Mayor’s Ploy To Sack City Manager Using Sexual Harassment Complaints Backfires

The duel of sexual harassment complaints that shrouds a deeper battle over control at Adelanto City Hall stalled this week.
In arranging in mid-December for three woman to file allegations of impropriety with regard to city manager Gabriel Elliott’s personal comportment with them, Adelanto Mayor Rich Kerr anticipated that Elliott’s departure from his post would be effectuated by mid-January.
The charges against Elliott were laid out in declarations signed by two city employees and an intern. One of those declarations delineated one employee having had drinks with Elliott at a Rancho Cucamonga nightspot in September before he lured her to his home in an ultimately failed effort at seducing her. She also reported that Elliott had made inappropriate remarks to her when she was speaking to him about harassment she perceived to have endured from another city employee.
A second employee, one of Elliott’s secretaries, said in her declaration that Elliot had made an unwanted sexual advance toward her by attempting to kiss her.
A third woman, a Victor Valley College coed who was working at Adelanto City Hall as an intern as part of the college’s participation in the CalWORKS program, claimed she had willingly gone to lunch with Elliott once and that thereafter he made repeated unwanted efforts to have her dine with him again.
Kerr believed the accusations against Elliott would suffice as mutual confirmations of each other, and would result in either Elliott’s termination by the council or his assent to leave.
Kerr had not foreseen, however, that Elliott, or at least interests within the city aligned with him, would meet fire with fire.
On December 21, another Victor Valley College coed likewise 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.
The city, which is largely self insured, assigned its contract risk management firm to arrange for a third-party investigator to look into first the alleged Elliot transgressions and then the one by Kerr. The ultimate delivery of the results of the investigation to the city council is complicated by the consideration that one of the council’s members, Kerr, is a target of the investigation. That delivery is to come through the city’s legal representative, the law firm of Best Best & Krieger, which employs Adelanto City Attorney Ruben Duran. Duran and another attorney with Best Best & Krieger, one who specializes in employment law, are handling the reports. In this way, the reports are subject to strict confidentiality, in terms of relating to city personnel and attorney-client privilege.
Nevertheless, word with regard to both the substance of the reports and the attitudes of the investigators and attorneys involved in compiling them has leaked. According to a well-placed source, the attorneys were consternated to learn that the complaints were, in the words of one, “orchestrated” and intended as a cudgel, on one hand, to be used by the mayor against the city manager, and on the other, by the suspended city manager against the mayor. Other terms used informally by the city’s legal team with regard to the substance of the complaints were “juvenile” and “overblown.”
Word this week was that both investigations have been concluded and that Elliott was essentially cleared with regard to the accusations made by the two city employees and that he is likely in for a mild rebuke for having been too forward with the intern. In the case of the first employee, she and Elliott attended a civic event in Rancho Cucamonga on September 21, 2017, and thereafter imbibed some alcohol. She claims that over her protests Elliott prevailed upon her to accompany him to his home in Rancho Cucamonga to look at a piano. Elliott grabbed her by the arm, at one point, she said, but she managed to leave after Elliott discovered his son was present in the home. Her action was consensual, the report concludes, and Elliott did not prevent her from leaving, had not engaged in any reprisals against her nor threatened that he would. The conclusion of the report with regard to the other aspect of the complaint made by both of the women is that their objections to Elliott’s statements grew out of complaints both had made about another male city employee. Elliot’s comments to them did not rise to the level of impropriety, according to the report.
Both women claimed that a male colleague had in some fashion harassed them by exhibiting, under the cover of his pants, an erection in the workplace and, in particular, when he was near the desk of one of the women. Elliott’s comments to the women regarding this, the report concludes, came in response to those complaints.
Furthermore, investigators turned up evidence of collusion between two of Elliott’s accusers and Kerr in making the complaints, a circumstance which could have complicating impact on the city if Elliott is disciplined.
The second intern’s accusations against the mayor are far more problematic, potentially, for the city. As a result, the attorneys want to bury the report entirely. The most expedient option for the city, the lawyers believe, is for the city council to receive the report in closed session and make a finding, under the cloak of confidentiality, that the claims are unfounded and that neither issue, either that one pertaining to Elliott or to Kerr, rises to the level of requiring further action.
It was anticipated at this week’s council meeting, held on Wednesday February 14, that the reports would be presented to the council in closed session and that some action might then be taken. After roughly an hour-and-one-half of open public session, the council adjourned into closed session to be briefed on the reports and their conclusions and to carry out private discussions. The council remained behind closed doors for nearly four-and-one-half hours, until midnight. Reportedly in that closed session, Kerr, disregarded the counsel of the attorneys to simply let the matter die and pushed to use the report as a pretext to fire Elliott. Kerr was unable to achieve that end, however, as neither councilman Charley Glasper nor councilman Ed Camargo would assent to doing so. This created a 2-2 deadlock, with councilman John Woodard supporting Kerr.
The dynamics between Kerr and Elliott have changed drastically in the last five months. When Elliott, who until August had been the city’s community development director, was elevated in September to become Adelanto’s fifth city manager during Kerr’s tenure as mayor, Kerr said of him, “I believe he is a long-term manager. He’s one of the best people-persons I have ever met.”
Prior to November, Kerr headed a ruling coalition on the council that included Woodard and then-councilman Jermaine Wright. At that time Elliott’s role had been contained to carrying out the majority’s dictates, even though he had some misgivings about the wisdom of certain actions.
But Wright was arrested by the FBI on November 7, 2017 and charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with accepting a bribe and soliciting an act of arson. He has remained incarcerated since that time and was removed from office on January 3 as a consequence of having exceeded the statutory period of 60 consecutive days of continuous absence from regularly scheduled meetings of the city council. It was the power vacuum created by Wright’s absence from the council that resulted in Elliott’s advancement in terms of control at City Hall, which prompted Kerr’s eventual move to oust him. Reportedly, Wednesday night was the fourth time Kerr sought the requisite number of votes – three – to cashier Elliot. Having failed to do so, Wednesday night’s closed session meeting was continued until next Tuesday, February 20, where the council is to resume its deliberations at the Ontario office of Best Best & Krieger.
-Mark Gutglueck

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