Ex-Adelanto City Manager/City Clerk Files Claim Over Her Cashiering

ADELANTO-Rich Kerr, Adelanto’s lame duck mayor who dominated politics in this 35,000 population city for the last four years, has an illicit drug use problem that renders him at times non compos mentis, according to Cindy Herrera, Adlelanto’s former city clerk and city manager.
Herrera, who was employed with the city for 31 years and six months before she was abruptly terminated in August, made that disclosure in a claim dated November 5 she filed with the city
In that claim for damages, Herrera asserts that Kerr and council members John Woodard and Joy Jeanette, together with former City Attorney Ruben Duran and current City Manager Jessie Flores were civilly responsible for what had transpired “in their official and individual capacities” and that they “did so … as agents and co-conspirators.”
Herrera’s claim notes that Flores was hired as the city’s economic development consultant on or about January 3, 2017 and that “In reality, Mr. Flores was Mayor Richard Kerr’s agent and clandestine assistant. Mr. Flores had absolutely no qualifications to hold that job. The only qualification Mr. Flores had was that he was once the driver for disgraced former First District Supervisor Bill Postmus. However, Mayor Richard Kerr wanted him in that position to ultimately replace claimant [i.e., Herrera] as the city manager, as Mr. Flores is a younger male and would do anything for him, including break the law and city charter. From the beginning, Mr. Flores made it clear that he did not think much of what claimant had done over the past 1-1/2 years as the city manager. On January 19, 2017, a notice of discontinuation of economic development services letter was hand-delivered to Mr. Flores to terminate his services. The reason for Mr. Flores’ termination as a consultant for the city was due to Mr. Flores’ questionable dealings within the community. At the time, the City of Adelanto was receiving many individual public records requests including one from a law firm asking about Mr. Flores’ background. There were newspaper articles regarding Mr. Flores’ misconduct in his dealings within the community and his questionable past. In addition, claimant found Mr. Flores to be insubordinate in overstepping his role as an economic development consultant. On one occasion, he personally contacted an employee who was terminated by the city to tell the person the termination was a mistake and ordered that person back to work. As an economic development consultant, Mr. Flores had absolutely no authority to engage in any hiring decisions since he was merely a contract employee. He also continually gave instructions directly to city staff, despite being ordered by claimant, as city manager, to stop from giving such instructions. Mr. Flores’ termination by claimant infuriated Kerr and Flores. This immediately created a hostile work environment for claimant [who] now was in fear for her career. Additionally, on numerous occasions Kerr and then-Mayor Pro Tem Jermaine Wright ordered claimant to terminate certain employees within the city who were not allied with Kerr or Flores. When claimant refused to terminate these employees because she knew the actions to be in violation of the city charter and illegal as there was no basis for such action, Kerr and Flores became enraged and threatened claimant with her own termination.”
According to the claim, “Although Mr. Flores was not a contract employee from January 20, 2017 to April 26, 2017, he still attended meetings and made negotiations with Mayor Richard Kerr on the city’s behalf without the consent or approval of the city council. Mr. Flores took a trip to Dubai ultimately paid for by the city, purportedly on behalf of the city, under the ridiculous guise of promoting business to the City of Adelanto, at or around the time the FBI arrested then-Mayor Pro Tem Jermaine Wright on corruption and attempted arson charges in or about November 2017. Claimant reported this inappropriate conduct/illegal gift of public funds to her superiors and nothing was done about it.”
The claim alleges that “On or about May 2018, claimant reported to Mr. Duran and others within the city that the mayor came into her office to have a personal document notarized. She noticed he was acting and talking irrationally and that it appeared he was under the influence of drugs. Claimant reported this to Mr. Duran and others within the city. She also reported that the Mayor failed to report campaign funds and that he borrowed $30,000.00 from the public works manager, Don Wappler, and never repaid it or reported it. In fact, claimant also told Mr. Wappler about her meeting with the mayor and that she believed the mayor was under the influence of drugs. Mr. Wappler told claimant he knew the mayor was using methamphetamine and where the mayor was buying it from. None of these concerns were ever investigated or looked into by Mr. Duran or anyone from the city. Mr. Duran instead told the mayor and Mr. Flores about claimant’s complaints. Mr. Duran knew that claimant would be retaliated against. In retaliation, Mayor Kerr and Flores had their groupies and friends attack claimant personally at public meetings. Mayor Kerr had previously told claimant that this was the tactic he used against his enemies. Claimant reported this to Mr. Duran and her superiors, and nothing was done about it.”
The claim further maintains that “Mayor Kerr and Mr. Flores repeatedly directed city staff to waive fees for city services to people they favored and friends. Kerr and Flores also directed city staff such as code enforcement personnel to ‘stand down’ and not enforce violations of city ordinances against marijuana cultivators they favored and had personal dealings with. Claimant repeatedly told Kerr and Flores they were abusing their positions and making a gift of public funds without any authority to do so. Claimant reported this to her superiors and Mr. Duran, but nothing was done about it. Every time claimant reported these incidents she was subjected to harassment by being belittled and disrespected. She was given illegal directives by Kerr and Flores who wanted things done that would require approval by the entire city council. Claimant was humiliated, and her authority was bypassed and undermined.”
According to the claim, “Mayor Kerr and Flores repeatedly directed the contracted planning staff to put items on the planning commission agenda. Also, Flores and Kerr conducted serial meetings with the rest of the council in violation of the Brown Act. This was also done by Mr. Flores as a contracted economic development consultant.”
The Ralph M. Brown Act is California’s open public meeting law which requires that all decisions by a public board such as a city council be made either in public during a meeting at which the public can be in attendance and which has been advertised in advance or, with specific exemptions for action relating to litigation, personnel issues and negotiations relating to real estate transactions, in a pre-noticed closed session after which any action taken is publicly disclosed. The Brown Act prohibits a quorum of any such panel discussing any item to be voted upon or coming to a conclusion regarding such issues in anything other than a public forum.
The claim states that “Special privileges were given to certain developers and vendors by directing staff to prepare reports or gather certain information for the developer/vendor requests in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act and open meeting laws. Claimant notified Mayor Kerr and Mr. Flores of the illegality of the conduct, but nothing happened. Again, when claimant reported these incidents she was subjected to harassment, illegal directives by Kerr and Flores, humiliated, and her authority was bypassed and undermined. Flores would go to her staff directly to give them directives. In further efforts to harass and retaliate against claimant for reporting illegal activities, Mayor Kerr had a secretary, Rachel Suraci, file a sham and untruthful workplace harassment charge against claimant. This was purposefully released and published in the newspaper several times. The city hired an investigator who found no merit to any of the allegations Ms. Suraci claimed.”
According to the claim, “Mayor Kerr acted as if the city was a strong-mayor form of government as opposed to a city manager-run city as provided by the city charter. Claimant reported this to her superiors and Mr. Duran. Nothing was done about it. Mayor Richard Kerr consistently asked claimant to fire certain individuals because of how he and Flores felt at the time. The city charter prohibits any one council member from directing staff to be fired. The order/direction must be implemented only by the city manager. In addition, Mayor Richard Kerr asked claimant to reinstate Mr. Flores repeatedly and threatened claimant with putting her performance evaluation on for closed session and threatened her with her own job if she did not. Mayor Kerr also ignored claimant’s instructions as a filing officer for the city to file a 410 form to get a committee ID number from the California Secretary of State for his fundraiser he had in April 2018, for which he failed to report campaign contributions. Claimant reported this to her superiors and Mr. Duran, and nothing was done about it.”
The claim implicates Flores directly in Herrera’s firing, stating, “On or about July 27, 2018, Mr. Flores was appointed as interim city manager. He stated to a newspaper reporter that evening that one of his top priorities would be reviewing ‘bloated’ salaries within administrative services, an obvious reference to getting rid of claimant and to retaliate against her for not concealing his conduct. This statement was at odds with the city council, which was publicly claiming there was a balanced budget. A newspaper article was published on July 31, 2018 mentioning the contentious history between Mr. Flores and claimant. In early August 2018, claimant was present at a meeting with Mr. Duran and Mr. Flores. The topic of this meeting was an allegation of harassment by an employee named Diana Lopez. Ms. Lopez reported to claimant and, in turn, claimant reported to Mr. Duran to investigate an allegation about an incident in which Ms. Lopez, Mr. Flores, Mr. Charles Rangel (the city’s contracted planning director) and two female employees from the engineer/planning department went to a marijuana cultivation facility for an unknown reason. While at the facility, they all received free marijuana edibles. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Lopez was injured at work and sent to the city doctor for evaluation and treatment. As a matter of course, Ms. Lopez was given a drug test and tested positive for marijuana. Ms. Lopez felt she was being harassed by Mr. Flores and Mr. Rangel because she had to take a drug test. She was also afraid of retaliation by them for telling people the identity of everyone that attended the event. Claimant reported the matter to the city attorney, Mr. Duran. When Mr. Flores found out that claimant reported the matter to Mr. Duran and not him, he was enraged and told claimant she should not have bypassed him and should not have reported the incident to the city attorney.”
The claim relates that “In mid-August 2018, claimant reported to the city attorney, Mr. Duran, her fears of retaliation for whistleblowing when claimant reported the non-qualifying nomination papers of then-city council candidate and now council member John Woodard. At the time, claimant reported to Mr. Duran that Mr. Woodard’s paperwork lacked sufficient valid signatures to place him on the ballot. This enraged the mayor and Mr. Flores who wanted Mr. Woodward to be elected to become part of the mayor’s majority voting block to allow marijuana companies to operate within the city limits virtually unchecked and to be able to buy city-owned property well-below the current market price. Claimant had asked Mr. Duran for confidentiality of the matters discussed. However, Mr. Duran ignored claimant’s request, saying that Mr. Flores was the interim city manager, therefore he should be made aware of claimant’s reporting. Mr. Duran questioned claimant’s mistrust of Mr. Flores, even though he was aware of the ongoing illegal activities of the two and the contentious history among Mr. Flores, Mayor Kerr and claimant regarding the mayor’s illegal activities. Mr. Duran nevertheless reported claimant’s allegations to the mayor and Mr. Flores, knowing that they would retaliate against claimant.”
According to the claim, “On August 20, 2018 at approximately 5:00 p.m., Mr. Flores ordered claimant to go to the conference room to meet with the city’s newly hired part-time HR [human resources] supervisor, Geriann Kingslan, who had started working for the city that very day. Without any sensitivity, cause, or concern for claimant’s tenured position, Mr. Flores, with only the approval of the mayor and not the rest of the council, had Ms. Kingslan hand deliver to claimant a termination of at-will employment notice, effective immediately upon receipt.”
The claim maintains that Herrera was “retaliated against by being wrongfully terminated from her job after she reported to her superiors/supervisors and the city attorney all of the above-described incidents, in violation of Labor Code Section 1102.5. [C]laimant was terminated without notice, a hearing, or good cause and she was deprived of due process of law. Claimant was wrongfully terminated in violation of public policy when she refused to participate in illegal activities.”
The claim does not quantify what Herrera’s damages are beyond stating “the amount of compensatory and other damages exceeds $10,000 and will lie within the unlimited jurisdiction of the Superior Court.”
City officials had not responded to a request for a response to the substance of the claim by press time.
One day after the date of Herrera’s suit, both Woodard and Kerr were bounced from their respective perches on the Adelanto City Council when voters elected in their steads, Gabriel Reyes as mayor and Gerardo Hernandez and Stevevonna Evans to the city council.
Mark Gutglueck

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