With virtually no fanfare, Fourth District Supervisor Curt Hagman late last year removed Alan Wapner as his policy advisor.
Wapner’s departure came more than three years after Hagman moved the longtime Ontario city councilman into the post. Filling the position is Jeff Sorenson, who was previously serving as a member of Hagman’s staff in a capacity that entailed policy formulation.
When Wapner acceded to the advisor position in September 2015, it was viewed with surprise and skepticism in many quarters. Both Hagman and Wapner are classic alpha males who have functioned in the San Bernardino County political arena for a sustained period of time. They offer a study in contrasts and similarities that made their ability to coexist as functioning team members difficult given their penchant for dominating the fora in which they operate. Known in most quarters for their aggressive assertiveness, it seemed doubtful they could sustain a working relationship in the advent of any issues in which they held a political interest
Both are Republicans who have used slightly different formulas to obtain and stay in power. Hagman, a bail bondsman who scratched his way to the top of the Chino Hill political scene by running for city council and acceding to mayor before running successfully for the California Assembly, used his Republican Party affiliation as a stepping stone to office in the GOP-leaning expanse in San Bernardino County’s extreme southwest corner and the swath of eastern Orange County and southwest Los Angeles County in which his former 55th Assembly District was located. As his ticket in Sacramento was about to
expire in 2014 as a result of term limits, he ousted and then replaced Robert Rego as the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee and from that position of strength utilized the fundraising capability open to him to defeat former Democratic Congresswoman Gloria Negrete-McLeod in the race for supervisor, despite her name recognition, power of incumbency as a congresswoman that offset his as an assemblyman, and the voter registration advantage Democrats held over Republicans in the Fourth District. In 2018, he again beat Negrete-McLeod, despite what had become by then a lopsided Democratic Party advantage in the Fourth District in terms of voter registration.
Wapner, a former police detective with the Ontario Police Department who retired on a service disability, bootstrapped his way into a position on the city council two-and-a-half decades ago. Despite efforts to move into higher political office, he has not been able to transform his success in Ontario to victory at the polls when he has vied for the California Assembly. With regard to several issues he has been a lightning rod for controversy, and has had a sometimes rocky relationship with his colleagues and other authority figures relating to issues of primacy and policy. Despite his GOP affiliation, he has had far less success in getting the local Party of Lincoln to assist him in his electioneering than has Hagman.
Wapner’s A-personality traits came to the fore eight years ago when he induced his colleagues on the Ontario City Council to wage near-war on the City of Los Angeles to break the larger metropolis’s ownership and management hold over Ontario Airport that resulted from a 1967 joint operating agreement between the two cities and Los Angeles’s fulfillment of performance milestones in that agreement that resulted in Ontario deeding the airport to Los Angeles in 1985. Pursuing an aggressive game plan that included litigation, Ontario convince Los Angeles to agree to the return of the airport to local control three years ago. Prior to that, Ontario had created the Ontario International Airport Authority, to which Wapner was appointed as its chairman. He has been the only chairman in that body’s history and upon Hagman’s election to the board of supervisors, Wapner agreed to move Hagman into a position on the Ontario International Airport Authority Board, replacing Hagman’s predecessor as Fourth County Supervisor, Gary Ovitt, a former Ontario mayor, on that panel. It was subsequent to that when Hagman took Wapner on as his policy advisor.
There was concern on multiple levels at that time about Wapner’s hiring. First, it had the appearance of Wapner being rewarded by Hagman for Hagman’s appointment to the airport authority board. Second, it created a situation in which Wapner, who in his capacity as authority chairman served in a fashion as Hagman’s boss, was now working for Hagman, such that each of them were now their boss’s boss. Third, it intensified the degree to which Hagman’s staff members were increasingly creatures of government. Wapner as a policeman and councilman was rooted in the government. Hagman’s then chief of staff, Mike Spence, was a longtime government employee and mayor and council member in West Covina. Ed Graham, a Chino Hills councilman and teacher by profession, was another of Hagman’s staff members. He would be replaced by Chino Hills Councilman Peter Rogers. Sorenson was formerly employed as an investigative technician with a county prosecutor’s office among other government posts.
At the time Hagman hired Wapner, Hagman acknowledged Wapner as a fellow alpha male and that their mutual need to dominate the situations in which they involve themselves could be a recipe for a clash. “We’ll play it out and give it a shot and see what happens,” Hagman said. “I have other alpha males and other elected officials on my staff. They all present the advantage of knowing the issues in this district and area and what they entail.”
What was at the root of Wapner’s departure is unclear. Hagman’s chief of staff, Katherine Kocheva, did not expound on the reason for his leaving or Sorenson’s promotion. The only issue relating to the matter she weighed in on was the suggestion that Wapner’s hiring in 2015 had been a quid pro quo or political sop provided as a reward for Hagman’s appointment to the Ontario International Airport Authority Board.
“The agreement to appoint a representative of the county on the Ontario International Airport Authority Board, specifically whoever served as the Fourth District supervisor, was reached between the county and the City of Ontario when they entered into the joint powers authority agreement to bring back Ontario Airport,” Kolcheva said. “The formation of the joint powers authority happened during Supervisor Gary Ovitt’s service on the board of supervisors.”
Sorenson has a bachelor of arts degree in political science from UCLA and a juris doctor degree from the La Verne School of Law. The website for the Fourth District states, “Jeff looks forward to using his strong sense of mission accomplishment and his appreciation of hard work to provide valuable insight and information to the supervisor. With these traits and his legal background, Jeff looks forward to serving the residents of the Fourth District.”