City Council Deadlock Leaves Adelanto’s Ship Of State Rudderless

The schism on the Adelanto City Council that fully manifested in November with the arrest of former councilman Jermaine Wright has grown into a seemingly unbridgeable gulf that most recently culminated with its members being unable to settle on an interim city manager appointment.
Though there has been remarkably little in the way of hostility between the council members displayed in public, that a clear divide exists between Mayor Richard Kerr and councilman John Woodard on one side and council members Ed Camargo and Charlie Glasper on the other is unmistakable. At issue between the factions is the course the city had previously set in an effort to redress its substantial financial challenges. After Kerr and Woodard along with Glasper were elected in a clean sweep that resulted in then-incumbent mayor Cari Thomas and councilmen Steve Baisden and Charles Valvo being voted out of office in November 2014, Kerr, Woodard and Wright, with the somewhat less enthusiastic support of Glasper, set about rescinding the city’s log-existing ban on medical marijuana-related commercial activity, rewriting city codes to allow large scale indoor marijuana cultivation operations within the city’s industrial park district. Initially, their approach was to continue to disallow the sale of the drug to end users within the city, but to permit wholesale marketing of the product, which they hoped would have the salutary effect of giving the local economy a shot in the arm by creating lucrative businesses while generating a substantial amount of tax revenue to enhance City Hall’s dire financial situation. Indeed, as Adelanto and Needles became the first two of San Bernardino County’s 24 cities to embrace cannabis as a mainstream element of the economy, investment activity and property purchases in Adelanto spiked, with an immediate escalation in land values, as speculators and would-be cannabis entrepreneurs jockeyed to get in on the bonanza. Accompanying that activity, however were indications that many of those purchasing land and applying for licenses for cannabis-related businesses were functioning on inside information, including learning ahead of time which portions of the city were to be rezoned to allow such businesses to operate. Moreover, as time progressed, Kerr, Woodard and Wright dispensed with restricting marijuana operations to cultivation activity alone, and were aggressively exploring opening the city up to all order of cannabis-related businesses. These included ones that process and chemically alter and treat the plants to render them into oils, waxes, tinctures, pills, food products and other derivatives; as well as retail stores and dispensaries where marijuana and its processed derivatives would be sold, both for medicinal purposes and for recreational use; together with clinics and spas where marijuana-based treatments, cures and imbibing could be administered or take place. Word on the street was that the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission had taken an active interest in the goings-on in Adelanto and had dispatched agents to the city, looking into reports of graft at City Hall. In November 2017, the suspicions of many were confirmed when Wright was arrested by the FBI and charged with having arranged to receive a bribe from an undercover FBI agent posing as an applicant seeking to open a marijuana distribution business in Adelanto who wanted Wright’s assistance in cutting through the city’s red tape. Wright has remained incarcerated ever since, and in January was removed from the council, as is mandatory under state law for municipal elected officials who have been absent from all regularly scheduled city council meetings for a period of 60 consecutive days.
Almost immediately upon Wright’s absence, the ruling coalition that Kerr had established foundered, as Glasper, who was never overly enthusiastic about moving Adelanto to a cannabis-based economy, defected and linked up with councilman Ed Camargo, who had consistently opposed the marijuanification of Adelanto.all along. Simultaneously, Gabriel Elliott, the city’s one-time community development director whom the city council had elevated to become city manager in August 2017 and whom Kerr perceived as willing to carry out his marching orders with regard to facilitating the rezoning of extensive swaths of the city such that marijuana cultivation, cannabis product processing or retailing could take place, applied the brakes to Adelanto’s speeding marijuana express. With a backlog of applicants to whom Kerr and Woodard had made promises growing impatient at the delays in processing and approving their permits, Kerr in December 2017 orchestrated a series of sexual harassment complaints against Elliott in an effort to remove him as city manager. Elliott was put on paid administrative leave while an investigation into the complaints was ongoing, and Mike Milhiser, who had served in the capacity of interim city manager in the six months prior to Elliott’s hiring, was tapped once more to temporarily fill in as his replacement. The probe of the charges against Elliott concluded in March, failing to turn up grounds to terminate him in accordance with Kerr’s intent. Kerr and Woodard, nonetheless, have refused to clear Elliott to return, and he remains on paid administrative leave, pulling $18,000 per month. Meanwhile, Milhiser’s temporary contract expired on May 1, and given the range of issues facing the city, including a continuing investigation by the FBI, he was unwilling to extend his tenure as interim city manager. Kerr has pushed for putting the city’s current director of development services, Charles Rangel, into the city manager’s slot. Neither Camargo nor Glasper will go along with that, however, as they favor returning Elliott into the position and are concerned over the degree to which Rangel has shown himself amenable to “fast passing,” i.e., approving without vetting, applications for cannabis-related business applications in the city. Kerr and Woodard have likewise angled to promote Jesse Flores, the city’s contract economic development director, to city manager. That will not fly with Glasper and Camargo, either. Mike Stevens, the city’s official spokesman, told the Sentinel, “I am unaware of any discussions or any plans to appoint Jesse Flores as city manager. I have not had any conversations or any other communications with anyone regarding whether Jesse might be considered for city manager, so I’m unable to provide any insight.”
This week, on Wednesday, May 2, the council held a special morning meeting at which the sole topic to be discussed was listed on the agenda as “public employee appointment: acting city manager.” After a closed session which lasted two hours and five minutes, the council members reconvened in public to have city attorney Ruben Duran report, “The council met and considered the public employee appointment, the public employment position being acting city manager. The council met with candidates, but has no reportable action at this time.”
A city employee who does not want to be identified told the Sentinel, “Adelanto has no interim city manager until they can agree, and they will not agree.”
The deadlock on the council will be broken, one way or the other, pursuant to the special election to be held coinciding with the June 5 California Primary. Running to replace Wright are Joy Jeannette, a member of the planning commission who is being supported in her candidacy by Kerr and Woodard; Ron Beard, who ran for mayor unsuccessfully in 2014; and Diana Esmeralda-Holte, the secretary for the High Desert Cannabis Association.
-Mark Gutglueck

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