Fired After 31 Years Including City Clerk & City Manager Stints, Herrera Sues Adelanto

Cindy Herrera, Adelanto’s former city clerk and city manager who was fired last year after being employed with the city for 31 years, has filed a wrongful termination suit against the city.
Herrera is the eleventh city employee who was sacked during the 2014-to-2018 administration of immediate past Mayor Rich Kerr to sue the city.
Adelanto has long been associated with political unrest, with recall elections often roiling City Hall over the city’s 48 year history.
Herrera’s tenure with the city coincided with much of that political volatility, but despite the quick turnaround of administrations and elected leadership through much of the 1990s and into the first decade of the Third Millennium, Herrera survived.
She was hired in 1987 by then Adelanto City Administrator Pat Chamberlaine as an executive secretary. In 1994 she promoted to the position of assistant city clerk and became city clerk in 1999.
In 2014, voters made a clean sweep of the city’s elected leadership, voting Mayor Cari Thomas and councilmen Charles Valvo and Steve Baisden out of office and replacing them with Rich Kerr as mayor and Charlie Glasper and John Woodard on the council.
Kerr, together with Woodard and then-Councilman Jermaine Wright, who had been elected to the city council in 2012, resolved to rejuvenate the city’s dim financial circumstance by promoting the commercial availability of marijuana in the city, just as an epic cultural shift was taking place in California with regard to the formerly outlawed substance. The concept Kerr & company promoted was getting Adelanto in on the ground floor of a new and growing sector of the economy, giving local entrepreneurs an opportunity to capture a corner on the market, thus creating an infusion of wealth within the local population and generating tax revenue. Major elements of the controlling council majority’s approach included liberalization of the law via city ordinances and lax regulation and enforcement of the existing and new regulation, including conducting token inspections and the waiving of fees to facilitate a maximum number businesses starting up.
Those opposed to the accelerated marijuanification of Adelanto, at various stages in the march toward achieving Kerr’s, Woodard’s and Wright’s vision, were either shown the door or elected to leave before being fired. Those included City Manager Jim Hart and his interim replacement, Tom Thornton, City Manager Gabriel Elliott, City Manager Brad Letner, City Attorney Todd Litfin, City Attorney Curtis Wright, Public Works Supervisor Nan Moore, Senior Management Analyst Mike Borja, Conservation Specialist Belen Cordero, Public Works Employee Jose Figueroa, information technology division employees Ben Pina, Ibriham Abudluld and Adam Watkins, contract City Engineer Wilson So, Assistant City Engineer Aaron Mower, and Senior Planner Mark De Manincor.
In 2015, in the early stages of the Kerr regime, Jim Hart bailed out as city manager, unwilling to carry out the aggressive conversion of the city to a marijuana-based economy. Then-Public Works Director/City Engineer Tom Thornton agreed to serve as acting city manager but within six weeks was chaffing at the demands being put on him and city staff. He tendered his resignation as city manager, going back to the post of city engineer/public works director and remaining there for seven months before leaving the city altogether, but not before he dashed off an email to then-City Attorney Todd Litfin, characterizing Kerr, Woodard and Wright as “three rogue council members.”
It was at that point that the council troika turned to Herrera.
Herrera was elevated to the position of interim city manager. What was expected of Herrera in return was that she comply unquestioningly with the council majority’s demands. One of those was that she go along with extending to Jessie Flores, who had been Kerr’s campaign manager, a city contract for him to work in the capacity of the city’s economic development consultant. Under that arrangement, Flores was to make a modest $36,000 for promoting the city to investors or entrepreneurs looking to set up operations in the city. His contract further permitted him to work for those investors or entrepreneurs. A prevailing number of the investors and businesses Flores was attracting to the city were those dealing in marijuana. The perception developed that the work Flores was doing for those investors and businesses on the side was merely a stratagem to receive payoffs and kickbacks that were shared with the three council members so gung ho about opening the city to cannabis operations.
Herrera gamely sought to actuate the Kerr/Woodard/Wright game plan. In late 2015 an ordinance was passed allowing marijuana production, i.e., cultivation, in indoor nurseries within the city’s industrial park. By the end of the year, applicants for business licenses, many of them bearing briefcases or satchels full of cash, were lining up at the processing windows at City Hall. In 2016, believing that Herrera was their girl, the council removed the interim prefix from her title, making her the city’s full-fledged city manager. Ultimately, however, questions about what was going on were raised. There were reports that city officials were selling to speculators insider information consisting of advance indication about what properties in the city would be rezoned to permit lucrative cannabis-related activity and operations. When city employees key to processing permits or carrying out inspections or engaging in advance work relating to projects proved too methodical or conscientious in their assignments, the troika would fire them on their own questionable authority or order them to be fired. With her staff decimated, Herrera was unable to keep up with the pace and demands of processing and approving the cannabis-related business applications that were inundating City Hall. With the FBI and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission sniffing around City Hall, Herrera grew acutely conscious of, at the very least, the appearance of impropriety with regard to Flores’ activity. When she moved to suspend him in January 2017, for Kerr that was the final straw. As he prepared to fire her, she stepped back and triggered a clause in her contract allowing her to resign as city manager and remain in place as city clerk.
Several months thereafter, Kerr repeated the pattern that he had established with his previous city managers. He elevated development services/community development director Gabriel Elliott to the position of city manager amidst a giddy atmosphere of confidence that Elliott would do all of his bidding. When Elliott did not, he cashiered him, after an extended seven-month executive leave period. It was during the ten month period that Elliott was in the official capacity of city manager that the FBI sprung into action, arresting Councilman Jermaine Wright for bribe-taking relating to efforts to protect marijuana-related operations in the city from regulation enforcement in November 2017 and carrying out a raid on City Hall and Kerr’s residence in May 2018. Kerr, undeterred, pushed forward with his designs, firing Brad Letner, who had been brought in to act as acting city manager while Elliott was suspended, and hiring Flores as city manager. Flores was in that position for less than a month when last summer, he terminated Herrera as city manager.
Herrera through her attorney, Tristan Pelayes, in November filed a claim against the city. Yesterday, Thursday January 17, Herrera filed a lawsuit against the city.
In many ways, Herrera’s suit echoes those of other former Adelanto employees suing the city. Herrera maintains she was a whistleblower who was harassed for refusing to carry out improper or illegal orders. She claims she was directed to fire employees who were targeted by Kerr, Wright and Woodard, including Cordero and De Manincor. According to Herrera, on a nearly daily basis Kerr, Wright and Woodard created lies or stirred up rumors about employees they wanted removed in order to form a pretext for firing them. When Herrera didn’t play along, Kerr, Wright and Woodard came after her while she was still city manager, she maintains, and Kerr and Woodard along with Flores orchestrated her firing when she was city clerk.
Named in the suit are the city, Kerr, former city councilmen Charlie B. Glasper and John Woodard, current City Manager Jessie Flores and former City Attorney Ruben Duran.
Herrera’s suit is the first by a fired city employee naming Duran or any city attorney. Three days after Herrera’s firing, Duran resigned.
Herrera maintains that just prior to her firing, in August 2018, she reported to Duran, as the city attorney, that she feared being retaliated against because she had made a determination that Woodard, who was running for reelection last year, had filed non-qualifying nomination papers in his application for re-election to the office of city council. This enraged Kerr, Flores and Woodard, according to Herrera. Though Herrera requested confidentiality with regard to her discussion with Duran, Duran ignored that request and directly reported on his conversation with Herrera to Flores, thereby triggering Herrera’s firing. Herrera claims that Duran had extensive knowledge of illegal activity on the part of Wright, Kerr and Woodard.
Both Kerr and Woodard were voted out of office in November 2018. Glasper did not seek reelection.
Herrera’s lawsuit and elements within it are rife with irony.
While Kerr and Woodard were in fact players in her firing, they were also prime movers in her advancement. In 2015, as city clerk Herrera was, after 28 years with the city, making $79,121.86 in salary and $48,607.32 in benefits and add-ons for a total annual compensation of $127,729.18. Upon promotion to city manager, her salary was nearly doubled to $149,117.80 and her benefits and add-ons increased to $52,393.49, boosting her total annual compensation to $201,511.29.
Moreover, in five of the other wrongful termination lawsuits filed by former city employees, Herrera is a named defendant. In this way, Herrera stands accused, while serving in the capacity of city manager, of doing to other city employees what Herrera claims was done to her in her capacity as a city employee.
Herrera’s suit does not name Councilman Ed Camargo, who was councilman when she was terminated but who was, it is known, opposed to her firing.
Nor does the suit name Councilwoman Joy Jeanette, who was elected in June 2018 to fill out the remainder of Jermaine Wright’s council term. Jeannette did support Flores in his move to fire Herrera.
Adelanto City Councilwoman Stevevonna Evans told the Sentinel, “We figured it was coming.”
She said, “I don’t have enough information at this point to make a decision on whether what is in the lawsuit is valid or not.”
Evans said the circumstance in the city has changed from the atmosphere that existed prior to the November 2018 election.
“The majority that were in office are no longer there,” Evans said. “My assumption at this point is that the former council members tried to do what they thought was best for the city as a whole. I can say that with regard to some of these things, that isn’t the direction the current council is taking.”
Evans said that after the council assesses the lawsuit in total “We will direct the city attorney to do what we think is best for our constituents.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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