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Monthly Archives: October 2018
City Manager/HR Director Donneybrook Unearthing Redlands Skeletons
By Amanda Fry and Mark Gutglueck
The fallout from the meltdown that occurred late last year between Redlands’ now-suspended city manager and that city’s former human resources director has continued to settle, with a bevy of highly embarrassing secrets that city officials formerly assumed would remain buried having now bubbled to the surface. More unpalatable for city officials is the prospect of yet other damaging details relating to how the city was conducting business over the last several years soon looming into public view.
The long-simmering tension between Redlands City Manager Nabar Martinez and the woman he hired to serve as Redlands’ head of personnel and risk management in 2013, Amy Martin-Hagan, devolved into a backroom brawl that took place outside the ken of all but the most senior of Redlands city officials beginning in September 2017. The reach and power of the two principals in the fight were considerable. Martinez, who had been the city manager with Redlands since 2007, enjoyed the relative advantage of having the favor and backing of the entire city council, which had given him wide discretion, authority and autonomy in running the city of 72,000. He had more than a quarter of century of experience in running municipal governments at the top, second-in command or high-ranking levels in five other cities in California as well as in Dallas, Texas and in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. After a decade as city manager in Redlands, Martinez had an institutional memory of the city’s operations and a command over the city’s staff that rendered him, if not indispensable, at least immediately irreplaceable if the city wanted to continue to function smoothly and without serious hiccoughs in the short or medium terms. Perhaps as significantly, Martinez had wangled an employment contract that would make it both exceedingly difficult and extremely expensive for the city council to remove him as city manager. Unless he found himself arrested, criminally charged and convicted, the council would not have cause to fire him without conferring upon him 18-month’s salary, running to $525,000, the cash value of a-year-and-a-half worth of benefits he received, running to another $117,500, and the cash value of certain perquisites he had accumulated, such as vacation, illness and administrative leave time, running to roughly a quarter of a million dollars. Moreover, if he were to be fired without citation of cause, the city would potentially be open to a wrongful termination suit, which might result in further monetary loss to the city as well as a court order to reinstate Martinez with back pay. On top of that, Martinez had intimate knowledge about the comportment of his political masters in their roles as city officials, their votes in public and their discussions in private closed sessions outside the view of their constituents, the deals they had cut and compromises they had made in the backroom, favors they had done for their own backers and friends, and requests they had made, some of which had been granted and some of which were turned down. Martinez enjoyed a somewhat less comprehensive but still insightful knowledge of certain aspects of the council members’ personal and professional lives and those of their family members. In any showdown between Martinez and Martin-Hagan, the city council was not only far more likely but almost assuredly bound to side with the former over the latter.
Martin-Hagan did not have the same level of insulation as Martinez. As a department head, she did not have union protection. She was an at-will employee, meaning essentially that with either the flimsiest of cause or no cause Martinez could cashier her, and the city was under no obligation to provide her with a severance of any sort. She could simply be terminated and that would be that. Nonetheless, Martin-Hagan was not without resources and leverage of her own. She had worked very closely with Martinez on a number of everyday, week-in week-out, mundane, routine, important and crucial issues in the time she had been with the city. As the director of human resources and risk management, she had immediate and almost exclusive access to the personnel files on every current and past city employee, their so-called jackets which contained their performance evaluations and notations with regard to failings, transgressions or discipline that had been meted out to them. Martin-Hagan had a front row seat with regard to how, at least during her tenure, Martinez had managed the performance of the employees working for him, what he had taken issue with, the standards he had set, what he had tolerated, what he had ignored and what he had let some employees get away with. She knew when, and most likely why, Martinez had used his authority as city manager to override her judgment and have her hire an applicant that she would not have extended employment to on her own using the criteria normally applied. In short, she knew where at least some of the bodies were buried.
And beyond the information and position power inherent in her vaunted station at City Hall, Martin-Hagan possessed a specialized knowledge about Martinez in particular, information that rendered him, at least to a point, vulnerable, and which offset some of the advantage he held over her.
Martinez had hired Martin-Hagan in 2013 in an effort to attenuate a deteriorating situation the city had found itself in with its previous human resources director, Deborah Scott-Leistra, and litigation filed against the city by former employees who alleged they had been discriminated and retaliated against or harassed by higher-ups in the city and/or constructively, unjustifiably or wrongfully terminated. Martin-Hagan set about dealing with those cases, remedying matters by accommodating or attempting to accommodate some of those pursuing claims or suing the city through having them conditionally reinstated and returned to work with the city, deriving a successful defense of the city’s action in cases where reinstatement was not possible nor advisable, effectuating settlements short of terminations, and implementing policies to prevent the filing of further such suits against the city. She strove to be more selective in the city’s hiring to ensure that the city’s newly acquired workers were a better fit for the circumstances and roles they assumed with the city.
Relatively early on in Martin-Hagan’s tenure with the city, Martinez had pressed her to assist him in his own personal recruitment efforts, that is, the preparation and tailoring of his profiles to be submitted to dating sites. Though these unofficial assignments fell beyond the duties of her position and the parameters of her job, Martin-Hagan accommodated Martinez. The extracurricular demands that Martinez placed on Martin-Hagan were continuous and took up a considerable amount of her time at home, often until late in the evening or during weekends as she spent literally hours with him on the phone or in person weekly, during which Martinez insisted upon discussing intimate personal and sexual matters. Martinez had a predilection for petite women in their thirties and forties, and he continuously importuned Martin-Hagan to help him fine-tune his approach, including on-line, by phone and in person to meet his objectives. Martinez, who is now 71, was less successful in this quest than he would have wished, and he was continuously redoubling his efforts, insisting that Martin-Hagan render him assistance.
Martin-Hagan had resented Martinez’s presumptuousness in consigning her to assist him in that manner and had considered what Martinez was doing to be sexual harassment but had gone along with it because of her position as an at-will employee and Martinez’s power over her. By 2017, Martin-Hagan had reached the end of her tolerance with the situation. In reaching that point, she had also made other observations with regard to the propriety of Martinez’s action in the role of city manager, including what she considered to be examples of dishonesty, questionable or venal decisions and unethical conduct, out-and-out misrepresentations to the public or other city officials, including members of the city council, and incidents where she maintains Martinez had violated the law. In September 2017, she resolved to no longer accommodate him and refused to assist him any further in the preparation of his on-line dating profiles or indulge him in his sexually-laced conversations. “I’d had it at that point,” Martin-Hagan said. “It was too much. I wasn’t willing to manage his dating profiles any more. I wanted to concentrate on my job. I told him that.” There ensued from Martinez, according to Martin-Hagan, a series of eruptions of extremely offensive insults and vulgarisms, as when he called her “a stupid, fucking minion.”
At that point, the clash of wills was joined. The city was at that point locked in negotiations with the union for its police officers. Martin-Hagan now contends that Martinez militated to “set me up to fail” by withdrawing a crucial form of support she needed to be able to adequately represent the city and city management in those collective bargaining sessions, consisting of an attorney to accompany her during the negotiating sessions. This put her, Martin-Hagan maintains, into a disadvantageous position where she was the only representative on the city’s side of the table facing off against more than a dozen aggressive representatives of the city’s police officers. Martinez, who had the authority to fire her, was unwilling to take that action on his own, sensing or fearing that Martin-Hagan might sally forth with information, evidence or accounts that would prove damaging to him. He nevertheless sought to pressure her, suggesting that concessions she was on the verge of making in contract negotiations would be met with the absolute displeasure of the city council. By virtue of the municipal chain of command, the council had the authority to directly terminate the city manager and the city attorney. In firing any other city employee, the city council could only make recommendations to the city manager, who ultimately possessed the authority to hand a city employee a pink slip. Despite that, Martin-Hagan said Martinez continuously threatened her by stating that the council was on the brink of terminating her.
Martin-Hagan last fall cataloged a host of actions by Martinez crossing what she considered to be procedural, ethical and legal boundaries and approached members of the city council, revealing what she knew, including recounting the abuse she had endured.
Martinez, whose first name is Nabar and middle name is Enrique, over the last decade-and-a-half has professionally used the name N. Enrique Martinez and is known generally in recent years to those who did not know him previously as Enrique.
Martin-Hagan said, “I told Dan [McHugh, Redlands’ city attorney] what was happening, and told him I was going to the mayor. I went to Mayor [Paul] Foster and told him, ‘Enrique is abusing me. You know he is abusing me.’ The mayor said, ‘There is nothing we can do unless we are willing to pay him the money, and we can’t do that now.’” The money Foster was referring to was the more than $890,000 the city would need to provide Martinez with as what was essentially a buy-out of his contract if they did not terminate him with cause. Martinez’s contract defined virtually anything less than a criminal offense as insufficient cause for his termination, Martin-Hagan said, rendering him untouchable. “I tried to whistle-blow, but they wouldn’t listen to me,” Martin-Hagan told the Sentinel.
October and November 2017 proved increasingly rough on her, Martin-Hagan said. By mid-October, she was signaling to city officials that she wanted to leave the city’s employ. Contrary to the threats that Martinez had leveled at her suggesting the city council was on the verge of firing her, she said there was an effort by the city’s top ranking officials other than Martinez to convince her to remain in her position. McHugh, she said, led that effort. In December, her relationship with Martinez had deteriorated to the point, according to Martin-Hagan, that it was adversely impacting her physical health. On December 12, her doctor provided her with an off-work authorization due to stress, essentially ordering her not to return to her office at City Hall, and from that point forward Martin-Hagan was no longer working for the city, though she remained on the city payroll. It was then that negotiations in earnest began between her and McHugh over her official separation from the city. Because of her at-will status, the city was not contractually obliged nor legally required in any fashion to provide her with a severance package upon her departure. Moreover, Martin-Hagan’s line of professional expertise and her duty – handling personnel matters along with limiting liability growing out of employee relations including discipline and firings to prevent the payouts of huge cash settlements to former employees who might sue the city over wrongful termination – rendered the option of filing suit against the city out of the question. “I am an HR [human resources] director,” Martin-Hagan said. “If I file a lawsuit like that, I’m done. My career would be over.” Still the same, Martinez’s actions and treatment of Martin-Hagan left the city vulnerable should Martin-Hagan have elected to seek redress through the civil process, and it was deemed prudent to arrive at some order of a settlement with her. Accordingly, over the course of more than three weeks of back and forth between Martin-Hagan and McHugh, a document titled “Settlement Agreement And Mutual General Release” was derived. Based in some measure on the terms contained in the departure settlement agreements extended to other department heads with the city such as former Police Chief Mark Garcia and former Fire Chief Jeff Frazier, the key provisions specified for Martin-Hagan were that she would be provided with a cash settlement of $133,981.25, derived from providing her with six months’ severance pay in the amount of $84,500 along with a $49,481.25 cash conversion of her accumulated 609 hours of vacation, illness and administrative break leave. According to language in the settlement agreement, the $133,981.25 was being tendered to her “in full satisfaction of all claims, known or unknown, asserted or non-asserted, and alleged wages due and owing to” her. The settlement language further stated, “It is understood that the payment is made to fully compromise and release employee’s claim against employer, including any employee’s attorneys’ fees and costs. Employer makes no representation as to the nature of this settlement.”
The settlement agreement called for the city putting $4,505 into Martin-Hagan’s employee retirement account as well, and it contained a provision which, while matching in precise aspect the same concessions given other city department heads who had been moved out of their posts, laid the foundation for the current contention between the city and Martin-Hagan and the resultant series of embarrassing revelations about backroom dealing at City Hall and the manner in which city officials have conducted themselves. That provision stated, “Employee shall be entitled to a ‘medical bridge’ program for herself upon separation from the city until she becomes Medicare-eligible. ‘Medical bridge’ is defined as employee-only coverage at the least expensive equivalent health, vision, and dental insurance plan as provided by employer to its then existing directors through the California Public Employee Retirement System medical plan until employee reaches the age of Medicare eligibility, at which time the benefit will cease. Employee may also select coverage for employee’s eligible dependents; however, the additional cost shall be paid for by employee and will not be paid for by employer.”
On January 5, 2018, both Martinez and Martin-Hagan signed the agreement. On the same day, Martin Hagan submitted a voluntary resignation letter, attributing her departure to “family health issues.” Martin-Hagan departed Redlands shortly thereafter, having landed the position of human services administrator across the California border with the Southern Nevada Health District.
Up until that point, the entire matter had remained under the public radar. It would likely have remained that way, according to Martin-Hagan, but for what turned out to be a drawn-out dispute over what she said amounted to $82 per month. Martin-Hagan’s health plan coverage with her new job did not include dental care, she says, so she attempted to trigger that portion of the medical bridge contained in her separation agreement with the city. The dental insurance she chose cost $95 per month. The city, citing the phrase “the least expensive equivalent” contained in the agreement, provided her with $13 toward the monthly payment, which the city said was its cost for basic dental coverage per employee based upon purchasing dental insurance in bulk. Martin-Hagan, contending that she was owed full payment of her dental coverage needs under the agreement, contested what the city was offering.
While employed with Redlands, Martin-Hagan had gone by the name Amy Martin. Subsequent to leaving Redlands, she began using the last name Hagan.
According to Howard Golds, an attorney representing the city, “In late January 2018, after the agreement was signed, a dispute arose regarding the medical bridge provision in her agreement. Hagan claimed that she did not have access to the requisite health coverage through the California Public Employees Retirement System. The city offered to pay her a certain amount of money per month for Hagan to obtain her own health coverage, but Hagan claimed the amount offered was insufficient to purchase a plan with benefits equivalent to that which she had prior to her resignation. Hagan and the city exchanged several emails debating the scope of the medical bridge provision. That dispute continued and escalated to the point that Hagan retained an attorney who exchanged letters with the city attorney in May 2018.”
On June 25, Martin-Hagan sent the city a demand letter which threatened the filing of a lawsuit for breach of contract. In reaction to the demand letter, the city council scheduled a closed door discussion of the matter, describing it as pertaining to potential litigation. As Martin-Hagan’s demand had been made under the name of Amy Hagan, outside of a narrow group of individuals at City Hall it was not recognized at that time that this involved the city’s former human resources director.
According to Golds, at that point Martin-Hagan’s demand had gone well beyond seeking the $82 more per month than the $13 the city was willing to provide her for the dental coverage she maintained was costing her $95 per month. Golds said Martin-Hagan wanted “$1,955 within ten days” and the city to “agree to her interpretation of the medical bridge, and pay her more on a monthly basis than the agreement required.” Also, according to Golds, “In this same demand letter, Martin-Hagan for the very first time alleged that she “was treated differently as a woman and asked to complete personal tasks for the city manager that [were] demeaning, inappropriate and against the law.”
Soon thereafter, it became known publicly that Amy Hagan was Amy Martin, the city’s former human resources director, which immediately invited a heightened level of scrutiny. Emanating from the city was the suggestion that Martin-Hagan was purposefully misinterpreting both the rationale for and the meaning of the term “medical bridge.” Rather than utilizing the medical bridge the city had given her in the spirit it was provided so that she would have medical coverage to “bridge” the time between her departure from the city until the time she became employed by another entity which would then provide her with medical coverage and at which point the city’s provision of that coverage would end, the city implied that the 41-year-old Martin-Hagan was asserting that the settlement agreement language should be interpreted to mean that the city had to provide her with full medical coverage until she reaches retirement age, i.e., 65. This would cost Redlands taxpayers, the city maintained, approaching half of a million dollars.
“When Hagan did not get her way, she attempted to file suit in Nevada on July 9, 2018, but was apparently informed that she must file suit in California,” according to Golds. “Accordingly, Hagan sent an email to McHugh on July 9, 2018, seeking a pay-out from the city of $125,000. In that email, she alleged for the first time that she resigned due to gender discrimination. She also sent text messages to the mayor of Redlands and a councilmember on the same day, wherein she for the first time alleged the specific details of the purported gender discrimination and sexual harassment. She disclosed in the first paragraph of each message that she raised the allegations for the mayor and councilmember to consider as ‘background’ to her $125,000 demand for her claimed medical bridge benefits. By doing so, Hagan effectively admitted that she is using these allegations as a bargaining chip to get a substantial payout from the city. She also used these allegations to pressure the mayor and councilmember, having never disclosed the details to McHugh. Only after the mayor and councilmember forwarded the messages did McHugh learn of such allegations.”
Martin-Hagan told the Sentinel that the city had forced her into taking legal action and that it was imputing to her a malicious intent she does not possess. “This is not my choice,” she said. “They are forcing me into this. I wanted to go away quietly.”
The language in the settlement agreement relating to the medical bridge was precisely the same as that offered to and accepted by other city department heads who had been pushed into voluntarily resigning from the city, she emphasized. She had, she maintained, medical coverage from her current employer that obviated her need to obtain health and vision insurance, and she was simply tapping the dental coverage aspect of the medical bridge commitment the city had made to her when the city crossed her up by providing her with a mere $13 to cover what was a monthly $95 expense. “Under applicable law, I had six months to contest that in a claim,” she said. “If I did not file a claim, then I would be bound to permanently accept the city’s interpretation – erroneous interpretation – of the settlement agreement. I would have waived my right to get what I was entitled to on the basis of having accepted what they were offering as the totality of what I was due. I could not do that, because if I am ever unemployed and do not have insurance through an employer, I am going to need that insurance.”
Furthermore, Martin-Hagan said, Gold was misrepresenting the level of knowledge top ranking city officials had about Martinez’s mistreatment of her. “They already knew,” she said. “That I was given the settlement shows that. They were under no obligation to provide that to me if I was just leaving the city on my own accord. At that point [December 2017/January 2018] we had mutually decided on my severance when they knew I was looking for another job and I told them it was due to stress and what I had been put through, including Enrique’s retaliation.”
Gold asserted that in December 2017, while McHugh was at first attempting to convince Martin-Hagan to stay with the city and then working with her to put together the terms of the settlement agreement, “at no time did Hagan inform McHugh of the incidents of alleged sexual harassment, gender discrimination, or retaliation that she now alleges in her charge.” Martin-Hagan disputed that, telling the Sentinel, “Dan already knew all about it. I may not have discussed it explicitly with him in December, but that was because I had already given him the full details of what was occurring months before. That was why we were working out a settlement agreement.”
So far, Martin-Hagan has yet to file suit, either for breach of contract or on her claim of sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation or constructive termination. She did, however, file a charge of discrimination against the City of Redlands with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Las Vegas. Throughout the summer, the city and Martinez appeared to be on a track to tough it out. It was deemed advisable, given the degree to which McHugh had been a participant in the issues relating to Martin-Hagan’s allegations, to bring in a different attorney to represent the city through the process before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The city turned to the law firm of Best Best & Krieger, which represents 242 cities and counties on legal matters, and in particular Golds, a partner in the firm whose areas of expertise include labor & employment, labor & employment litigation and public agency labor & employment. In the course of preparing for defending the city, Best Best & Krieger and Golds carried out an investigation of the relevant issues Golds anticipates he will encounter. That investigation turned up a number of harrowing pieces of evidence, which in addition to evidence known to be in Martin-Hagan’s possession, resulted in a report provided to the Redlands City Council in advance of and during a closed session on October 5. After three hours of discussion outside the earshot and visual range of the public, the council returned from that closed session and McHugh announced that Martinez had been placed on paid administrative leave.
Five days later, Martinez, having consulted with the Woodland Hills-based law firm of Goldberg & Gage, had filed on his behalf a Department of Fair Employment and Housing complaint against the city. In that complaint, dated, October 10 and worded by Terry Goldberg and verified by Martinez, it is alleged that the City of Redlands took “adverse actions” against Martinez, which included his being “harassed because of complainant’s ancestry, national origin [and] age” and that he “was discriminated against because of complainant’s ancestry, national origin [and] age, and as a result of the discrimination was asked impermissible non-job-related questions, denied employment benefit or privilege [and] denied work opportunities or assignments.”
Furthermore, according to the complaint, Martinez “experienced retaliation because complainant reported or resisted any form of discrimination or harassment, participated as a witness in a discrimination or harassment claim and as a result was asked impermissible non-job-related questions [and] denied employment benefit or privilege.”
That Martinez acted with such immediacy to his suspension and did not exhibit patience with the investigative process taking place in conjunction with the city’s defense of the charge launched by Martin-Hagan before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took several people involved with the city seriously aback. Best Best & Krieger employs or otherwise has access to a number of investigators who are routinely assigned to look into the circumstances relating to grievances filed by current or former municipal employees against the cities they work for, including charges of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Those investigators have both a reputation and a demonstrated pattern of generally exonerating the municipal entities represented by Best Best & Krieger of having engaged in or having allowed sexual harassment and gender discrimination to occur in all but the most egregious of cases. It was widely anticipated that the probe of the situation in Redlands relating to Martin-Hagan’s allegations against Martinez would achieve a finding that Martin-Hagan’s complaint could not be sustained, essentially vindicating Martinez.
For that reason, Martinez’s decision to employ Goldberg & Gage in lodging the Department of Fair Employment and Housing complaint against the city as a precursor to a potential civil suit appears, at least at present, to have been a major miscalculation and strategic misstep on his part. Redlands officials were resigned to biting the bullet and meeting the requirement stipulated in his contract that it expend the nearly $900,000 it would take to confer upon Martinez a settlement that would be required to terminate him without cause, if indeed it proved necessary to do so. That he has now filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and is contemplating action that might escalate the amount of money the city will need to part with to effectuate his separation to $1.5 million, $2 million or $2.5 million and beyond is simply unacceptable to the city. Thus, the city, which was less than a month ago purposed to side with Martinez in the showdown against Martin-Hagan, has been put in the position of establishing cause for Martinez’s firing, which might leave him without a severance at all.
Such cause and multiple pathways for marshalling it exist, the Sentinel is informed.
Ironically, one of those pathways consists of information at the disposal of Martin-Hagan. According to Golds, during her dialogue with McHugh in regard to her resolve to depart from the city and the concomitant effort to obtain a severance settlement, Hagan provided a window on certain improprieties that Martinez had engaged in. “Hagan informed McHugh that she wanted to leave her employment with the city not only because of her family medical issues, but also because she believe that Martinez was dishonest and lacked integrity in his dealings with the city council relating to the negotiations of the memorandums of understanding with the collective bargaining units,” Golds stated. “She was upset with Martinez’s alleged untruthfulness and the fact that she had to engage in difficult negotiations without his or outside counsel’s support.”
Hagan told the Sentinel that there was evidence to show that during the contentious contract negotiations involving the city’s two primary public safety unions, those representing the city’s firefighters and the city’s police officers, Martinez had been involved in what she called “double dealing,” in which he made demonstrable material misrepresentations to the city council. As the city’s top administrator, Martinez was obliged to represent the city and take its side in the tense back-and-forth between the unions’ representatives and the team representing municipal management, which included Martin-Hagan. Martin-Hagan, however, said that Martinez on occasion militated for the unions. “He was making side deals with the POA [Police Officers Association],” Martin-Hagan said. On another occasion, she said, Martinez had assisted the firefighters union in weakening city management’s resolve. “It was so contentious,” she said. “The union used the tactic of robo-calling. The mayor was really upset about it. Enrique lied to the mayor, and said he didn’t know about it.”
There is another report that buried in the files at City Hall is evidence of self-serving action by Martinez tantamount to embezzlement. Specifically, the Sentinel is informed, among the hundreds of days of leave time Martinez has accrued over the years, there are scores of days within that total which in reality he spent off the job but were not subtracted from his bank of unused leave credit. Upon his retirement, resignation or termination, those leave days are to be cashed out.
Efforts to obtain a response from Martinez with regard to this issue specifically as well as others relevant to this report were unsuccessful.
It is known that information relating to Martinez’s alleged misrepresentations to the city council regarding the union negotiations and the allegations of leave time fraud have been provided to Best Best & Krieger’s investigative team.
There are further reports relating to Martinez pertaining to either alteration or manipulation of the city’s competitive bidding process by which he provided to certain contractors what would have otherwise been large-scale contracts requiring bids and city council consideration and approval of the arrangements for that work. Martinez allegedly instead awarded those assignments piecemeal to the same contractors, bypassing the bidding process. This allowed the work to be carried out with no control as to the rate paid for its completion. Allegations surfaced that there were kickbacks involved in some of those arrangements. In another instance, word surfaced publicly that the company bidding on supplying Redlands with its trash trucks had provided workers in the city’s sanitation division with gratuities. This sent Martinez into a frenetic overdrive, the Sentinel is told, and he showed up at the city yard the next day, where he reportedly was not interested in verifying the truth of the report but rather determining who was responsible for allowing the public to get wind of what happened. According to those present, Martinez became “unglued” when he could not determine which city employee was the source of the leak.
Redlands’ official spokesman, Carl Baker, told the Sentinel, “The city has not taken a position with regards to Mr. Martinez’s claim filed with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The notification that was sent to the city was informational, and noted that the case was closed by Department of Fair Employment and Housing without investigation and required no response or action.”
Further, Baker said, “The city has not offered any settlement to Ms. Hagan other than the January 5, 2018, settlement agreement which was executed upon her voluntary resignation from the city and in keeping with the authority provided to the city manager under the municipal code.”
Baker was instrumental in providing to the Sentinel several documents relating to Martin-Hagan’s charge of discrimination that was filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Upon doing so, he said, “Aside from providing relevant public records, I will not discuss matters that may be the subject of litigation, so I am unable to respond further to your interpretations of these matters or Ms. Hagan’s actions or motives.”
Open Season On Adelanto As Employees, Current & Past, Sue City
By Mark Gutglueck
Over the last three-and-half years a majority of the Adelanto City Council has pushed to rapidly transition the city of 34,500 to a cannabis-based economy. In the same time frame a core group of cautious city staff members have believed it prudent for the city to be more methodical than their political masters wanted in applying land use and code regulations on the projects coming into the city that involve the growing, processing, refining, packaging, distributing and selling of marijuana and its derivatives. The conflict between those two approaches has led to the mass exodus of city employees who were either fired or elected to leave out of an objection to the way the city was enthusiastically embracing the once-illicit substance. As a result, the City of Adelanto is seemingly buried beneath an avalanche of ongoing and pending lawsuits that are threatening to cost the city more in legal bills and settlements than the city might realistically stand to realize by capturing tax revenue from the local cannabis market.
At present, no fewer than 14 current and former city employees have either filed suit against the city or are in the advanced stage of preparing to do so. At least three further lawsuits are anticipated to follow, most likely before the spring of 2019 is upon the city.
It is an open question as to whether the intense push to have Adelanto get in on the ground floor of the societal shift toward cannabis tolerance and harness it to rejuvenate the city’s sputtering economy was indeed a sincere and well meaning one undertaken to benefit the community or whether the politicians driving the change are doing so out of venal intent and are truly bent on a profiting themselves and their associates.
In June 2013, the Adelanto City Council, as it was then composed, declared the city to be in a state of fiscal emergency, a move preparatory to the declaration of bankruptcy. Discussion of disincorporating Adelanto as a municipal entity ensued. The city made no actual filing for bankruptcy protection, managing to limp along, but real questions persisted about its ability to continuing as a growing concern.
In the November 2014 municipal election, Adelanto voters made a complete sweep of the three incumbents up for reelection, voting out in one fell swoop Mayor Cari Thomas along with councilmen Charles Valvo and Steve Baisden. They were replaced by Rich Kerr, John Woodard and Charlie Glasper, respectively. Very early on in Mayor Kerr’s administration, a coalition that included the mayor, Woodard and incumbent councilman Jermaine Wright formed, and the trio resolved, at first quietly and then gradually with greater publicity, to explore the possibilities existing in California law as a consequence of the 1996’s Proposition 215 Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act to stimulate Adelanto’s economy. Proposition 215 legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes based upon a licensed physician writing a patient a prescription. Recognizing that the vast majority of California’s cities had enacted ordinances and maintained policies banning both the sale and cultivation of marijuana, prohibiting indoor and outdoor farms and nurseries, as well as keeping clinics or dispensaries from operating in their cities, the council majority believed Adelanto could fill a potentially lucrative void by going in a different direction. Only Councilman Ed Camargo would remain as a steadfast opponent of the marijuanification of Adelanto. Initially, to obtain the support of Glasper, who had concerns about making marijuana available to city residents, Kerr, Woodard and Wright agreed to limit marijuana-related activity in the city to agricultural operations, continuing to outlaw clinics and dispensaries. Kerr, as the mayor and point man on promoting Adelanto as the marijuana capital of California, made clear that the city was ready to welcome and facilitate any and all serious applications to grow marijuana out of enclosed warehouse-based greenhouses, as long as they were located in the city’s industrial park.
Early on, Jim Hart, who had been Adelanto’s city manager for over a decade, expressed reservations with regard to the strategy Kerr, Woodard and Wright were promoting and which Glasper was contemplating. Kerr, whose 2014 campaign for mayor had been managed by Adelanto Planning Commissioner Jessie Flores, began pushing Hart to hire Flores as the city’s director of economic development, a move Hart resisted in large measure because Flores had no experience or training in the capacity for which Kerr was advocating him. Expressing misgivings about the entirety of the situation, Hart took an early exit as city manager, barely three months after Kerr, Woodard and Glasper had assumed office. The city council quickly substituted into Hart’s place City Engineer and Public Works Director Thomas Thornton. But some 18 weeks after he was elevated to the interim assistant city manager’s position, Thornton, who was unwilling to move as quickly and aggressively into making Adelanto into a marijuana Mecca as Kerr, Woodard and Wright were demanding, tendered his resignation, in so doing abrogating the sixth-month contract he signed two months previously, in May, which would have kept him in place as city manager at least until November 2015.
At that point, the council turned to City Clerk Cindy Herrera, the city’s senior staff member. Herrera had been hired in 1987 as an executive secretary, and was promoted to assistant city clerk in 1994. She became city clerk in 1999, and possessed an unrivaled institutional memory with regard to the city as well as an understanding of municipal processes. The council offered her the top city job based on the calculation that she would require no learning curve to set about running the city in the way the ruling coalition on the council wished.
Herrera had a cordial familiarity with Kerr’s wife, Misty, that bordered on a friendship. In 2014 as city clerk, Herrera had received a salary of $79,121.86 together with $35,783.32 in add-ons and $12,824 in benefits for a total compensation package of $127,729.18. In her role as city manager, her salary was nearly doubled to $149,117.80 and she was provided with $37,301.81 in add-ons and benefits of $15,091.68 for a total compensation package of $201,511.29. This, Kerr, Woodard and Wright believed, would buy her loyalty and keep her signed on to their agenda.
With Kerr’s domination of City Hall complete, he was able to convince his council colleagues to retain Flores, not as a municipal employee, but rather as a consultant/contract economic development director through his newly created company, Municipal Economic Development Services, Inc., at the bargain basement price of $36,000 per year. Flores’ assignment was to attract potential entrepreneurs and businesses to set up shop in Adelanto. Under this arrangement, Flores was at liberty to go to work with and/or serve as a consultant to the business entities he was working to bring into the city.
Meanwhile, Herrera dug into her new assignment, doing her level best to execute the will of the council, carrying out within the parameters of her authority and duty the imperative to move the city toward becoming a cannabis-friendly environment for growers of medical marijuana.
In November 2015, the council passed an ordinance that added marijuana cultivation within enclosed structures meeting certain criteria to the list of permitted uses within the city’s industrial park per the city’s code and its zoning map. But with that move, there was another casualty among the city’s top staffers as Todd Litfin, the city attorney, resigned. Litfin, who was city attorney when Hart was in place and remained after Hart was ousted, was called upon to draw up all of the legal documents in support of the move to legalize the cultivation of marijuana. Litfin, however, balked, unwilling to do the council’s bidding and draft ordinances legalizing massive scale marijuana operations. Refusing to be the city attorney of record when those ordinances and their attendant zoning codes were passed, he abruptly resigned. Julia Sylva was quickly retained to finalize the cannabis cultivation permitting ordinance that prompted Litfin’s exit.
With the turn of 2015 to 2016 and the advent of the statewide push to legalize marijuana for recreational use which culminated in the placing of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, on the November 2016 ballot, Kerr, Woodard and Wright were emboldened further, even before Proposition 64 passed. Recognizing they did not need Glasper’s support to proceed, since they had a 3-to-2 majority on the council without him, they broached the concept of opening the city not simply to medical marijuana cultivation but farms where marijuana would be grown for use as an intoxicant. Moreover, they resolved to explore allowing retail establishments into the city, including dispensaries selling medical marijuana and, with the anticipated passage of Proposition 64, pot shops that would be akin to liquor stores. They widened the scope of the liberalized approach they were taking with regard to the commercialization of marijuana and its availability within the city limits, seeking to strike first and have Adelanto corner the market in terms of convincing cannabis entrepreneurs to locate in the city.
Herrera accommodated the council majority, which was signaling to would-be marijuana concern operators, both directly and through Flores, that the city was willing to facilitate their business plans. This included dropping the restriction on confining the cannabis-related operations to within the city’s industrial park, as was originally stipulated, and whole swaths of the city were rezoned to permit marijuana cultivation operations, cannabis product manufacturing and retail sales of the drug. In March 2016, satisfied that Herrera was sufficiently on board with what they were doing, the council majority, with the support of councilmen Camargo and Glasper, promoted Herrera to full-fledged city manager, dropping the qualifier “interim” from her official title.
There were indications, however, that not all was as salubrious as the council majority wanted it to be. Sylva, who had gamely sought to facilitate the city’s foray into the largely uncharted territory of making legitimized marijuana production a key element of a community’s economic foundation, burned out rapidly, leaving in April 2016 as a prodigious number of applicants flooded into City Hall, resulting in the city granting permits to no fewer than 25 cannabis growing operations in five months. Sylva was replaced as city attorney by Curtis Wright, of the law firm Silver & Wright LLP. With Curtis Wright in place, the council majority doubled down, effectively escalating the ante and transitioning Adelanto from a jurisdiction allowing cannabis-related businesses limited only to agricultural operations to one that embraced all level of marijuana-related commercial enterprises, including medical marijuana dispensaries and the coming advent of recreational marijuana emporiums.
There is evidence to indicate that Councilman Jermaine Wright, who was no blood relation to Curtis Wright, who was witnessing the absolute frenzy among would-be marijuana millionaires who were filing into City Hall to apply for marijuana-related business permits, crossed the line at that point. Many of those marijuana-related business applicants were bringing with them into City Hall briefcases full of cash. Wright at some point believed he might himself get in on the bonanza, despite his status as an elected city official prohibited by law from having a direct financial interest in anything coming before the city council. Indeed, there are strong indicators that Wright grew somewhat envious and resentful of Flores, whose consulting contract with the city allowed him to essentially play both sides of the street. Flores was free to picking up his $3,000 per month consulting fee for dialoguing with investors or businessman considering putting money into or undertaking projects within the city. It was then perfectly acceptable for Flores to go to work for or accept fees from those same investors or business entities he was networking with on behalf of the city. Moreover, the council was in the position of having ultimate authority over rezoning, the power to transform property that was of modest value when it was eligible for residential, commercial or industrial use into land that was worth upwards of four, five, six, seven, eight or nine times its previous value by being declared legally suitable for hosting a highly lucrative marijuana-related business.
This created some very questionable circumstances. There were multiple examples of what appeared to be inside information leaking out of City Hall. Land that was subsequently rezoned for cannabis-related operations was purchased by entities which were purposed to put it to that precise use before those zone changes were made. In at least one instance, a property that was later converted into a marijuana retail operation, was sold in the fall of 2016, less than two months in advance of that zone change being granted. Councilman Woodard, who owns his own real estate company and was involved in making the zone change, was the broker on that sale. In other cases, city employees in the planning and code enforcement divisions were interfered with by members of council, who pressed those employees to desist in their inspections of those cannabis-related business and cease their enforcement activities with regard to code requirements that in some cases were not met. In other cases, employees were being told to look the other way when operations at some of those businesses had initiated before the permits for those operations had been finalized.
Relatively late under Herrera’s watch as city manager, on December 12, 2016, a city staff meeting was held, attended by Mayor Kerr and Councilman Glasper. Several key staff members were present at the meeting, including contract City Engineer Wilson So, Assistant City Engineer Aaron Mower, Senior Planner Mark De Manincor, and Conservation Specialist Belen Cordero, along with Herrera and Flores. The upshot of the exchange was the mayor’s insistence that a multitude of projects, virtually all of them cannabis-related, be fast tracked and the development fees, infrastructure fees and permit fees for them be waived, together with his suggestion that the city apply for grants to make up for any loss in revenue those waivers entailed. When staff sought to explain to the mayor that this was not realistic or in keeping with rudimentary planning standards, he became irate. When Wilson So, in particular, attempted to artfully, diplomatically and respectfully tell the mayor that suspending the fees while attempting to defray staff costs for processing the incoming project applications through grants, which in any event would cost at least $40,000 to apply for with no guarantee of success, could have disastrous financial consequences, a clearly provoked Kerr grew profane, threw his own cell phone across the room, thundering that those present needed to change their attitudes, or else. He then stormed out of the meeting. Two days later, De Manincor, Cordero, Mower and So were axed in a 4-to-1 vote of the city council, effective January 1, 2017. Also fired were a planning assistant, finance consultant and information technology division employee.
There were recurrent reports that members of the city council were on the take, receiving bribes from cannabis-related project applicants. With a significant portion of her planning and engineering division fired from underneath her, Herrera found herself overmatched in trying to keep up with the feverish pace of facilitating cannabis-related businesses applications a majority of her political masters had demanded. It availed Herrera nothing to protest that the gutting of that element of the city staff instrumental in processing the applications had been taken away from her, as the attitude evinced by Kerr, Woodard and Wright was that the loss of those staff members was not a hindrance to what they were seeking to do but rather of assistance, since the idea was to have the city’s regulatory division stand down anyway.
With the council majority beginning to feel that Herrera was not nimble enough in accommodating its directives, the four walls of City Hall were seemingly closing in on her. Adding to her travails was that in January 2017 complaints about Flores and irregularities in his function as the city’s contract economic development director were inundating City Hall. A group of Adelanto citizens retained the Los Angeles-based Sutton Law Firm, which through attorney Bradley Hertz made three public records requests with the city for records pertaining to Flores’ employment, invoices, payments made, reimbursements and emails.
In the same time frame, Kerr had a mishap while riding his motorcycle, and the injuries he sustained left him temporarily incapacitated. With Kerr on the mend but no longer present on a daily basis at City Hall and Wright in some measure hoping that he might in some way tap into a portion of the marijuana-related project investment money that was flowing into Adelanto if Flores might somehow be gotten out of the way, Herrera calculated that it might be safe for her to act with regard to the reports relating to Flores. She suspended Flores’ contract, pending an investigation into the charges leveled at him by Hertz and others. Within two weeks, Kerr was more or less recovered from the injuries he had sustained in his motorcycle mishap. Herrera’s gamble in crossing Kerr and Woodard in suspending Flores had come up snake eyes. Within days of Kerr’s return, she was out as city manager. Before the council moved to fire her, she resigned and returned to her position as city clerk. Flores remained on suspension for only a few more days. With Herrera no longer in the city manager’s post, the investigation into Flores dissolved in upon itself.
The city council brought in Mike Milhiser, who had retired after a 28-year career as city manager in Montclair, Ontario and Upland, to take over the reins of the city in the aftermath of Herrera’s banishing back to the city clerk’s office.
In May 2017, the council reaffirmed Flores in his position as contract economic developer and more than doubled his pay to $75 per hour, by which he was able to pick up $6,000 per month for part time work, doubling his salary from the city and allowing him to collect as much as he could negotiate from outside companies, including ones obtaining permits to set up operations in the city. At that point, what was recognized by many was that federal agents – in the form of those with the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI – were trolling Adelanto, looking into reports of graft including whether Flores was conveying payoffs from city business permit applicants to city officials, if insider information being conveyed to investors, as well as the operation of what federal officials considered to be illicit drug production and distribution enterprises. Blithely, however, the council majority moved forward with the agenda of enabling as many marijuana-related businesses as possible to set up operations in the city, often without meeting the requirements in the city’s regulations and ordinances.
In July 2017, Curtis Wright, perhaps spooked by the presence of federal law enforcement officials in the city, made his exit from Adelanto. The city replaced him with Ruben Duran of the law firm Best Best & Krieger.
As a retiree pulling a pension from the California Public Employees Retirement System, Milhiser was legally permitted to work as a contract municipal employee for no more than six months in any 12 month period. Accordingly, the Adelanto City Council in August 2017 upon Milhiser’s departure elevated Gabriel Elliott, who at that point was the city’s director of development, to serve as city manager.
Less than three months into Elliott’s tenure as city manager, City Hall and all of Adelanto was rocked with the FBI’s arrest of Councilman Jermaine Wright on November 8. That arrest was based on an arrest warrant prepared by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in which it was alleged that Wright had taken a $10,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent who had made an application with the city to establish a marijuana distribution company in return for shielding the agent’s putative company from city regulations and code enforcement efforts and that Wright had also solicited another undercover FBI agent to take part in an arson plot to destroy Wright’s restaurant so he could collect on a fire insurance policy he had on his business.
In the aftermath of what befell Wright, both Kerr and Woodard remained intent on proceeding with approving all of the cannabis-related business proposals pending at City Hall and facilitating the operations of those already approved. Elliott, however, was proving resistant to their demands in this regard. Moreover, the ruling coalition had lost the third crucial steady vote it had in the personage of Wright, and Glasper, who had evinced lukewarm support of the game plan to spur the local economy and create a taxing windfall for the city by permitting cannabis-based operations, was so shaken by Wright’s arrest that he was not willing to supply the third vote the coalition now needed to stay the course. By December, Kerr was beside himself with rage toward Elliott for thwarting his agenda. He began casting about for some means of removing him as city manager. He prevailed upon two female employees and an intern to lodge sexual harassment complaints against the city manager. A few days later, with the city gearing up to carry out an investigation into those charges, the council voted to put Elliott on paid administrative leave. Simultaneously, another intern alleged she had been sexually harassed by Kerr. The city moved to bring Milhiser back to serve as the interim city manager during Elliott’s absence. By late February, those investigations carried out by investigators recommended by then-City Attorney Ruben Duran were returned with conclusions that the charges could not be sustained. While Kerr pronounced that he had been vindicated by the findings, neither he nor Woodard were willing to vote to end Elliott’s suspension. By that point, Wright, who had remained in federal custody from the time of his arrest, had been removed from his council position on the basis of his having missed all of the council’s regularly scheduled meetings for a period of 60 days. The council deadlocked 2-to-2 on the vote to restore Elliott, who remained on leave collecting his full salary.
In May, Milhiser was again obliged to step down as interim city manager because of the limitation on the number of hours he can work on an annual basis, and with the discussion of the disincorporation of the city once again rife, the city council voted to appoint Brad Letner, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who as a military officer had carried out a number of administrative and managerial assignments before leaving the service in 2014, as city manager.
Elliott remained in his forced state of limbo. A special election corresponding to the June Primary election was held to replace Jermaine Wright. Joy Jeannette, who had previously been appointed to the planning commission by Woodard and is one of Kerr’s political allies, emerged victorious in that contest. Almost immediately after Jeannette’s swearing in to office, she joined with Kerr and Woodard in firing Elliott. Three weeks later, the newly-formed council majority likewise cashiered Letner and promoted Flores into the city manager’s post. Less than a month later, on August 20, Flores fired Herrera. Immediately thereafter, Duran resigned as city attorney. He has been replaced by Keith Lemieux.
Relatively early on, as city employees were fired as a consequence of their failure to act with alacrity to the council majority’s demands that they facilitate the wholesale permitting of cannabis-related businesses, lawsuits on behalf of those terminated employees were filed.
Among the first of those to strike back with wrongful termination suits were public works superintendent Nan Moore, who had been with the city for 18 years when she was given the axe in July 2015; senior management analyst Mike Borja, who had been with the city for ten years when he was keelhauled at the same time; and conservation specialist/administrator Belen Cordero, who had been with the city for 17 years when she was fired in the December 14, 2016 massacre. Another early victim of the purge of employees was public works maintenance worker Jose Figueroa, who also sued. One-time Senior planner Mark de Manincor, another victim of the December 14 sackings, has likewise filed suit.
Adelanto Community Safety Manager and Chief Code Enforcement Officer Steve Peltier along with four city code enforcement officers, Roman Edward De La Torre, Apolonio Gutierrez, Amber Tisdale, and Gregory Stephen Watkins have lodged written complaints with the city, alleging Kerr and Flores have acted to shield certain cannabis-related businesses from monitoring and enforcement. In essence, this has preventing the code enforcement division’s employees from doing their jobs, the officers say, as they were instructed to refrain from inspecting or citing certain facilities and were told not to enforce specific city codes upon pain of termination. When the code enforcement team pushed ahead in carrying out its function, those employees allege, the business operators they were confronting directed them to speak with Kerr and Flores, in so doing indicating the mayor and former economic development director/current city manager had offered them assurances that they would not be cited for any shortcomings by the city’s code enforcement division. The officers have alleged that Flores assigned one of their colleagues, Derek Stevens, who is the son of Mike Stevens, the city’s official spokesman, to “special assignment” status that allows him to review and then vacate any citations the five had issued. Peltier, De La Torre, Gutierrez, Tisdale and Watkins all indicated that individuals and companies connected to Kerr had their citations vacated. All five appear to be on track to sue the city.
This week, the council by a 4-to-1 vote fired two members of the city’s information technology division, several weeks after learning that the two had cooperated with the FBI by providing statements and facilitating the provision of digital information to agents without having been presented with warrants or subpoenas. They are in contact with legal counsel, the Sentinel is informed.
Two of the four former employees/interns caught up in the dueling sexual harassment charges lodged against Kerr and Elliott in December, Adrianna Ortiz, a contract employee, and Rachel Suraci, Elliott’s one-time secretary, are suing the city.
Both Elliott and Herrera have retained former Adelanto Mayor, Tristan Pelayes, a principal in the Riverside-based law firm of Wagner & Pelayes, to represent them. In August, Elliott, through Pelayes, filed a claim against the city, considered to be a precursor to a lawsuit. In that claim, Elliot alleged Kerr actively prevented code enforcement officers from enforcing regulations on a number of marijuana businesses in the city and that Kerr accepted a $200,000 bribe for the sale of the city’s public works building, which contained the city’s emergency operations center, to an entrepreneur who is intent on converting the property to a marijuana cultivation facility. In that claim, he acknowledged having provided the FBI with information about graft in Adelanto. Herrera, who is also known to have cooperated with the FBI, is expected to lodge a claim of her own, to be followed by a lawsuit, soon.
The city is already hemorrhaging red ink in its effort to stay up with the lawsuits filed against it by former employees, as it has retained investigators and law firms to make answers to the suits and mount defenses. In addition to the five different city attorneys the city has employed since 2014, the city has employed at least six other lawyers or law firms. At present, it is using the firm of Jackson Lewis to handle the bulk of the suits involving former employees. The precise amount of money the city has spent on legal issues in the last three years and ten months is not known with any precision, as the city’s financial books are, according to Adelanto Finance Director Misty Cheng, “in complete disarray.” Best estimates are the city has accrued over $15 million in legal costs since Kerr has been mayor.
Challenger In Yucaipa Race Credited With Being In Office
Wyatt Patrick Padgett, the challenger in the Yucaipa District 1 election scheduled for the November 6 election, was erroneously credited with being an incumbent by the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters. As a result both Padgett and the actual council incumbent, David Avila, are listed as current office holders on the ballot as well as the sample ballot pamphlet that has been sent to registered voters in the 54,000-population city.
The error was made on the city’s end when a template sent from the city clerk’s office to the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Office apparently substituted Avila’s identifier, “City of Yucaipa, Member, City Council,” for Padgett’s, which should have been “Businessman.” The mistake was not recognized as such at the registrar’s office, which more than three weeks ago ordered up the printing of the election ballots and the sample ballots countywide. It was only after the sample ballots were mailed and examined by some Yucaipa residents, including some who knew Padgett is not currently on the council, that the mistake was publicly noted.
With the election just 11 days away,
it is too late, not to mention too cost prohibitive, to recall the ballots and have them reprinted.
In an effort to clear up or minimize the confusion, Yucaipa City Clerk Jennifer Crawford and other city officials have undertaken to put out information about the error, posting it on its website, Yucaipa.org, on social media, at City Hall and the library, as well as in mailings directly to District 1 voters.
The posting on the city’s website states, “Revised error in City of Yucaipa Electoral District 1 election ballot. Ballot Incorrectly Notes Candidate Ballot Designation. The City of Yucaipa General Services/City Clerk Department announces there is an error in the City of Yucaipa Electoral District 1 Election sample ballot pamphlet and the official ballot regarding the ballot designation of a candidate. Incorrect information was transmitted to the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters indicating Mr. Wyatt Patrick Padgett’s ballot designation. As a result, the ballot designation that appears below Mr. Wyatt Patrick Padgett’s name on the official ballot and in the sample ballot pamphlet is incorrect.”
The post then shows the erroneous ballot and the corrected ballot side-by-side, with Avila designated “City of Yucaipa, Member, City Council” and Padgett shown as “Businessman” on the correct mock-up.
The posting notes that “new ballots will not be printed.”
Crawford has given indication her office will institute a redundancy of inspection of the ballot information to be submitted to the Registrar of Voters Office in the future.
Dangers Of The Natural World Abound In SB County
Nature is making life rough for humans and both domesticated and farm animals in many spots around San Bernardino County.
Earlier this month there was an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease in Apple Valley, Phelan, Pinon Hills and Baldy Mesa.
The disease was noted among some school students, including ones at Rancho Verde Elementary School and the Academy for Academic Excellence, both in Apple Valley. Apple Valley Unified School District and Snowline Joint Unified School District officials acknowledged that several students had come down with the disease, which generally initiates with cold or flu-like symptoms. After a fever and sore throat manifests, sufferers sometimes experience a loss of appetite, followed one to two days later by painful mouth sores. Thereafter or simultaneously a skin rash will often spread to the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
Hand, foot and mouth disease typically affects infants and children under the age of six, but can occur in older children. Highly contagious during the first week of illness, it spreads through close contact. On occasion, those who have been infected can remain contagious for days or weeks after symptoms recede or disappear entirely. Because it is not extremely common or anticipated, hand, foot and mouth disease is not easily recognized.
Generally, there are no lingering aftereffects. Nevertheless, in rare cases viral or “aseptic” meningitis can occur with hand, foot, and mouth disease, causing fever, headache, stiff neck, or back pain that may require the infected person to be hospitalized for a few days. A further outgrowth that is rarer still is encephalitis, i.e., inflammation of the brain or, rare in the extreme, a polio-like paralysis. In some cases, those afflicted can sustain fingernail and toenail loss, although in virtually every case the nails grew back without need of medical treatment.
There is no vaccine or treatment currently available for hand, foot and mouth disease. To ward the condition off, hygiene is recommended and when an outbreak occurs, it is prudent to thoroughly clean and sterilize all items that have come into contact with those afflicted.
Newcastle disease, which resulted in the extermination of millions of chickens in San Bernardino County in the 1970s, has reappeared in the region, a harbinger of a potential repeat of what occurred more than four decades ago.
Newcastle disease is a contagious viral bird disease affecting many domestic and wild avian species. While it is transmissible to humans, it manifests in relatively mild forms of conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, and influenza-like symptoms, seeming to pose no other significant hazard to human health.
Though it was first identified in Java, Indonesia, in 1926, and in 1927, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, whence its name, Newcastle is believed to have been prevalent as earlier, as in 1898 when a disease wiped out all the domestic fowl in northwest Scotland. Newcastle’s effects are most notable in domestic poultry due to their high susceptibility and the potential for widespread infestation on the poultry industry.
Newcastle typically results in swelling around a bird’s eyes, a purplish swelling of the wattle and comb, a large amount of fluid coming from the beak and nasal areas, a twisting of the neck and head, loss of appetite, green diarrhea, and sudden death.
No treatment for Newcastle exists, but the use of prophylactic vaccines and sanitization measures can reduce the likelihood of outbreaks. Transmission occurs by exposure to fecal and other excretions from infected birds, contact with contaminated food and water, as well as through human interaction as when a person moves infected birds, equipment or feed or by coming into contact with unaffected birds while wearing the same clothing or shoes worn when that person had contact with infected areas.
In seeking to limit the spread of Newcastle, public health officials have engaged in what are perceived to be ruthless and often cruel means. Flocks of birds, such as egg producing hens in an area where Newcastle has been detected, even if no birds on that particular farm have been confirmed to have the virus, are uniformly slaughtered. This will be effectuated by loading thousands of chickens into an enclosed garbage truck. A hose is then run from the truck’s exhaust pipe into an aperture so the carbon monoxide can be introduced into the enclosure containing the chickens. Those chickens not crushed to death by the weight of the chickens above them succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning.
The most recent spate of Newcastle was first detected in Southern California in May, with 150 hosting birds that tested positive for Newcastle. Some 34,000 birds have been euthanized since the outbreak was first spotted. Locally, the outbreak is confined to 25 properties at the west end of San Bernardino County and one property on the extreme east side Los Angeles County, all situated in the Chino, Ontario, Montclair, and Pomona area between Mission Avenue, the Pomona Freeway, Garey Avenue and Mountain Avenue. At press time, the outbreak had confined itself to scattered backyards and frontyards in those areas featuring chickens and some peacocks. No commercial farms, such as ones where chickens are kept for egg production had been impacted, though some 800 properties where birds are known to be present are under quarantine, meaning the birds there are not permitted to leave the confines of the property.
Agriculture officials were recently in Chino to provide informational briefings to chicken ranch owners and farmers. Ranchers have been told that if the number of birds infected reaches what agricultural and public health authorities deem a critical tipping point, blanket euthanizations of commercial flocks where birds have yet to test positive for the virus will be ordered to arrest the spread of the disease, which will occur extremely rapidly.
Under both California and federal law, agricultural officials have the authority to inspect property upon which fowl are located, and federal and state law authorizes the arrest of any bird owners who do not comply with a euthanization order.
Meanwhile, in Morongo Valley, coyotes have been attacking domestic pets.
On occasion, the coyotes have come out of the desert right up to homes and descended upon dogs and cats. Anecdotal evidence is that a number of dogs are known to have been killed by coyotes. In other cases, dogs have disappeared, with indications but no hard proof that they fell victim to coyotes. There has been an uptick in the number of family pets in the area brought to veterinarians for treatment of coyote bites, which typically are deep puncture wounds which carry with them the hazard of bacteriological infection.
California Fish and Wildlife rangers have confirmed that weather conditions and meteorological conditions have driven more and more coyotes out of their usually remote haunts and into areas inhabited by humans such as Yucca Valley, Pioneertown, Wonder Valley, Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms and Johnson Valley. Unofficially, the rangers have authorized desert residents to shoot the coyotes if they encounter them.
According to statistics kept by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Mojave Desert is rife with coyotes, with anywhere from one to four living on a square mile of land, depending how close to civilization the property is. In general, coyotes steer clear of humans, but if the numbers of their natural prey diminish or if drought dries up their water sources, they will move into areas habited by people and make a meal out of household pets or try to find a ready source of water.
At the periphery of San Bernardino County, this year, in Riverside and in Easvale, a 74-year-old woman and a 50-year-old Eastvale man contracted West Nile Virus as a consequence of encounters with mosquitoes carrying the diseases. Both victims required hospitalization to stabilize their conditions. Though rarely life threatening, West Nile can devolve into a serious condition, especially among the young, elderly and those with compromised immune systems. It is spread to humans by mosquitoes which have themselves contracted it from contact with dead birds carrying the pathogen.
In roughly 75 percent of West Nile fever infections people suffer no or imperceptible symptoms. About 20 percent of people bitten by an infected mosquito develop a fever, headache, vomiting, or a rash. In less than 1 percent of humans, encephalitis or meningitis – a much more dangerous swelling of the brain – sets in, accompanied by neck stiffness, confusion, or seizures. Recovery may take weeks to months. There is a ten percent risk of death for those seriously infected.
Voters To Consider Eleven Statewide Ballot Propositions In This Year’s General Election
Eleven Propositions have fully qualified for the November 6, after one measure that was scheduled to come before the state’s voters was removed by the California Supreme Court. Those 11 initiatives are:
Proposition 1, The Veterans and Affordable Housing Bond Act of 2018, if passed will authorize the issuance of $4 billion in general obligation bonds for specified housing assistance programs for low-income Californians, farmworkers, manufactured and mobile homes, infill, transit-oriented housing, and veterans’ home loans. Passage would entail an average annual outlay of $170 million over the next 35 years to debt service the bonds.
Proposition 2, the so-called, “There’s No Place Like Home Act of 2018” will, if passed, allow $2 million in bonds to be issued to amend the Mental Health Services Act and actuate the No Place Like Home Program to fund an existing housing program for individuals with mental illness. Debt servicing of the bonds to be issued will be achieved through the diversion of up to $140 million per year that would otherwise go to county-run mental health programs.
Proposition 3 if passed would authorize $8.877 billion in state general obligation bonds for water system infrastructure projects, enhancing water supply, quality, recycling, groundwater sustainability and storage; protecting watersheds and effecting conservation; improving fisheries and restoring key wildlife habitat; improving means of water conveyance; and infrastructure projects. To defray debt service on the bonds, California taxpayers would have to come up with an average of $430 million per year over 40 years.
Proposition 4 is the Children’s Hospital Bonds Initiative, which authorizes $1.5 million in bonds to fund construction, renovations and expansions at pediatric hospitals qualifying for the assistance. The debt service on the bonds would be accomplished by the diversion of $80 million per year from the state’s general fund for 35 years.
Proposition 5, the Property Tax Transfer Initiative, would adjust the historic tax measure Proposition 13, which passed in 1978. The new Propostion 5 would change requirements for homeowners over 55, severely disabled homeowners, and contaminated or disaster-destroyed properties when owners transfer their property tax base to replacement property. If Proposition 5 passes, schools and local governments each would lose an estimated $1 billion annually from the property tax revenue stream and the state would need to in some fashion backfill that loss.
Proposition 6, which carries the somewhat awkward label of the “Voter Approval for Future Gas and Vehicle Taxes and 2017 Tax Repeal Initiative” would eliminate certain specified road repair and transportation funding and would require certain fuel taxes and vehicle fees be approved by the electorate in the future, while repealing 2017 transportation-related legislation, Senate Bill 1, passed by the legislature imposing on gasoline purchasers’ increased taxes and fees designated for road repairs and public transportation. Elimination of the Senate Bill 1 gas tax would reduce by 12 cents per gallon the price of gasoline paid for by California motorists, while defunding hundreds of ongoing or future road projects, maintenance and repairs effors, as well as transit programs.
Proposition 7 would empower the California legislature by a two-thirds vote to
alter its traditional time observances of Daylight Savings Time from April until November and Standard Time from November until April and adopt Daylight Saving Time year round conditional upon the federal government allowing such a shift to take place. There is no anticipated fiscal impact from passage of this measure.
Proposition 8 is an initiative that would put limits on Kidney dialysis clinics’ rates. It would also require those clinics to provide past customers with refunds. The initiative calls for regulating and limiting the amounts that outpatient kidney dialysis clinics could charge for treatment. Rebates and penalties would be imposed if changes exceed limits. Proposition would required dialysis center operations to make annual reporting of their financials to the state. he measure would also prohibit dialysis clinics from discriminating or refusing services based on a patient’s payer, including the patient himself or herself, a private insurer, Medi-Cal, Medicaid, or Medicare. A battle royal over Proposition 8 has attended this year’s election, as six dialysis clinic companies have poured more than $100 million into a campaign to defeat the initiative and several union political action committees and the California Democratic Party have invested $20 million in an effort to get voters to support the initiative. Proponents of the initiative predict that reporting and transparency and state oversight will reduce fraud and overbilling of patients and insurance providers, considered to be rampant in the industry. Opponents say Proposition 8 say it drive many clinics out of business.
Proposition 9, which would have divided California into three states, was ordered removed from the ballot by the California Supreme Court on July 18.
Proposition 10 is a local rent control initiative, expanding the authority of local governments to enact rent control on residential property. It would repeal a state law that currently restricts rent-control policies that cities and other local jurisdictions may impose on residential property. Because of the potential for a reduction in income to landlords, a potential net reduction in state and local tax revenues of tens of millions of dollars per year accompanies this proposition, depending upon decisions and actions by local communities with regard to exercising the rent reduction or freezing authority this proposition would give them.
Proposition 11, if passed would require Proposition 11 would allow ambulance providers to require workers to remain on-call and reachable by a portable communications device during meal and rest breaks. The measure would require ambulance providers to pay workers at their regular rate during breaks, not make workers take a meal break during the first or last hour of a shift, and space multiple meal breaks during a shift by at least two hours. If a worker is contacted during a meal or rest break, the initiative would mandate that the interrupted break not be counted towards the breaks the worker is required to receive. The measure would require ambulance providers to manage staffing levels sufficient to provide employees with the required breaks. The proposal eliminates certain employer liability. Analysts say that a likely fiscal benefit will accrue to local governments from the passage of Proposition 11 in lower costs and higher revenues, potentially in the tens of millions of dollars each year.
Proposition 12 establishes new standards/minimum requirements for confinement of specified farm animals. It bans the sale of noncomplying meat and egg products. The measure will potentially decrease state income tax revenues from farm businesses, probably not more than several million dollars per year. State costs are estimated to be up to $10 million annually to enforce the measure.
UCLA Nursing Students Now Training At Arrowhead Regional Medical Center
Some nursing students from UCLA will obtain clinical training at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, the main campus of the San Bernardino County Hospital over the next three years.
Effective immediately, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted on October 16, 2018 to approve a non-financial affiliation agreement with the University of California at Los Angeles that is to run through October 15, 2021.
According to William Gilbert, the director of Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, “This affiliation agreement is new to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center and will provide for the safety, health and social services needs of county residents by allowing Arrowhead Regional Medical Center to provide clinical training to these specialized advance practice nursing students, who as a result, assist in the delivery of care to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center patients as well as assist in transforming organizational healthcare. A key component of Arrowhead Regional Medical Center’s mission is to provide education to students in a variety of disciplines. Arrowhead Regional Medical Center has a number of affiliation agreements with universities and colleges, junior colleges, and technical and trade schools to provide on-site clinical training for students. This clinical training is necessary for students to obtain their degrees, licenses, and/or certifications.”
Gilbert said, “The volume and patient mix at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center provides a comprehensive educational opportunity to students from the UCLA nursing programs. The affiliation agreement ensures students receive specialty clinical training and experience, and gain vital skills needed in developing a competent workforce. The affiliation provides for the safety, health, and social service needs of county residents by ensuring the delivery of specialized advance practice nursing care to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center patients, as well as increasing the future pool of healthcare specialists.”
From My Bookshelf: An Introduction to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Pat Hobby Stories
By Daniel Webster
F. Scott Fitzgerald is remembered today as the herald of the “Jazz Age” of America in the 1920s, an era when taboos about sexuality were happily being broken and people were given license to swill gin and generally to have a good time, after the horror that was World War I. And, of course, he is most famous for his supposed “masterpiece,” The Great Gatsby, the subject of more high school book reports than any other 20th-century novel, save Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird.
However, I must here confess that the story of Jay Gatsby and the torch he carries for the shallow “flapper” Daisy Buchanan has always left me cold. Instead, I would like to recommend Fitzgerald’s least-known and very last work: The Pat Hobby Stories—which were written, quite literally, “from hunger.” By the time he’d gotten around to penning these tales, he was a dead-broke and pretty well forgotten. Esquire magazine, under the editorship of Arnold Gingrich, was just about the only publication that was willing to consider publishing his work. And it was in this magazine that the exploits of Pat Hobby were published from January of 1940 to May of 1941—meaning that several of them appeared posthumously, as Fitzgerald died in December, 1940.
Pat Hobby bears certain similarities to Fitzgerald himself in his waning days. However, whereas F. Scott was certainly considered a has-been by the end of the 1930s, Pat was more of a “never-was.” Throughout this series of 17 stories, which take place just as America is getting antsy about World War II breaking out in Europe, Hobby is consistently referred to as being 49 years old, making him five years older than Fitzgerald himself would ever live to be. It seems that Hobby, who probably never had an original thought in his head, somehow managed to snag co-writing credits in some successful movies from the silent era, and perhaps even a few from the early talkies—but that since then, he has been living off the fumes of that early success. His present dilemma is that the producers now realize that he doesn’t have an ounce of talent himself, and that whatever he had once “accomplished” was due to whatever other screenwriters he was supposedly collaborating with. He now even has trouble getting onto the studio lot; and when he does get on he’s constantly coming up with some scheme to be put on salary again, so that can get a studio office, where he can swill booze while doing as little real writing work as possible. As Fitzgerald himself wrote, “Of course, he’s a complete rat.”
Each of the stories revolves around some scheme or “angle” that Pat is trying to work. Usually, he tries to act as if he’s a veteran screenwriter with great ideas and a way with words, and attempts to pal around with those writers who still fit that description, to one degree or another. The studio brass know all too well what he’s up to, yet he is often successful in talking his way into “another three weeks, at two-fifty a week,” or whatever the case may be.
The Pat Hobby Stories are a joy to read and as funny as hell. It’s great fun to see this good-for-nothing try to work one of his angles, only to be hoisted on his own petard by the end of the story.
Arnold Gingrich finally got around to collecting these stories in 1962. And I’m happy to say that The Pat Hobby Stories can still be bought from Amazon and other online booksellers in both a paperback edition and in a Kindle version at a very reasonable price.
Daniel J. Webster, who is among the vanguard of the New Formalists writing poetry in English today, in addition to having completed several volumes of verse has translated poetry and short stories from German and Russian. He now resides in Japan, where he teaches English at Keio University, as well as at the Universities of Waseda and Meiji.
By Mark Gutglueck
Gilbert Ingraham was the most efficient of his employer’s twenty-seven employees. He enjoyed such statistical work; because of and through his interest in it he had developed the ability to cope with much of the firm’s procedures that normally would have been relegated to someone with more status than that of clerical assistant. Yet, for all of his value, the time and extra effort of others and expense he saved, he was given no recognition other than the exiguous approbation of his employer, and he did not delude himself into thinking he was irreplaceable. Whatever satisfaction his job brought him was only that which he derived from the exercise and knowledge of his own specialized and unnecessary competence.
Christmas night he was alone in the house he had been permitted to retain as a result of his divorce settlement not quite three years earlier. There was nothing in the house, save less than a dozen cards opened and standing upon an end table, to commemorate the traditional spirit of the day or season. His five years of marriage had ended with no resultant pregnancy. He had fixed himself a dinner of chicken, using a recipe calling for sherry marination, accompanied by small portions of various vegetables. Having finished the meal, he continued his reading of Moby Dick, taking delight in the parallel of reading the book’s twenty-second chapter that day amid his house’s non-festive atmosphere. When he tired of reading he went to his phonograph record rack in search of music to occupy his thoughts for a time. A total, temporary escape from consciousness exceeding even sleep, he mused, would be desirable. It was much too early to go to bed. He thumbed through his collection, stopping at several jacketed discs, visualizing behind his ears the sounds within each before moving on,. Near the end he came to Handel’s Messiah. He could not remember when he had last listened to it. Searching no further, he set the first side of the first record to play on his stereophonograph’s turntable.
It occurred to him that it was a little sad that he was alone on Christmas night. The music sounded different than could he remember it. It seemed very similar to something else, something he had read recently, but he could not remember what it had been. He was set afloat, feeling vague and less vague impressions from the past merging with vague and less vague immediate sensations. He had received no gifts, but then he had given none. It was always a little awkward for him to either give a present or receive one. His mind swirled to a far past Christmas, when he, still a child, had feasted with his family at a relative’s house and played lawn darts in the backyard with his cousins. The shadows and memories of Christmas past moved along in a slow unrelated though related fashion like a textbook chronicalization of history. He was able, most strangely he thought, to objectively observe the emotions each memory brought forth, feeling himself capable of feeling yet unfeeling, hidden, protected, still unprotected.
…and cry unto
her, that her warfare is accomplished, that
her iniquity is pardoned.
Through the music he could hear a knock at the door. Answering it, he found his caller to be Lawrence, a fellow employee. Their friendship was the closest social contact Gilbert had developed for some time, though this was not extremely close and they only rarely saw each other at times or places not directly related to their jobs. “Come on in,” Gilbert said. “Good to see you.” Lawrence stepped into the entranceway. “Take off your coat.”
“What’s that from?” Lawrence asked, indicating one of the speakers.
“Messiah. Handel. Proper listening for this evening, wouldn’t you say?”
“Would you like some tea? I’d offer you something stronger but I have nothing.”
“Tea would be fine.”
“Have you had Ceylon Breakfast?”
“I don’t believe so.”
The two walked into the kitchen. Gilbert went to the stove and there began the preparation of the tea. “I thought maybe, if there’s nothing else you’re doing, you’d like to come with me tonight,” Lawrence said.
“Where’s that?” Gilbert said, over his shoulder.
“Becky’s having a party at her house. I thought I’d stop by there.”
“I haven’t been to a party for three or four years.” Gilbert turned from the stove and sat at the table opposite Lawrence. “I really wasn’t going to be doing much of anything tonight.”
The tea was ready soon after that. Gilbert poured it into two coffee mugs. Both men sat across from each other, lightly discussing current events receiving much media attention that week. Gilbert sipped his tea while Lawrence made a statement about the need for more congressional control of certain executive functions. Gilbert felt uneasy drinking the tea, this being his second cup that day. He no longer drank it in the quantities he had at one time. He associated it with its caffeine content and this conjured concern over the possible damage it was doing to his kidneys. Caffeine impaired the bodies waste filtering process in some way, he remembered reading. He tried to drink it only on special occasions and even then he felt as if he were poisoning himself. “It does seem that the president has his fingers in a few too many pies, yeah,” he replied. “A little too much responsibility for one man.”
Presently they had finished their tea. “What time was this at Becky’s to start?”
“Maybe I should change my clothes. I don’t think I’m too presentable like this.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Lawrence said. “You’re fine.”
“Hmmmm,” Gilbert had wanted to hear the whole record; the first side had him anticipating the rest. “O.K.,” he said. “Let me change my shoes.”
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Becky looked very sexuous when she answered the door, the music loud, almost blaring behind her. She let them in and took their coats. When she returned she mentioned that no others from work had yet arrived and that it was pleasant to see Gilbert, she had thought he would not come. All three then went to a table in a far corner of the room where Becky pressed a small glass of punch from a punch bowl on the table into Gilbert’s hand after he refused her offers of several mixed drinks. When she left for the kitchen, Gilbert followed Lawrence to a row of chairs against the far wall.
Gilbert felt somewhat out of place sitting in the chair. There were several people in the room, none of whom he knew. He drank from the glass in his hand. The punch had a sweet, almost pleasant flavor but there had been some brandy added to it and he could taste the alcohol. With a slight amount of difficulty, he swallowed. Lawrence had begun a conversation with two young women sitting in the chairs to his left. Gilbert listened to what was being said, peering around Lawrence’s shoulder to make himself visible to the two women. Both were quite attractive. Lawrence mentioned something about eyes, how it sometimes made a person uncomfortable if you looked them, stared at them, straight in the eyes. The woman sitting closest, next to Lawrence said, yes, that was true, she had noticed that herself. That was most likely to happen, she added, if you were not familiar with the person doing the staring. The other young woman stood and walked across the room as her friend finished speaking. “What’s your name?” Lawrence asked.
“Deborah,” the woman replied. “What’s yours? And Yours?”
“I’m Lawrence. This is Gilbert. We work with Becky. You’re one of her friends?”
“I went to school with her sister.” Lawrence and Deborah continued their discussion, moving from the subject of visual confrontation to their own reactions to other various idiosyncrasies of people they encountered. Gilbert envied Lawrence for the ease with which he was able to engage others. Deborah, he observed, was able to articulate herself very well; at the same time she seemed not garrulous.
After sometime in the chair, doing nothing other than listening to the nearby talk, Gilbert’s uncomfort increased. He was pointedly conscious of how he must look sitting straight up in the chair as he was, his legs bent at right angles, his hands awkwardly holding the glass, its outside moist and now warm in his hands, alone, in a room full of people. Just then, Becky enlisted Lawrence to help in bringing some ice into the kitchen. He left, leaving the chair between Gilbert and Deborah, except for Lawrence’s drink, vacant. Gilbert looked across at the woman, now alone. Apparently she was not too familiar with any of the others, either. She had very blue eyes. She looked something like what his wife had, Gilbert thought, when they had first been married. She looked that young. “Do you attend functions such as this often?” he blurted, surprised first at his boldness and then horrified at his unintended stiltedness.
“Pardon?” she said. Gilbert saw and felt the involuntary trembling in the whole of his right leg. Perhaps she had not heard him above the music, he thought.
“Do you come to parties like this often?”
“I’ve been away for a year. I’ve just come back, but before that I was quite,” she paused, tilting her head, “social.”
“You were gone, then? Where did you go?”
“Ah,” his eyes showed a sparkling. “Did you go to Nantucket?”
“Oh, a few times. I was living in Barnstable,” she looked straight into his eyes and bit lightly at her bottom lip for only a second. At this, Gilbert lifted Lawrence’s drink from the chair between them and placed it down on his own, seating himself beside her.
“What was Nantucket like?”
“You’re from there?”
“No. No, this is kind of a coincidence. I’m reading Moby Dick. Have you read it?”
“No,” she said. “I knew about the whole island being a port for whaling ships, though. Who wrote that? Herman Melville?”
“It’s different. It’s not too densely populated, except in the summer. A lot of small resort towns.”
“Did you like Barnstable?” It was very easy and enjoyable talking to her, Gilbert thought. There was a knock at the door.
“Yes,” she said. “I didn’t know too many people there. It was nice. The East Coast is so much different from the West Coast. You have to see it to know it.”
The several people who had arrived when Gilbert was speaking completed their entrance as Deborah finished her reply, whereupon she abruptly stood and moved toward one of the entrants, warmly greeting him with open arms before moving on to a woman standing to his side, whom Gilbert took to be his wife, greeting her in a similar fashion and expressing surprise over her pregnancy. It was clear to Gilbert that these were friends Deborah had not seen since before she left. They seated themselves in the chairs further toward the corner of the room, embarking on a fast moving conversation. Gilbert felt a hollowness and then a sudden chill. It was the air from the outside coming into the room from when the door had been opened, he was sure. He took a sip from the glass before standing up and walking toward the kitchen.
There were more people in the kitchen than he thought there would be, none of whom he even vaguely recognized. One fellow caught his attention, though Gilbert was not sure why, perhaps it was because he was so tall. He was standing next to the stove, a frosted glass in his hand, conversing with a very attractive dark haired woman. Muscular, he was dressed in well-tailored, fashionably mod clothes. The neat, conservative style of his hairs’ cutting complemented his trim, handsome features. Gilbert watched him from across the room, paying close attention to the way in which he seemed to be keying on the facial expressions of the woman with whom he was conversing, testing her reaction to determine the content and breadth of his next statement. Becky broke Gilbert’s concentration when she touched his arm from behind him, saying, “You haven’t met my sister, have you?” Gilbert replied that no, he had not and she introduced him to the same brunette the young man Gilbert had been observing had been talking with. She smiled, politely mentioning her pleasure at meeting Gilbert before returning to her conversation.
Gilbert looked at the bottles standing on the counter, listening to the collage of sound about him. He set his more than half full glass of punch down into the sink. Looking about the kitchen and into the other room he saw that nearly everyone had a glass in his hand or one sitting near him. Thinking of the punch he had just drunk he thought then he could feel the alcohol lying on his stomach. He quickly convinced himself that he had not drunk enough for it to have had any such effect, that he was imagining the sensation. The kitchen gave him a feeling of confinement. He exited to the living room.
While he had been in the kitchen, two of his coworkers, Verlene and Kathy, both secretaries, had arrived with their husbands. They greeted him as did he them and was introduced to their mates. Gilbert had known Kathy’s spouse from a long time before but he could not remember from where. Mike recognized Gilbert, also. A discussion ensued and it was discovered that the two had been classmates in college not quite ten years before. Verlene’s husband was quite handsome, more so than Gilbert would have suspected. The five of them clustered together, near the front door. It was difficult for Gilbert; the four seemed somewhat reserved. He had thought upon first seeing them that he would be able to easily converse with them, here an opportunity to communicate on a meaningful level. As it was, the others felt almost as out of place as did he and were not too talkative. This increased Gilbert’s discomfiture all the more. He could think of no way to initiate his intended loquation and it felt somehow inappropriate him doing nothing, standing where he was only because these were the only people he knew.
He leaned against the wall next to the door and closed his eyes. Like this for some time, he opened them when he heard people approaching him. The couple Deborah had so warmly greeted on their arrival were coming toward him. For a short time he was embarrassed; perhaps they had seen him with his eyes closed. He stepped to the side. They were leaving early. The party had really only just begun. As they were going out they bade goodbye to several people at once, while another two people from work arrived amid some others. Once the door had been closed, Gilbert turned and saw that the man he had been watching in the kitchen was now seated next to Deborah, talking to her, gesticulating with his drink free right hand.
Lawrence was sitting on the couch talking with Ray and Laura, the two of his fellow workers who had just arrived. Neither of them had noticed Gilbert when they first came in, partially hidden as he was behind the door. They both looked up to see him when Lawrence pointed at him looking at them and Gilbert waved. When he looked at them again, both men were laughing at something Laura had said while she maintained a straight face, explaining that she was serious. Someone turned the volume on the music up. Gilbert wanted to join Lawrence and the others, but Verlene and Kathy were by then talking, although he could barely hear them above the din, and he felt he was, by virtue of the length of time he had been in their immediate presence, informally involved in their conversation and that it would be rude to walk away. Verlene’s right hand lay on the table while she spoke and on her ring finger was a ring with a large stone. Gilbert noticed that while she spoke she moved her hand in a slight up-and-down motion, bending her fingers. As they were underneath a very bright light and the music was playing very loudly, the reflection off the ring, the full sensual sound of the music merging with Verlene’s words, not words as such because he could not hear her clearly and had lost interest in whatever she was saying, but actually just fragmented sounds, all combined to have a slight hypnotic affect on Gilbert. It was a queer, almost pleasant feeling and he realized while it was happening, what was happening.
“And how are you on this cold Christmas night?” Gilbert asked Ray when he had come away from the others. He sat down next to him on the couch.
“Couldn’t be better,” Ray responded and took a long drink from the glass in his hand. “How ‘bout yourself?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’m a little stunned. This is my first party in years. What are you drinking?”
“Margarita. Want one?” He lifted a bottle from inside his blazer. “Ready made. Everything but the salt.”
“No,” Gilbert lifted his hand, smiled. “That’s alright. “I really don’t enjoy what it does to me.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Keeps my insides sterile.”
Gilbert looked across to Lawrence, talking with one of Laura’s friends. He scanned the room, paused his gaze at Deborah. Still sitting next to her was the man Gilbert had been so conscious of in the kitchen. She was smiling in response to something he had just said. She looked around the room then; Gilbert was sure she caught a glimpse of him eyeing her when her glance went past him. He wished he might shrink and fade then. He felt for that one second as if he were being compared to her companion and that he was the worse for the comparison. All those traits the other displayed so well, Gilbert reasoned, were nothing lasting, no more than superficialities. Still, he felt deficient somehow and he was certain it was visible.
Ray had stood and he was walking across the room. Gilbert caught Laura’s attention. They did not know each other well. He inquired how she was, thinking when he asked that he did not truly care how she was. She replied and then introduced her two friends. They each said something about themselves while Gilbert looked at each one closely. One of them, Barbara was what he thought her name was, he had not listened when Laura told him their names, seemed very nice. The other reminded him of Laura. It would be perfect for the time if he could only elicit their attention and talk with them. He tried to think of something to say but could not. He made a few half-hearted attempts to lead Barbara into talking about herself but she seemed suddenly very uninterested. Again he tried to engage Laura but she gave no reaction to what he said, other than smiling at him, then talking to her other friend. Why could he communicate with no one? His presence there was serving no purpose. Looking around, he saw no one at all interested in himself. He was shocked at his own egocentricity but could not help or deny it. Deborah had communicated with him. Why could not the others be like her? He looked toward her. Her head was very close to the young man’s. Gilbert looked away, chiding himself for being so foolish as to care.
It would be best to leave. He looked for Lawrence, finally spotting him near the entrance to the kitchen, talking to Becky’s sister. It would be wrong to ask him to leave. He walked to where Kathy and Verlene were again.
“That would be so nice,” Kathy said. “Maybe next week.” Gilbert stood amongst them in their quietness, while the sound continued everywhere about them. A loud report of voices came from the kitchen followed by laughter. The secretaries, their husbands and Gilbert all looked in the direction of the kitchen when this happened and then rechanneled their attentions back to the front room, none of them speaking in the process. Dan, Verlene’s husband, took a long draught from his glass. His wife said, not so much, she didn’t want to drive. Gilbert looked at both husbands. Each appeared very bored. The only difference between them and me, Gilbert thought, is that they’re with someone. Standing there, no one speaking to him, he speaking to no one, the look of blank boredom on the faces of those nearest him, and knowing there to be noting he could do to change the situation declared him more loudly than could he stand to hear very much alone and he felt self-consciously awkward, though he knew no one was paying any attention to him.
It would all pass, he told himself. He listened to the music. The system that was reproducing the sound was excellent, he decided. The sound being reproduced, though, did not please him at all. He would not even categorize it as music; its chaotic content seemed unresolvable, non-expressive of anything other than the chaos it conveyed, its rhythm too simple and unchanging, functioning only to perpetuate itself and provide an unimpressive, trite backdrop for the chaos. He would have to listen to Messiah when he got home.
Deborath looked a little drunk when he looked at her. Her companion seemed to be supporting her with his arm. She looked at Gilbert; he thought maybe she smiled. He acted as if he had not been looking at her. He must be blushing; his neck and face felt warm. Why could these people not talk to him, why not he to them? Why had they come? Most looked happy enough; they seemed to thrive in this atmosphere. Disgusted, saying nothing, he went into the kitchen.
There were no females in the kitchen when Gilbert entered it for the second time that evening and all except himself were at least partially intoxicated. Here there was no one he knew and he no longer felt quite so self-conscious. He seated himself at the dining table that had been pushed to the corner of the room to make maximum use of the limited floor space. Already at the table was a lengthy haired young man, drinking from a tall beer can, talking with another young man, bearded, sitting upon the counter to the side of the stove. Those present in the room appeared to be interested, to a greater or lesser degree, in this conversation.
“I remember, I remember every morning that week I’d wake up with a hangover so bad and I’d lay around in that sleeping bag until about eleven or twelve,” the first man said.
“It probably wasn’t the liquor so much. Layin’ in the mornin’ sun like you was can give you a bad headache,” the bearded man said.
“We’d wake up, start drinkin’ beer and by two o’clock my headache’d go away.”
“Never drank beer at night, though.”
“Yeah, always that Scotch from that case Dewey got from his old man,” the man at the table said, and took a long swallow from his beer. “Yeah, two or three bottles a night.”
“Remember that hot butterscotch Dewey decided we’s gonna have? Melted a pound of butter and added a bottle of Scotch to it. ‘S a waste.”
“Me and Dewey got r asses stomped for that. Left you at the boat, drove to all those little stores lookin’ for some butter. Dewey said margarine wouldn’t do, had to be butter. Ended up drivin’ fifty miles ‘fore we found any in that little reservation town. Got the butter and we thought we’d go into a bar, get a drink ‘fore we drove back. Walked in and them Injuns kicked the fuck out a Dewey. Didn’t rough me up to bad. I got knocked down, didn’t get back up.”
“Yeah, you guys came back, Dewey had two black eyes, cuts all over his face, bruises on his neck. You’d been gone three hours. I was laughin’”
As he said this, the man on the counter reached into his shirt pocked and retrieved a pack of cigarettes.
“I knew if I’d a punched that Injun back, all twenty of ‘em would a been on me. Gimme a cigarette, Jeff,” the man at the table said and then licked his lips. Jeff put a first cigarette into his mouth and then threw a second across in the direction of the table, where his friend bobbed his head to catch it in his mouth. Nonchalantly, he lit it, though it was damp half its length with saliva. Both men smoked without talking for a time.
“Dewey was throwin’ up that whole night and the next mornin’, heavin’ his guts,” the man at the table said as he was finishing his cigarette. “I never did even taste that butterscotch.” He looked across at Gilbert after he finished speaking.
“Are you friends of Becky’s?” Gilbert asked, directing his question at both men.
“Who’s Becky?” asked the man at the table.
“We were just passin’ by,” Jeff said. “Thought we’d stop in. We were celebratin’ Christmas with my parents; they live up the street.”
Gilbert nodded his head in understanding. He looked around the room He was five to ten years older than most of the people there, he thought. His eyes closed. Without thinking about it he rubbed the roof of his mouth with his tongue lightly. Bildad, he thought. His situation flashed in his mind; he thought of himself in the chair, the people around him, how he would be back at work in three days. There were cars on the freeway, planes in the sky and in his house everything was as it had been when he left it, as it would be when he returned. He saw the totality of all present civilization built on the paths and roads and buildings and ideas and books and music and words and wars and riches and faults and ruins of past civilizations, the reasons, complexities and magnitude of which no one, least of all himself, understood and which everyone therefore ignored. A feeling of insignificance deeper than his normal burden of it washed over him. His job came to his mind’s focus and he saw it as nothing more than servitude, a waste of what little valuable talent he had. He was held motionless, restricted by more locks than could he count, each strategically locked and located to disallow the movement required for the unlocking of another lock that would allow the unlocking of yet another that would allow the unlocking of still another.
His eyes opened. The faces coming directly into focus reflected neither awareness nor concern for what had been occupying him. He wanted to express to them what he felt, thought; he wanted to hear their reactions; he wanted evidence that what he felt was real, to hear similar sincere expression, to hear of fear, of inadequacy, that others were affected was he, that he was really no different and was not at fault. But he said nothing and closed his eyes once more. Again, the sounds about his head swirled and for a time he listened to them, not assembling the meanings to the words but listening to them as sounds, as if they were a foreign language.
The slight familiarity of the voice made him open his eyes. Talking to a man about Gilbert’s age Gilbert could not recall seeing before, near the kitchen/living room archway, was the tall young man, Deborah’s companion. In his left hand he held a tall glass After exchanging a few lines, concluding with laughter from both men, the older man stepped aside allowing the younger further passage. “Excuse me,” he said upon reaching the counter. Two men moved aside, giving him access to the bottle between the stove and the sink. He dropped a handful of ice cubes from a bowl into the glass, pouring a quantity from a gin bottle over the ice.
“Is there any of that lemon tonic left?” he asked, addressing no one in particular.
“I think they put it in here,” Jeff said, hoping down from the counter and walking toward the refrigerator. He found it on the inside of the refrigerator door and brought it over to the man who had requested it. After he filled the glass, the tall, young man handed the bottle back to Jeff, thanking him.
“It’s not mine,” Jeff replied, walking with it back to the refrigerator. When he came back to seat himself again on the counter, next to the stove, the other young man finished stirring his drink and took a small swallow from it.
“Can’t even taste the gin,” he said.
“Best way to make ‘em,” Jeff said.
“You should be careful,” the man seated at the table opposite Gilbert, Jeff’s friend , said. “You can get really wasted on that without knowing it before it happens.” To this the glass holding tall young man smiled but did not answer, walking out of the kitchen into the living room. Gilbert watched him until he was around the wall and wholly out of his sight, staring at the back of the young man’s head, positioned, it seemed, almost mockingly above the form of his body.
Even if he was never to see that person again, Gilbert told himself, he should go into the living room and attempt to make an acquaintance. Still, he knew he could more easily his own disenchantment with his inaction accept than the disconcertion he anticipated any such effort would result in and he remained seated where he was. He tilted his head back and looked to the ceiling. With nothing to outwardly sustain his interest he again closed his eyes, beginning a relaxed analysis of his situation. Simply, it had been a mistake coming. Social gatherings of this type had always been for him intractable. He recalled the cocktail parties his wife would induce him into accompanying her to. Those had been slightly more tolerable than this, centering less on consumption and more on conversation; still, they had seemed somewhat pretentious and he was never able to enjoy himself. When he had been in college there would be gatherings in a dorm hall on Friday or Saturday nights and he had gotten into those, but that had been different as then he and the people had been different. He had found the open exchange of ideas among so may diversely disciplined and lucid minds wholly worthwhile and could still remember individual sentences and even whole passages from many of the conversations, at least eight years past. Listening intently then to pieces of conversation he could catch, he sensed the humor in his situation. Upon opening his eyes to see the kitchen contents and occupants positioned as before, he could feel the muscles of his face pulling toward a smile, this almost involuntary for he knew his amusement came at his own expense.
He stood up, not considering a reason fro doing so until he had waled to the archway. Realizing then he should not have left the table, but reluctant to go back, he scanned the living room, noting there to be more people than hd been present earlier. Kathy, Verlene and their husbands had left. He made his way into the living room, stepping slowly and with care to avoid brushing against anyone. Lawrence he saw speaking with a young woman with brown hair. His attention caught on a picture he hand not noticed before, hanging on the wall in the hallway leading to the bedrooms. He stepped closer to it, first scanning it, then giving close examination to the detail in the lower left that at his first glance he had not noticed at all.
Turning around, Gilbert was caught totally unprepared in what he saw. Lengthwise on the small couch in the near corner, Deborah lay on her back with her companion, the tall young man, atop her. Her legs were wrapped tightly about his, her hands and fingers sensuously tracing up and down the polyester clinging to his back. Her face, its puffiness and flushed hue enveloping the unfocusing glossiness of her eyes, attested her arrant intoxication. Gilbert immediately shifted his line of sight to the far wall, stating back to the kitchen. As he stepped then into the kitchen, everyone looked up at him and then away. He stopped. His chair was occupied. He looked out into the living room and across to the couch in the corner. Everyone seemed indifferent to what had been for him so unsettling. There was an empty chair along the wall near where he had sat before when he and Lawrence had been talking with Deborah. He started for it but before he reached it he stopped again, standing roughly in the center of the room. Visualizing himself seated there, staring about, speaking wit no one as he had been before, her turned to return to the kitchen, hesitating and then turning once more when he spotted the front door, opened slightly to cool the room.
It was cold, so cold that Gilbert thought of going back into the house for this coat. He continued walking though, to the sidewalk and then south, down the street. As he passed the houses, he sensed the warmness within each one, looked at the faint light passing through many of the windows. He felt much more at ease outside, despite the cold, and tried to dismiss all thought of having to return. He did not think that anyone had noticed his leaving. Several houses down he stopped and sat down on the curb, a large hedge behind him. Rays of color refracted up from various places in the street under what little light there was, and he then thought of the years o glass being ground into the pavement. He heard sound and saw more light, then looked up to see into the garage directly across from him, into which tow boys had entered from a door leading out from the attached house. They set about opening down the folding ping pong table their parents had gotten them for Christmas. Gilbert watched as they began paddling the ball back and forth, again and again. On occasion, the ball would go off the table, only to be quickly retrieved and set into play again. From his angle of view it looked sometimes as if the bass was not to land on the table where actually it would and he wondered if he had the coordination to restrict the ball’s travel as did those he watched. They rallied for what seemed to him an incredible length of time, whereupon the ball went off the table and bounded out of the garage and into some bushes to the left side of the driveway. Neither of the children saw Gilbert as he watched them looking for the ball in some further buses where he knew it did not lie and he did nothing to alter their ignorance.
December 1975/January 1976