intern with documentation to support her complaint, Peltier went out on stress leave and has not returned. It is not clear whether the investigator who looked into the intern’s complaint spoke with Peltier. A city employee told the Sentinel the degree of alacrity with which Kerr’s mounted pressure upon Peltier after his encouragement of the intern going forward with her sex harassment complaint smacked of “Mafia-like tactics.”
A more serious issue compromising the investigation, the Sentinel is informed, involves Jesse Flores, the city’s contract economic development director. Flores approached the Victor Valley College coed and told her that “it was in her best interest to keep her mouth shut,” according to one Adelanto city employee. It appears that may have dissuaded her from speaking to the investigator.
Neither Flores nor Kerr were available for comment on Friday.
Interim city manager Mike Milhiser referred questions regarding Flores’ alleged action and the full nature of the investigation to city attorney Ruben Duran.
Duran said that he could offer no information with regard to the investigation or the report. “You understand, this is something that is subject to attorney-client privilege,” he said. Confronted about why a press release from the city relating to the conclusion of the investigation had been distributed prior to the members of the city council having the opportunity to read the report, Duran at first challenged the question, suggesting that all members of the council had seen the report but then essentially conceded that it had not been distributed to them, in so doing bypassing the question with regard to the council having actually read the report and the timing of the press release. Duran substituted an assertion that the council had been brought up to speed on the investigation report’s contents. “You don’t know the substance of the conversations I have had with my council members, so for you to assume the information hasn’t been distributed to them is off base,” he said. “The city engaged a private investigator to look into those accusations concerning the mayor. The investigation was conducted appropriately, but I am not able to discuss any of the specifics in the report because it is a confidential document upon which I am not authorized to speak.”
Asked directly about the report relating to Flores’ having threatened the victim, Duran said “I have no information about that.” Queried as to whether he had a concern that such threats to the crucial percipient witness to the activity in question, i.e., the victim, could have compromised the investigation, Duran was unwilling to concede that the investigation and its conclusion might be based on incomplete or faulty information. He then suggested that Flores, who was active in Kerr’s mayoral campaign and remains one of his most ardent political supporters, had not intimidated the victim. “I don’t believe it happened,” he said, remarking, “Quite frankly, if it had, I would have heard about it.”
Asked if the investigator had considered the possibility of Flores’ interference in the investigation, or if she had spoken with Flores or the victim about that, Duran seemed to suggest that issue was not explored during the investigation. But then, contradictorily and rather obliquely, Duran gave indication that the victim/witness may have been dissuaded from cooperating with the investigator, seeming to imply that the investigator had not spoken to her. When asked for clarification on that point, Duran said, “If I gave you that impression, I apologize, because I am not commenting on the report and what may be in it.”
He said that whether the victim had been questioned by the investigator or not was immaterial.
“Generally speaking, investigators are able to get to the bottom of things by speaking to many people,” Duran said. “The investigator is a woman, not a man, by the way. She conducted an appropriate and thorough investigation. The investigator has made a determination there was no sexual harassment, and I have full confidence in her analysis and conclusion.”
Duran also spoke to the apparent contradiction between the ways in which the complaint against the mayor and the complaint against the city manager were being handled. He said the distinction between their respective levels of authority and the answerability of the city manager to the council accounted for the difference.
“The city council is the city manager’s employer,” Duran said in explaining that oversight of the report is properly entrusted to the city council. “It is the council’s obligation to review in detail and make a determination about the report. The mayor doesn’t have an employer the way the city manager does. He is answerable to them.” Duran avoided extending the analogy further, however, and offered no admission that the mayor is answerable to the city’s residents or that they would be entitled to see the investigator’s report and conclusion. Rather, he suggested, the investigative report on the mayor’s action is subject to the strictures of confidentiality, and any oversight responsibility with regard to it should rest with him as the city attorney.
Duran would not disclose who the investigator was.
Mark Gutglueck

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