New SB Council Coalition Fails In Effort To Axe City Manager

In what came as a jolt to much of the San Bernardino community, the newly composed city council on the night of its installation this week spared no time in making a move toward relieving the 215,000-population municipality of its city manager. Ultimately, that action was not effectuated. Nevertheless, the rapidity with which the ruling body, headed by a new mayor and comprised of two new council members, sought to leverage its authority signaled that the dynamics of governance in the county seat, which has undergone significant turmoil in the last decade, is yet in a state of flux.
This year, three of the city’s four council positions and the mayoralty were contested in the June and November elections. 2018 marked the first time an election under the rules laid out in the city’s redrafted municipal charter, which was approved by voters in 2016 to replace the old San Bernardino Charter that had been put into place in 1905. This year also marked the first time that the city held its normally-scheduled municipal elections in an even-numbered year.
The incumbent councilwoman in the city’s First Ward, Virginia Marquez, did not seek reelection this year. In the city’s Second Ward, Councilman Benito Barrios was shut out from any hope of remaining on the council when he finished third in the polling in the June primary election, which set up a run-off between Cecelia Miranda-Dolan and Sandra Ibarra. Ibarra, a community activist and energetic volunteer with regard to neighborhood and citywide programs, prevailed in November. In the Second District, Gil Botello and Theodore Sanchez finished first and second, respectively, in June and then faced off in November. Sanchez, whose cousin was Third District Councilman John Valdivia, beat Botello in that contest, which followed a controversial campaign featuring Botello’s complaints that it was tainted by multiple slanderous and libelous misrepresentations about himself propounded by the Sanchez camp. In the Fourth Ward, incumbent Fred Shorett very nearly captured reelection outright in the June primary when he collected 49.73 percent of the vote, far outdistancing both of his opponents, Alexandra Beltran and Jesus Medina. Had Shorett received 13 more votes than the 2,035 that he did in that race, he would have won at that time and there would have been no run-off in November. In the November 6 contest, Shorett appeared to be safely ahead of Beltran after the ballots of all 38 of Ward Four’s precincts and the early mail-in ballots were counted on the morning of November 7. As the late arriving mail-in ballots and provisional votes were totaled over the remainder of November and into December, however, Beltran steadily gained ground. On the day prior to the finalization of the counting and the certification of the election countywide, Beltran had closed the gap to a seven vote difference. When the election was certified, Shorett had hung on to his council post, but barely, claiming a 50.05 percent endorsement of his constituents with 3,709 votes to Beltran’s 3,701, a margin of eight.
In the mayor’s race, the one-term incumbent, Carey Davis, was challenged by six hopefuls in June, including John Valdivia, the incumbent Third Ward councilman. Valdivia ran a strong first in that race, with Davis a strong second, leading to a November final. After the polls closed on November 6 and the registrar of voters began tallying the results, Davis led early in the evening as the initial returns from the first-arriving precincts and early mail-in votes came in. But as more and more of the city’s 178 precincts were heard from, Valdivia pulled ahead and never lost the lead over the next month as straggling mail-in and provisional ballots were counted. The final official count had Valdivia up 19,155 votes or 52.51 percent to Davis’s 17,327 or 47.49 percent.
Valdivia came into office in a slightly different capacity than had Davis, whose term was extended nearly a year because of the changes to the charter, some five years ago. The 1905 charter provided the mayor with fair-to-middling political authority, as the mayor did not normally have a vote among the council, being empowered to cast a vote only in the case of a tie. The mayor possessed veto power on votes of 4-to-3. The mayor also wielded the council gavel and presided over the council meetings, setting the tenor of and controlling the ebb-and-flow of debate. The mayor had authority to place action and discussion items on the council agenda at will. The 1905 charter also provided the mayor with substantial administrative and ministerial power, with the authority to both hire and fire city employees, as well as make decisions and give orders with regard to the operation and management of the city. In this way, under the previous charter, the mayor and city manager were essentially co-regents at City Hall.
The new charter leaves the mayor’s political assignment intact and virtually unchanged, with no power to vote except in rare circumstances such as the hiring of senior city staff and in the event of a tie. It leaves the position with veto power on 4-to-3 votes as well as control over meetings and placement of items onto the council agenda for action and discussion. The new charter, nonetheless, strips the mayor of the administrative and managerial authority formerly infused in the position.
Valdivia’s ascension to mayor also comes during a somewhat less feverish circumstance for the city and City Hall than was faced by Davis upon his assumption of office. Beginning before the economic downturn of 2007, the city was already beset with economic challenges that were manifesting during the tenure of then-City Manager Fred Wilson and it was yet reeling from the cascading financial impact from the closure of Norton Air Force Base in 1994. The lingering recession precipitated a full blown financial crisis in San Bernardino that led to the city filing for Chapter 9 Bankruptcy protection in 2012. In unrelated developments, three of its city officials, Councilman Jason Desjardins, Councilman Chas Kelley and Councilman Robert Jenkins were criminally charged and ultimately convicted. Desjardins and Kelley resigned and Jenkins was voted out of office. Once a full service city, the city shuttered its 136-year old fire department in 2015 and annexed the entirety of the city limits into a county fire service zone. The following year it dissolved its sanitation department and franchised out trash service to a trash hauler, Burrtec Industries.
The city’s current city manager, Andrea Travis-Miller, was serving with the city in the capacity of assistant city manager in the time prior to the bankruptcy filing. She was heavily involved in the city’s preparation of that filing, and was tapped to serve in the capacity of acting city manager when the city’s financial implosion resulted in the city’s then-city manager, Charles McNeeley, resigning. Travis-Miller gamely remained in place as the city initiated its efforts to develop a plan to structure its way out of bankruptcy. For a time, Travis-Miller soldiered on as acting city manager, but in 2013 left to become the executive director of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments. In March 2015, she accepted the position of city manager in Covina.
After she resigned as Covina city manager in May 2016, Travis-Miller made her way back to San Bernardino, where she was again installed as deputy city manager, working under then-city manager Allen Parker. She was in place when the city made its exit, after five years, from bankruptcy.
In early 2017, she was very nearly elevated to the city manager’s position when City Manager Mark Scott interviewed for the position of city manager in Reno, Nevada. Reno did not hire Scott, however, and Scott remained with San Bernardino until July 2017. Shortly thereafter, in August 2017, all seven members of the council, including Valdivia, and Mayor Davis, voted to hire Travis-Miller as city manager, providing her with a five-year contract.
This week, on Wednesday, Valdivia was sworn in as mayor and Sanchez and Ibarra took their council oaths as well. In her first major act as a councilwoman, Ibarra called for subjecting Travis-Miller to a performance review. The council complied and a rare Friday session of the council to do so was scheduled for this morning. Ibarra, who endorsed Valdivia in this year’s race, was herself endorsed in her race by Valdivia. At this early date, she is considered to be part of the coalition Valdivia is seeking to assemble that he hopes will provide him with control of the council. It is presumed that Sanchez is a member of that coalition. During the last year-and-a-half to two years of Davis’s tenure as mayor, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Bessine Richard had sided consistently with Valdivia as the differences between Valdivia and Davis became more and more pronounced. Going back to 2014, there has been an alliance between Valdivia and Fifth Ward Councilman Henry Nickel. Aligned with Davis had been Fourth Ward Councilman Fred Shorett and Seventh Ward Councilman Jim Mulvihill and the now-departed Councilwoman Virginia Marquez. With Valdivia’s elevation to the mayor’s position, the Third Ward council post is at present vacant. Valdivia is now militating to promote Juan Figueroa to replace him as the Third Ward councilman. If Figueroa indeed succeeds Valdivia and the mayor manages to shepherd him, Nickel, Richard, Sanchez and Ibarra in accordance with the direction he wants to take the city, Travis-Miller may not be long for San Bernardino.
The sentiment of Valdivia, Ibarra and Sanchez against Travis-Miller is clear. “We were voted in to make a change,” said Sanchez.
Nevertheless, the move to oust Travis-Miller manifesting this early was baffling to some, since her contract and the city charter prohibits the city manager’s removal either 60 days prior to or 60 days after a city council election unless there is a unanimous vote of the mayor and city council to do so. It is certain that at present neither Shorett nor Mulvihill will support her removal and question exists as to whether Nickel and Richard would sign on to her termination as well.
After the council convened this morning at 10 a.m., several members of the public weighed in on the issue.
One of those was Johnetta Davis, who questioned the wisdom of seeking the city manager’s removal at this point. She said that by his action so far, Valdivia’s “leadership is putting the city’s $39 million in reserve funds in jeopardy. What is the true motive to remove the city manager? Please reconsider the termination of the city manager and save our city from considerable damage.”
Denny Shorett, Councilman Fred Shorett’s brother, said he believed “We might be getting off the right track” by removing Travis-Miller.
Luis Ojeda said patience was in order. “Let’s try to see if we can work with what we have,” said Ojeda. “And if we deem that it’s not appropriate, its not working for the city or the residents, then we look for other options.”
Phil Savage offered his view that “City Manager Miller has been an essential part in helping us move from our old system of a strong mayor form of government to our present council/manager form of government. To have the continuity of a city manager who has been outstanding and the service she has provided to this city is, I believe, absolutely essential. Her expertise, her experience, her continuity and learning of this city is most important. I really strongly urge we move ahead with her as the city manager.”
Barbara Babcock said, “She does not deserve to be treated like this.”
Kerri Jenkins characterized Travis-Miller as “a wonderful hardworking woman who has worked under difficult circumstances to implement a new way of doing business in San Bernardino. Forty-eight hours in you new council members want to cut her off at the knees.” Speaking to Sanchez and Ibarra, Jenkins told them “You’re being roped into something you don’t quite understand.”
Robert Porter said he felt Travis-Miller was a poor fit for San Bernardino, that she was out of step with the new political order and that she needed to go. Speaking to her directly, Porter said, “If you can’t work with Mayor Valdivia, if you can’t work with Sandra Ibarra, maybe you should resign for the good of San Bernardino.”
Tim Prince said that the outcome of the recent election demonstrated that residents are “frustrated with the downward spiral of the city.” He said that city management should concern itself with “putting the people first, not politics, not alliances. The people have spoken clearly. They didn’t just replace the mayor. The voters clearly told us they wanted change. We should pay attention to the clear mandate. That doesn’t mean we should act hastily. It doesn’t mean we ever fail to put the city’s interest first. Andrea Miller has failed this city. Her record is abysmal.”
Prince said, “As a person who lives in this city when most attorneys move somewhere else, I can tell you the quality of life is worse than when she started. There’s no questioning that. However, make sure her firing is documented as a failure to perform. That will put you in the position, if she is not reasonable and she doesn’t take a modest severance, [to] negotiate with her. She doesn’t want to ruin her professional career. We don’t want to ruin her professional career. We just want to respect the voters.”
Later in the morning, the council went into a closed session, taking no reportable action. The council then reconvened the public hearing at 6 p.m. tonight.
Andrea Naisis told the council, “Andrea Miller is not for the public She is not for the people. She is here for herself and I don’t know who else.” She accused Travis-Miller of ignoring residents and their expressed concerns.
Kathi Rainbolt chided the council for contemplating Travis-Miller’s removal. “This city has a history of not being able to keep any of its city managers for any length of time, which shows surrounding cities our political instability and our negative message to anyone who wants to set up a business here, buy a home here, get a job or invest here,” Rainbolt said. “It is my opinion that some will view this tactic today as just another example of corruption and the reputation the city is known for.”
Rainbolt said Travis-Miller is “one of the hardest workhorse employees in the city.”
Harry Hatch said he did not approve of Travis-Miller’s outsourcing of city functions, but said she was a “fair person who has been there when we needed her.”
Mike Hartley said Travis-Miller displeasing residents who come to her to complain or offer input should not be held against her. “Andrea’s job is not customer service. I don’t want her to have a smile when I talk to her. I don’t want her to be cheerful. When I look at San Bernardino, it is a big mess and she’s got a big job. All I want is results, and if she gives me results, I like her. As far as I am concerned, I have gotten results from Andrea and her team.”
Robert Porter, who had spoken this morning, returned to address the council this evening. Porter noted that Travis-Miller had fired people she was not happy with and had the freedom to choose who would work for her. “Whenever she wanted the people who work under her, she got it. So I think the same thing should be given to the new council. If they choose to have the manager on here that they want, then they should get it. Why should they work with someone they don’t work well with? That’s not going to help San Bernardino in the long run. That’s how it goes when you lose an election. Elections have consequences.”
Johnetta Davis, who had addressed the council earlier, again weighed in, telling the council it did not have the authority to terminate the city manager until sixty days after the election unless the panel’s members did so unanimously. She told Valdivia it appeared he had “lined up the votes of Ibarra and Sanchez. The question remains: What is the motive of Mayor Valdivia to terminate the city manager? I would strongly recommend that all council members consider the repercussions of voting in favor of the termination of the city manager. You have been voted into office so you can make the right choices, so we can become a stronger city. You have not been placed into office to only do the will of those who supported you in your campaign.”
Shirley Harlan said Travis- Miller was being responsive with the forming of commissions. “We need balance in this city,” said Harlan. “I am a resident of this city and I do not want my taxes that I pay going to a termination that is going to cost a lot of money. An election is one thing. After you get elected it is a different setting. You are not in a constant election mode when you are running a city.”
Carey Davis spoke, suggesting that his successor as mayor was angling to get rid of Travis-Miller to have greater control over the licensing of marijuana retail establishments in the city.
“On August 2, 2017 the council voted 8-0 to enter into an agreement with Andrea Miller,” said Davis. “One year later, she received a very favorable performance evaluation. Over 2,500 new businesses have opened. 2,700 building permits [were issued], valued at nearly $237 million. Public works has removed 2.7 million square feet of graffiti. We’ve repaired more than 1,500 potholes. Public works has cleared more than 40 curb-street miles of weeds and grass. The customer relationship management system has processed over 28,000 requests. We’ve hired an additional 33 police officers. These are only a few of the highlights of her accomplishments. To consider removal of the city manager as one of the first actions of the new mayor and council is reckless, dangerous and potentially very costly to the citizens and businesses of San Bernardino. It not only subjects the city to unnecessary financial burdens, but has the potential to damage and thwart the city’s ability to attract new businesses, residents and employees. I respectfully recommend that you discontinue pursuing removal of the city manager. My final question is: Have you evaluated the financial cost of terminating the city manager’s employment agreement? If you have, what is that cost? If not, how can you consider the action without knowing the financial cost of your decision?”
Patrick Morris, Carey Davis’s immediate predecessor as mayor, told the council, “I’m in shock. Two days ago we were all together in a civic celebration, in which I had the honor to take part. We swore in this new city council and this new mayor. With that, we acknowledged the good work of our outgoing city council and the mayor and the city manager in constructing a plan to emerge from bankruptcy, lay a strategic plan to pay our debts, build a strong fiscal reserve, improve public safety, and rebuild essential infrastructure. In fact, those many in attendance gave the outgoing city council a standing ovation for their good work, their stewardship in guiding this city for the past four years. And today, two days later, political chaos. The precipitous, instantaneous and unexplained proposed firing of the city manager simply makes no sense. She has guided our city elegantly through these difficult times and is described by all who work with her as a brilliant collaborative problem solver. This highly respected city manager has not even been given the opportunity to meet with and work with her new city council members. I assure you, this is not what the voters of this city had in mind – a political assassination. It smacks of backroom Brown Act violation, reminds us of the toxic and destructive politics that led to this city’s bankruptcy. The city’s voters in 2013 voted to rid City Hall of the venomous and elected city attorney, Jim Penman, who was for a quarter century the source of much of that political chaos. They recalled him and voted for a new charter that modernizes our city and aligns us with the best management practices and structure in California, a modern council/manager form of government. Question: Do I smell the ruinous and malicious politics, the sad, power-obsessed oldtime politician reemerging in City Hall? I refer to Mr. Penman advising and guiding Mr. Valdivia as together they act as puppeteers of this new city council. God, I hope not. If so, we are headed back to very dark times.”
Scott Olson implied Travis-Miller is too concerned with the north end of the city, neglecting other less affluent and less upscale neighborhoods in San Bernardino. The council led by Davis had, Olson said, “killed the fire department [and] refuse [division]. Davis’s cronies, Olson said, “didn’t suffer. They were thriving. By the votes [in the November 6 election], it is very clear there is a mandate. All of the residents want things plowed under. You hold the seeds of change. Plant those seeds in fertile soil.”
Government should be run, Olson said “for all of the people of San Bernardino, not just a select few whose zip code or street address or bank accounts or history in this city gave them the advantage to basically ignore the rest of the city. As for who goes and who stays: every election suffers reality. I don’t know who is going to go and who is to stay and quite honestly I voted and put my faith in those I wanted to do what they were going to do. You have barely been in office for 48 hours and I see the same individuals who supported the past up here, already being negative, already criticizing, already insulting you. Get used to it. It’s normal.”
Sandra Olivas said Travis-Miller “treats the other two elected officials [i.e., the city attorney and city clerk] in this city like they don’t even exist. I was angry when I found out Gary Saenz’ office had been outsourced. Now I’m just waiting for the city clerk’s office to be outsourced next. That is showing no respect for the fact that the voters voted for Gary Saenz to be their city attorney.”
Olivas said Travis-Miller had a “condescending attitude… toward residents. We live here. We pay taxes here. I wasn’t for the charter change. I liked it the other way.” Olivas also took issue with Travis-Miller’s “firing of [former Community Development Director] Mark Persico. I worked with Mark when Mark first came to the city. I worked with Mark on two commissions that I sat on in this city. Mark was a great guy. We did not have the funds to start the food truck even. Mark used his credit cards to bring those trucks in the first time. She fired him.”
Travis Miller “abandoned us in 2013,” Olivas charged. “This last election was a wake-up call.” She said that Travis-Miller had shown favoritism to the Seventh Ward.
Linda Hart encouraged the council to sack Travis-Miller. “I applaud the new city council members in your courage to do what you are doing today. Don’t let anyone influence your decision to do what you feel is right and you have the right to do. From my understanding, you as the mayor and city council have the right to change guards if you want. That is the decision today, whether you feel you have a team that is loyal to move us forward.”
Hart said Travis-Miller was neglecting areas of the city. “There really have not been many results in our Sixth Ward,” she said.
Corina Conejo said, “The termination of our city manager would be detrimental to the city.”
Councilman Jim Mulvihill read an email he received from a constituent of his, Esmeralda Negrete, in which Negrete said she she supported the review of Travis-Miller’s employment performance being undertaken.
Thereafter, the council went into closed session for a bit less than an hour, during which they resolved to take no action against Miller at the present time.
Travis-Miller’s contract, which runs through August 5, 2013, pays her an annual salary of $253,080, $45,399.06 in benefits and some $9,462.50 in add-ons for a total yearly compensation of $307,941.56.
At Travis-Miller’s recommendation, the city has hired Teri Ledoux to serve as assistant city manager at an annual salary of $131,315, $39,334 in benefits and $17,724 in add-ons for a total yearly compensation of $188,373. Additionally, the city, upon Travis-Miller’s recommendation, has given Greg Devereaux a management assistance consultancy that pays him through his company, Worthington Partners, $120,000 per year.
-Mark Gutglueck


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