Mysterious Confidential Check #661 Intertwined With Flores Suspension?

Knowledgeable elements of the Adelanto community did not fail to miss a mysterious payment that was scheduled to be ratified by the Adelanto City Council on February 13, the same day that City Manager Jessie Flores was placed on administrative leave.
The $30,000 check, which was listed on the payment register for that evening’s city council meeting, was anomalous in multiple respects, and the scrutiny it has engendered has yet to result in any official explanation. This has provoked widespread suspicion that the check, and the story behind it, are at the root of Flores’s suspension.
One unconfirmed report is that the check, the payee on which is yet officially unspecified, represented an effort by Flores to deliver “hush money” to an individual or individuals with compromising, damaging or embarrassing information with relating to either current or past elected Adelanto officials, or Flores himself.
The payment register normally lists the check numbers, their invoice numbers or dates, the issuance dates, descriptions of what the payments are for, the source of the funds for the payments, the payees and the amounts of the checks issued or to be issued by the city. In this case, the referenced check, numbered 661, bears an invoice number corresponding to its date of 1/24/2019, which is typical and consistent with standard practice. In the description column, however, the notation is “Confidential.” Such designations are virtually unheard of, both in the context of City of Adelanto operations and those in any other municipality. The source of funding is not specified. Nor is the payee name provided. The amount is shown as $30,000.
Despite repeated attempts by the Sentinel to determine who the payee was, the city has not released that information. A recurrent report was that Flores had arranged the payment of $30,000 to a recently departed code enforcement officer, Derek Stevens, in an effort to dissuade him from speaking openly about orders and instructions he had received to “stand down” in his function, that is, to discontinue enforcement and inspection efforts of certain cannabis-related businesses in the city after the owners of those businesses had provided kickbacks to elected officials and high ranking city staffers.
City officials did not provide even a cursory description of what the payment was made for or whether it was intended as remuneration for goods or services.
The item relating to Flores’ suspension was not included in the agenda for The February 13 regular meeting of the city council, which by law is posted at least 72 hours prior to the meeting. That agenda included the payment register containing the reference to Check #661. In the case of the announcement of the action relating to Flores, it was represented as an “emergency walk-on” item, pertaining to an exigent circumstance that allows an elected body to proceed on a matter without the standard 72-hour notice to the public. After an executive closed session of the council carried out behind closed doors outside the view and beyond earshot of the public, the council adjourned into its public session on February 13, at which point City Attorney Victor Ponto announced that Flores had been placed on paid administrative leave. The council immediately, but only temporarily, elevated City Clerk Brenda Lopez into the position of acting city manager. The following day, Lopez returned to her position as city clerk, and Socorro Cisneros was selected to serve as acting city manager.
City officials, citing legal protections provided under state statute to public employees, were unwilling to provide a reason for Flores’s suspension. City Councilwoman Stevevonna Evans did say the suspension was intended to allow an independent investigator retained by the city to carry out an examination relating to Flores over issues she said she could not specify. She said Flores will remain suspended, pending the completion of the investigation, at which point his restoration as the city’s functioning city manager is possible.
Inquiries at City Hall were referred to the city’s communications advisor, Michelle Van Der Linden. Repeated queries to Van Der Linden, including an email and repeated phone calls to both her City Hall telephone and cell phone, went unanswered. Van Der Linden did not offer a clarification as to whether the $30,000 payment was a legitimate one, what it was for, whom it was made to and what services were rendered or materials, supplies or goods provided in exchange for the payment. Nor did Van Der Linden explain why the description of paid-for services or goods was listed as confidential and why the identity of the payee was withheld. She was not available to identify who the payee was. Van Der Linden did not say whether the reason for the secrecy around the payment was disclosed to the council and she did not say whether the council knew or was told who the payee was. To the more pointed question of whether the $30,000 payment was intended as a payoff or hush money, Van Der Linden was equally mum.
In November, the two incumbent members of the council seeking reelection, then-Mayor Rich Kerr and then-Councilman John Woodard, were turned out of office. The other incumbent, Charles Glasper, did not seek reelection. Those elected in November, Mayor Gilbert Reyes and council members Evans and Gerardo Hernandez, came into office in December as newcomers who were in some measure dependent upon Flores for guidance. Flores is widely perceived as a creature of the regime headed by Kerr. With Kerr no longer in power, there have been increasingly strident calls by members of the public for the council to dispense with Flores. A high school graduate with only limited training and education beyond that level, Flores had no governmental management experience when he was elevated to the city manager’s post from his role as the city’s contract economic development consultant in July 2018.
One city official remarked that the very likely illegal effort to issue a $30,000 check drawn on a municipal account to an unspecified individual for no identifiable purpose under the cover of confidentiality is an object demonstration of Flores’ lack of experience in the governmental administrative realm and an illustration of his unsuitability as city manager.
-Mark Gutglueck

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