By Mark Gutglueck
For more than six months, the Chino Valley Independent Fire Protection District has held the dubitable distinction among the more than 80 governmental entities in San Bernardino County of being headed by a board engaged in the least degree of civil discourse, thanks to a seemingly intractable dispute between one of its members and his colleagues.
In a span of less than six months earlier this year, four of the board’s members have twice voted to censure Board Member Winn Williams. More recently there have been indications that the fire chief has concerns the contretemps might turn violent.
Disagreements among elected officials are a recurrent phenomenon. On occasion those disagreements become animated, even heated. Such is the give and take of democracy. Occasionally differences of opinion, augmented by personality clashes, are more deeply etched into the grain of governance, coloring how a particular entity – an agency, municipality, county, state or even the Senate or Congress – conducts itself.
Historically, the decline of American political discourse into incivility reached its nadir in the 19th Century.
On July 11, 1804, Aaron Burr, then the vice president of the United States, shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, the former secretary of the treasury as the coda to what had been a series of long-standing political differences and accompanying personal bitterness between the two men.
On May 22, 1856, amidst wide-ranging national debate about the admission of free and slave states into the Union, Preston Brooks, a pro-slavery Democratic congressman from South Carolina, came into the Senate Chamber and used a walking cane to severely beat Senator Charles Sumner, an abolitionist Republican from Massachusetts, in retaliation for a speech given by Sumner two days earlier in which he fiercely criticized slaveholders, including one of Brooks’ relatives.
On May 25, 1861, two members of the California Assembly, Daniel Showalter and Charles W. Piercy faced each other in a duel that had grown out of what Showalter, who represented Mariposa County in California’s lower legislative house, considered Piercy’s heavy-handed use of parliamentary procedure to prevent debate on competing resolutions, one of which called for California to recognize the secession of the Confederate States of America from the United States and the other which expressed the Golden State’s devotion to the Constitution of the United States and its readiness to respond to any requisition of the federal government to defend the Republic against foreign or domestic foes. Though both Showalter and Piercy were Democrats, Showalter’s sympathies lay with the Confederacy while Piercy, who held the distinction of having been San Bernardino County’s sixth sheriff and the youngest person ever to hold that position, favored the North. On that fateful Saturday afternoon, after missing each other with their first shots, Showalter and Piercy reloaded their guns. With his second shot, Showalter’s aim was true, Piercy was hit in the head, dying instantly, leaving San Bernardino County, at least temporarily, without representation in the Assembly.
In San Bernardino County in the latter 20th and early 21st centuries, by which time dueling had long been outlawed and where the common perception is that civic affairs are to be conducted civilly, there have yet been indications that passion, conviction, self-interest and advocacy for one’s associates and backers outpaces the niceties of convention within the political realm. At times, proceedings have moved well beyond the stage of being tense, uncomfortable or embarrassing to the point of outright and utter hostility. In the 1980s, on more than one occasion the proceedings of the Montclair City Council would be adjourned, officially or unofficially it was never quite clear, from the council chambers to the City Hall parking lot where councilmen George Klotz and Walter Hackett endeavored to settle things with their fists, the process concluding only after knuckles were skinned and noses bled.
In the middle and late 1980s, members of the Rancho Cucamonga City Council would sit back in amusement during their meetings and take in the spectacle of unleashing their cocaine-fueled pit bull, City Attorney Jim Markman, on any city residents who came before them to offer criticism of city operations.
In the mid-1990s, after George Fulp was elected mayor of Colton, council meetings were transformed into veritable sideshows, raucous events with nearly as much or more yelling and screaming taking place as legislating. The contretemps was constantly expanding as the alcoholic and bombastic mayor’s list of political opponents grew from a mere handful of residents and officeholders who had attempted to prevent his election in 1994 to include many of the city’s political activists who had originally been among his core supporters. The confrontations between Fulp and then-Councilman John Hutton, then-Councilman Abe Beltran and then City Manager Nabar Martinez proved legendary, skirmishes in which Fulp used his authority to give as good as he got. That excursion lasted a mere two years, terminating with Fulp’s November 1996 recall.
Throughout most of the 1990s, the City of Adelanto, or more accurately the political leadership of the City of Adelanto, was at war with itself. Two camps had come to exist in the city, one aligned with Ed Dondeliner, the mayor, and the other being the acolytes of City Manager Patricia Chamberlaine. Though at one point earlier, in the 1980s, Chamberlaine and Dondelinger had been allies, the closure of George Air Force Base in 1992 and the differences in strategy advocated by Dondelinger and Chamberlain with regard to the struggle with Victorville over the air field’s annexation that ensued along with other factors alienated them. Thereafter, Chamberlaine sought to assert her control over the city by recalling Dondelinger and his council allies from office and installing her own set of rulers. In like fashion, Dondelinger mustered his political forces, setting about to have Chamberlaine’s people recalled. Both, while he or she was in political ascendancy, sought to use the Adelanto Police Department against the other. Thus, while three or more members of the city council were members of Chamberlaine’s team, the police department could be counted upon to obtain warrants to search the homes of any city residents known to be working with Dondelinger on a recall effort. During those searches, if signed recall petitions were discovered, they would be seized. When Dondelinger succeeded in turning the political tables and captured a majority of three or more positions on the city council, the situation reversed itself and the police department became a cat’s paw of the Dondelinger regime. Ultimately, in the battle between Chamberlaie and Dondelinger, a one-time flight line sergeant at George Air Force Base, Chamberlaine prevailed, as her team drove Dondelinger from office and displaced his allies from the council. But because those city officials had been so distracted with fighting one another, Adelanto lost the war and eventually it was Victorville that proved successful in annexing and taking control of the air base, which is now known as Southern California Logistics Airport.
The same decade, Redlands, San Bernardino County’s most stately city, experienced a most unseemly diversion from its tradition, as pro-development Mayor and Councilman Sven Larson and limited growth advocate Mayor and Councilman Bill Cunningham openly engaged in serious bureaucratic infighting against one another.
In the late 1980s, throughout the 1990s and into the first few years of the Third Millennium, members of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors – Bob Hammock, Jon Mikels, Larry Walker, Barbara Riordan, Marsha Turoci, Jerry Eaves, Kathy Davis and Dennis Hansberger at various times – having lost patience with the constant questioning of their wisdom, forthrightness, veracity and honesty, maneuvered the county’s law enforcement agencies into becoming a political protection squad which used the power of arrest against any of several self-styled county government reformers who persisted in their criticism of the board or the county. Sheriff’s deputies would engage in the first round of dirty work on behalf of the board by arresting any speakers at board meetings critical of the board who exceeded the board’s imposed three-minute speaking limit. Thereafter the county prosecutor’s office, then led by district attorneys Dennis Kottmeier, Dennis Stout and Mike Ramos, whose office purse strings were controlled by the board of supervisors, ensured that the criticism was criminalized, obtaining convictions against the offenders, most notably the board’s two harshest critics – Bob Nelson and Jeffrey Wright – for disrupting public proceedings.
In Ontario in the early 2000s, Debbie Acker’s election to the Ontario City Council made her the odd one out and only woman on a clubby panel of men. By raising questions about policies that were worked out in the backroom and well out of the sight or earshot of the public, ones which involved sweetheart deals that profited the existing council members’ political support network, Acker quickly made herself persona non grata at City Hall, and was assailed from all sides. Personal attacks on her became the watchword in Ontario.
A decade later, Paul Vincent Avila was elected to the Ontario City Council. His disregard for protocol, ignorance of procedure, disrespect for his colleagues and willingness to point out and castigate them over their greater allegiance to their campaign donors and personal and professional associates than to the city’s residents put him into a similar circumstance as that experienced by Acker. In particular, the Ontario council’s resident alpha male, Alan Wapner, whom Avila referred to as “old camel gut,” consistently locked horns with Avila, whose borderline mental illness compromised his ability to adequately compete in the public arena with his colleagues.
In Upland, Janice Elliott for three months enjoyed a honeymoon with her fellow and sister council members after her November 2016 election, during which the entire five-member panel voted in unanimous lockstep. Eventually, however, with the manifestation of widespread resident opposition to the city council’s and city administration’s plan to shutter the city’s 110-year-old municipal fire department and annex the entirety of the Upland City Limits into a county service zone and have the county fire department take on responsibility of providing the 74,000-population city with fire protection, Elliott broke ranks with her council colleagues, first questioning the terms of the arrangement, which imposed $157 per year assessments on every parcel owner in the city, and then resisting the transition outright. The council excoriated Elliott, both privately and publicly, for not being a team player. First, the council stripped her of her committee assignments. Then it censured her. Any motions Elliott might make during council discussions of action items constantly died for a lack of a second, leaving her, for the remainder of the first half of the term to which she had originally been elected, a political irrelevancy. The following year, when the city held its first by-district council election, Elliott sought the seat to represent the district in which she resided, recognizing that if she did not do so, the district election rotation schedule would prevent her from seeking reelection when her at-large position on the city council expired in 2020. The mayor and three other members of the council and the political support network around them worked assiduously to prevent her election as the representative to the city’s newly drawn Second District seat by throwing their backing to her opponent. Elliott got the last laugh, however, when she was elected and the three council members who had supported her censure were displaced during the 2018 election. Now, the only member of the city council who supported the closure of the Upland Fire Department, Upland Mayor Debbie Stone, finds herself isolated on a council on which virtually all issues of substance are resolved in accordance with Elliott’s position and direction.
In Victorville, Councilwoman Blanca Gomez has provoked the enmity of a majority of her council colleagues, past and present. A political naif who has repeatedly balked at legal and procedural strategies hatched during closed session discussions, she has enraged the other members of the council by referencing what was said during those closed sessions while the council is meeting in open public sessions, sometimes revealing the unmistakable duplicity of the remainder of the council. The majority of the council hates her for betraying these secrets and revealing their two-faced natures. The council has demonized her for it, and even, on occasion, has voted to have here removed from the council dais or the council chambers altogether in the middle of council meetings.
In San Bernardino, councilmen Fred Shorett and Jim Mulvihill make no bones about their shared belief that Mayor John Valdivia is a crook who is on the take. Whenever Valdivia uses his mayoral authority and gavel to guide the council in a direction which they oppose, one or the other, usually Shorett, will become openly defiant, disregarding Valdivia’s instructions, making it virtually impossible for the matters before the council to be conducted.
Whatever the depth and intensity of the breakdown of reasoned discourse in Victorville and San Bernardino at present – and those breakdowns are both deep and intense – they are exceeded by that taking place in the Chino Valley Independent Fire District.
If only because of the rapidity with which that breakdown occurred, the contretemps in the Chino Valley Independent Fire District is remarkable. On November 6, 2018 Loring Winn Williams, who goes by his middle rather than his first name, was elected to the fire board. He was sworn in on December 12. Just a little more than two months later, on February 20, 2019, 106 days after he was elected and 70 days after he was sworn in, the board voted a resolution of censure against him.
A backstory, a substantial one, accompanies the poisoned relationship between Williams and the rest of the board.
Williams’ current service as a board member is not his first, second or even third close connection to the fire district. In fact, Williams was a former employee of note with the district, had served, more than a decade previously, on the board, and had been, for the last ten years, what some consider to be a district watchdog and what others characterize as a burr under the saddle plaguing the district’s officials.
At the age of 21 in 1969, Williams was hired as a firefighter with the district. At the age of 26, in 1974, he became the youngest fire captain in the 124-year history of the district and its forerunners.
During a training exercise on October 30, 2000, the then-53-year-old Williams sustained a disc injury to his back. He was placed on a leave of absence with full salary pursuant to Labor Code section 4850 until December 2001, when he returned to work. A month before returning to work, Williams had vied, unsuccessfully, for a position on the Chino Valley Independent Fire District’s board of directors. At that time, the district’s elections were held in odd-numbered years. Williams finished fourth, failing to capture a position on the board. Shortly after returning to work, Williams was diagnosed with skin cancer, and on January 28, 2002, the district placed him on section 4850 disability leave. On or about June 21, 2002, Williams submitted an application to the California Public Employees Retirement System for industrial disability retirement. On July 3, 2002, Williams’ attorney sent a letter to the district informing it of such application “due to injuries to [Williams’] low back and the development of skin cancer,” and stating that “the effective date of the industrial disability retirement will be at the expiration of Labor Code [section] 4850 benefits.” The California Public Employees Retirement System forwarded Williams’ retirement application to the district, ordering the district to make the determination of Williams’ disability within six months and to include a specific finding “with respect to the disability for which the member will be retired.” On November 20, 2002, the district’s board of directors adopted a resolution stating Williams would be retired as of that date as a result of his disability.
In accordance with the retirement the agency had imposed on him and which he had accepted, Williams began drawing his retirement benefits and pension as of November 20, 2002. Though he intended to go back to work for the fire district upon his physical recovery, Williams did not seek to cancel his disability retirement application at any time before it was officially approved by the California Public Employees Retirement System, nor did he appeal the district’s determination.
In November 2004, Williams vied successfully for a position on the Chino Valley Independent Fire District’s board of directors in a specially called race to replace a board member who had resigned mid-term.
Three years and nine months after his disability retirement, after having rehabilitated his back, Williams took several actions to be reinstated, applying to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board to have his skin cancer recognized as “permanent and stationary” and to have his retirement date correctly determined. In August 2006, he submitted an application for reinstatement from his disability retirement. That application was rejected, and on February 25, 2008, he filed a lawsuit against the district for damages while alleging employment discrimination, maintaining that as a disability retiree, he was entitled to reinstatement. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board in the meantime granted Williams a 12 percent permanent disability for injury to his skin and ears, and found Williams was “temporarily totally disabled” from September 11, 2002, but expressly stated it had no jurisdiction over his retirement date.
The court in December 2008 issued a peremptory writ of mandate ordering the district to medically examine Williams to determine whether he remained incapacitated to perform the duties of his former position as fire captain. A medical evaluation concluded that Williams was no longer disabled from holding the position of fire captain. On June 10, 2009, the district’s board of directors made a determination that Williams “is no longer disabled for purposes of the California Public Employees Retirement System, and is eligible to submit to the requalification procedure” for employment with the district. On July 29, 2009, Williams submitted documentation evidencing his “Class B driver’s license and EMT certification” and on March 25, 2010 he submitted a written request to be considered for the district’s requalification process. While this was ongoing, Williams requested that the California Public Employees Retirement System change his retirement date to January 14, 2003. The California Public Employees Retirement System thereafter notified the district that Williams’ retirement date should be changed from November 20, 2002 to January 14, 2003, based on the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board’s determination of Williams’ permanent and stationary date with respect to his skin cancer.
On July 29, 2009, the district replied to the California Public Employees Retirement System letter by providing additional information regarding Williams’ retirement and explaining why his retirement date was correct. Specifically, the district informed the California Public Employees Retirement System that Williams had pursued multiple claims of injury through the Workers Compensation system, including his skin cancer; however, he was retired for a lower back injury of October 30, 2000, for which he had received a full year of section 4850 benefits. The district further notified the California Public Employees Retirement System that it had never received a copy of the letter that Williams had sent to the California Public Employees Retirement System. On December 29, 2009, CalPERS sent a letter to the district stating: “After review, we have concluded that the information provided to us by Mr. Loring Williams was incomplete. Based upon the information forwarded by your attorneys, we now agree that the retirement date of November 20, 2002 is accurate. Our determination is based upon Government Code sections 21252 and 21164.”
In July 2010, both Williams and the district asked for a summary judgment. On October 13, 2010, the trial court ruled against the district and in favor of Williams, “establishing that as a matter of law, [the district] has a duty to reinstate [Williams] as a fire captain when [the district] has the first such opening for a fire captain position.” The district thereafter appealed the ruling and on February 23, 2011, the appellate court granted the district’s petition, and the trial court was ordered to grant the district’s motion for summary judgment and deny Williams’s motion for summary adjudication. The appellate court found: “[Williams] provided no authority directly supporting his claim that an employer has a legal obligation to rehire an employee who previously elected to retire for disability but now claims to be recovered. [Williams] was not a `temporarily separated’ employee; he had retired. The distinction makes a difference [since] `retirement’ is a generally permanent life choice and reflects the understanding of both parties that the employer/employee relationship has terminated. `Retirement’ is not the same thing as `leave of absence,’ and no amount of saying it will make it so.” Williams’ petition for review to the Supreme Court was denied. On January 25, 2012, judgment was entered in favor of the district and against Williams.
On July 10, 2012, Williams sued the district for a second time, this time in federal court, making various discrimination claims. He alleged he should have been on the eligibility list for reinstatement from retirement based on his status as a disability retiree. On October 30, 2012, the United States District Court granted the district’s motion to dismiss Williams’ federal court action. Judgment was entered in favor of the district on November 8, 2012.
On December 28, 2012, the then-63-year-old Williams initiated a third legal action, once more in San Bernardino County Superior Court, naming the district and the California Public Employees Retirement System, alleging illegal retirement and seeking a judicial determination of his retirement date. The trial court dismissed the suit by granting the district’s demurrer motion, and Williams appealed. The appellate court upheld the trial court decision and ruled that Williams had consented to his disability retirement date of November 20, 2002, that his 2006 challenge to the November 2002 retirement date was untimely and that henceforward he was to be prohibited from relitigating issues previously adjudicated in favor of the district.
While Williams had served a two-year term on the fire district board from 2004 to 2006, he was not reelected to that post in 2006. He vied for the board in each election thereafter, but was unsuccessful in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016.
During all that time, Williams was a frequent attendee at the district board meetings, where he often weighed in on various issues relating to district operations, occasionally in a way that was critical of board policy. Williams said that during his first two-year stint on the board, “I regret that I didn’t always speak up back then when I should have.” He said assuming the role of the district watchdog during the twelve years he was not on the board was a way of making up for his previous reticence.
Last year, after losing in five straight elections, Williams captured 18,136 votes, or 26.44 percent, which was good enough for second place in a four-way race, with two seats in the balance. He thus ousted incumbent Ed Gray, who had first been elected to the board in 2004, and with whom Williams had served during the two years when he was previously on the board.
Williams was scheduled to replace Gray on December 12, 2018. Seven days before that took place, Williams had a meeting with the district’s legal counsel, Jeff Ballinger of the law firm Best Best & Krieger. During the course of that meeting, Williams discussed with Ballinger the terms by which Williams’ long-running legal dispute with the district could be closed out.
Six days after Williams’ meeting with Ballinger, the day before he was sworn in, an event took place that would substantially shape Williams’ coming tenure. Williams had come to the district headquarters on December 11, where the district had scheduled him to meet with “conflict resolution” consultant Mike Messina. Because district officials were wary of Williams’ previous criticisms of the district, to say nothing of the three lawsuits he had filed against it, it was hoped that Messina could persuade him to temper his criticism of the department in the future. “I believe he was feeling me out to see if I was willing to self-censor and go along to get along,” Williams said. Rather, the tête-à-tête between Williams and Messina may have exacerbated the situation rather than ameliorating it. Williams, somewhat impoliticly for someone who had just made the transition from outsider to insider, sounded a note of continuing dissent. “I made it clear that wasn’t going to happen and that I was going to be an advocate for the citizens that elected me,” said Williams. “I let him know that I took my oversight responsibilities seriously and that I would be speaking out about any incompetence, waste, and corruption that came to my attention.”
There is no dispute that Williams informed Messina, if Messina did not already know, about the litigation he had engaged in against the district. What is less clear is whether Messina expressed an active interest in studying the lawsuits chapter and verse as part of his assignment to resolve whatever lingering differences Williams had with the district. “We discussed several actions by the board and the district leadership that I felt were improper, including those related to my own disability termination,” said Williams. “Messina asked to see some information we discussed related to my retirement.” Messina has since disputed that he “asked” to see the information, and now maintains that he merely agreed to look at the information. Messina does not dispute that there was some order of understanding that Williams would provide the information to him.
The following day, December 12, 2018, at the board meeting, Williams was sworn in during a ceremonial preface to the remainder of the night’s proceedings, during which Williams thanked the district’s voters for their support. Shortly thereafter, the board adjourned into a closed session from which Williams was excluded, as the item to be discussed pertained, according to the agenda for the meeting, “significant exposure to litigation” which stemmed from “verbal comments made by Loring Winn Williams during public comment portions of board directors meetings, on November 8, 2017 and December 13, 2017.” Williams was shut out from the discussions because of what Board President John DeMonaco said was a conflict of interest on his part.
The minutes of the November 8, 2017 Chino Valley Independent Fire District Board meeting state, “Resident Winn Williams addressed Director Harvey Luth and introduced himself. He provided some history on his retirement from the Chino Valley Fire District.” The minutes for the December 13, 2017 board meeting state, “Resident Winn Williams addressed the board regarding his retirement status and stated he would submit a return to work request at the beginning of the year.”
At the December 12, 2018 meeting, the board remained in closed session for some time, and did not return to a public session until 9 p.m. At that point it was publicly reported that the board voted in closed session 4-to-0 to reject Williams’ settlement offer. The board further directed that Williams direct any settlement offers/discussions solely to legal counsel and not to staff.
On December 18, six days after Williams was sworn in and the closed session which he was not allowed to participate in, Williams went to district headquarters to turn in some paperwork to the board clerk, Sandra Heney. He brought with him documents relating to two of his lawsuits, including the original complaints. Williams asked Heney to make copies of the documents for Messina. Heney refused, indicating that the copies were personal in nature. “That was the extent of the conversation,” according to Williams.
Things were heading to hell fast. One week after Williams had assumed office, on December 19, Ballinger documented in a letter that at his meeting with Williams on December 5, the terms for the proposed settlement of Williams’ legal dispute with the district consisted of his acceptance of a one-time $300,000 payout, augmented with another $1.2 million in $10,000 per month installments for ten years, all of which would be sealed by Williams’ agreement to resign from the board.
A week later, on December 26, Ballinger authored and sent another letter, this time to Williams with carbon copies going to the rest of the board and Fire Chief Tim Shackelford, upbraiding Williams for his December 18 request of Heney that she photocopy documents that were characterized as personal in nature.
Immediately, Williams surmised that Ballinger had drawn up the letter on the sole and insufficient authority of a directive by Board President John DeMarco. That conclusion was based on Williams’ knowledge that the board had not voted or acted as a group to authorize the letter. In this fashion, according to Williams, either DeMonaco had acted improperly by unilaterally directing Ballinger to write the letter or the council had violated the Brown Act, California’s open public meeting law, by taking action in directing Ballinger to put the letter out without having scheduled a meeting to do so and properly agendizing the action three days ahead of time.
Less than two weeks into his tenure as a board member, Williams had already crossed swords with the chairman of the district’s board and its legal counsel. More was yet to come.
The board’s January 9 meeting was held without any overt indication of the deepening hostility that was festering between Williams and the remainder of the board. By the end of January, however, events were moving to overtake all of the parties, it seemed.
On February 4, Williams dashed off a letter to his fellow board member, Havey Luth. The precise contents of the letter are not known, but they can be roughly extrapolated from a letter sent back to Williams on February 14 signed by all four of Williams’ board colleagues.
A little more than a week after Williams sent his letter, at the February 13 board meeting, the degree to which the relationship between Williams and his board colleagues had soured emerged full-blown to the public. DeMonaco stated, “In just a few short months, one of our directors has attacked this district from his elected position. He has been attacking this district for over a decade with the same rhetoric and unsubstantiated accusations. He has sued this district three times over his allegations of wrongful termination. He has lost all three cases and never has there been a verdict that confirmed his allegations or confirmed any wrongful actions by the district. Unfortunately Mr. Williams’ latest actions create grave concerns that his behavior will continue to negatively impact not only our hard-working employees but also the quality of our services to the public.”
At its February 13 meeting, the board took up the subject of Williams’ letter to Luth. Since the letter pertained in large measure to Board Chairman DeMonaco, the discussion was presided over by Luth. During the course of the meeting, it became clear that Williams was absolutely isolated on the board.
Director Sarah Ramos-Evinger, in what was perhaps a prepared statement, said, “Director Williams, I am truly suspicious about your intent for running for this office in the first place. I feel that you misled the community members because you placed yourself on the ballot and they were under the impression that you were going to serve this community, not fulfill any personal agendas or vendettas that you have against the district. I wasn’t happy about you being elected, but this was a decision of the community and I said that I was going to do my best to sit next to you and serve and to support you. But since that time, I have just seen one thing after another that appears we are handling your personal issues and not business of the district.”
Williams said that he believed that DeMonaco in connivance with Ballinger had manipulated the remainder of the board by going behind their backs to orchestrate a proceeding that was lacking in “due process. You don’t just make accusation against people, you come and you talk to them and find out facts from them and see what’s happening, and there was no due process,” Williams said. “Legal counsel and Mr. DeMonaco, made a decision to attack me, which was wrong. You did not consult any of the other board members to see if they wanted to attack me or if they felt that I should be attacked. You made it on your own.”
Ballinger in his capacity as the district’s legal counsel, Williams said, owed his loyalty and services in equal measure to all members of the board, and not just DeMonaco. “Instead of saying we need to go to the other board members and talk to them about it, you and Mr. DeMonaco made a decision to attack me personally, and as consultant and as attorney for the board, you mishandled it,” Williams said. “You completely mishandled it. My feeling is, I should go to the [California] Bar [Association] and say that you got with another board member to attack me personally.”
Miscalculating the alliances on the board, Williams called for Ballinger’s firing.
Kreeger said, “I’m appalled that a member of this board would attack our legal counsel. It’s embarrassing and appalling. I have nothing but complete and total support for Jeff Ballinger and I think he has done an excellent job as our legal counsel representing the district with your accusations. I completely support the fire chief. I do not believe anyone owes you an apology.”
The upshot of the discussion was a motion by Board Member Mike Kreeger, seconded by Ramos-Evinger, approved by a vote of 4-to-1, with Williams dissenting, to schedule a special board meeting, which was ultimately set for February 20, to consider adopting a resolution of censure against Williams. The board followed that with a 4-to-1 vote, again with Williams dissenting, expressing support and confidence in Ballinger and Fire Chief Shackleford.
The next day, a letter dated February 14 went out to Williams, signed by all four of his board colleagues. The letter disputed the contention, apparently contained in Williams’ February 4 letter, that Messina had requested copies of materials relating to Williams’ lawsuit against the district. The letter from the four board members stated that Messina “did not specifically request copies of your retirement dispute documents. You told Mr. Messina in some detail about them and you asked Mr. Messina if he was interested in the legal aspects. Mr. Messina told you that he was interested, and you said that if Mr. Messina was interested in reading your case, you would would give him a copy. In short, Mr. Messina’s polite agreement to read the documents that you clearly wanted him to read can hardly be considered a ‘specific request’ from him to see the documents. The documents themselves are personal. They relate to your lawsuits. They would have no bearing on Mr. Messina’s work, other than to try to convince him of your theory that you were somehow wronged by the district in in your personal capacity.”
The letter further propounded that Williams’ publicly stated conclusion that DeMonaco had directed Ballinger to write the December 26 letter to him was inaccurate and that it was Chief Shackleford in consultation with Ballinger who directed that the letter be sent. Thus, Williams’ accusation that the Brown Act had been violated was equally wrong, according to DeMonaco, Kreeger, Luth and Ramos-Evinger.
In addition to the letter from the other four board members, Williams received a letter from Shackleford, also dated February 14. In it, Shakleford wrote, “I am advising you that in your capacity as a board member you are no longer permitted to enter any district-owned facility without my prior approval. This provision does not apply to meetings of the board of directors or of any subcommittees to which you have been assigned.”
Furthermore, the letter stated, “This letter also serves to advise you that at my direction district staff is no longer permitted to assist you with basic computer-related functions such as logging in, accessing your email, accessing and/or the processing of board related forms or other materials. The utilization of staff in this frequency and manner has created an undue burden, therefore staff will no longer be permitted to assist you with matters of this nature. Per board policy, board members are entitled to ‘reasonable staff assistance’ and we will continue to provide such assistance to you but it must be coordinated, in advance, through me. When you are in need of staff assistance, or have the need to enter any district facility, please contact me in advance and I will determine how to proceed in a manner that best meets your needs.”
At the February 20 board hearing to consider a censure of Williams, Kreeger said it was his perception that a major issue in the ongoing dispute that had shunted Williams to one side and the remainder of the board and the fire chief and its legal counsel to the other was that Williams had conflated “what is your personal personal business versus the business of the fire district.” He asked Williams if he acknowledged that asking for photocopies to be made of his personal retirement documents was outside of the purview of his position as a board member. Williams indicated he did not think that was the case since he had been requested by Shackelford to meet with Messina regarding his election to the fire board. He said the copies were requested as a direct outcome of his meeting with Messina, in Messina’s capacity as a fire district’s consultant. He stated that Mike Messina asked for the copies of paperwork related to his retirement dispute with the district. Kreeger pressed on, saying Williams had not answered the question, and restated the question asking Director Williams if he acknowledged that this was a simple misunderstanding. Kreeger insisted that Messina made it clear to Williams that he was not acting on behalf of or as a representative of the district and that seeing a copy of Williams’ lawsuit wasn’t something that he asked for, but rather something Williams offered. Williams said that he did not consider the copies to be personal in the context of what was being discussed with Messina and he reiterated that Messina had asked to see them after Williams brought up the subject of the litigation between him and the district.
Kreeger indicated that it was in no way helpful that Williams constantly took recourse in threatening the district and those associated with it with legal action. Kreeger told Williams that his past personal issues should stay in the past and stated that he no longer wanted to hear about them. Kreeger maintained the courts had repeatedly determined that there was no culpability on the part of the fire district. Kreeger said those with whom Williams said the district is colluding had not worked at the fire district in ten years. He said Williams’ past personal issues are his personal issues and not issues as a board member, and that as such he should focus on moving the district forward and not dwell on past personal issues.
Luth accused Williams of badgering district staff. Furthermore, Luth said “You seem obsessed with your past lawsuit against the district regarding your retirement, making false allegations the district is not fulfilling court mandates or doing what’s right. The district ultimately prevailed in multiple lawsuits you have brought against it, and there is no outstanding court order to comply with. You seemingly feel entitled to enter district facilities and provoke district personnel and make comments, demands, and questions at any time. You have been advised repeatedly that all contact with or requests of staff must be channeled through the fire chief. You have ignored that request and undermine the fire chief’s authority.”
Luth said Williams’ assertion that his due process rights were violated is a canard and he called Williams’s accusation that DeMonaco had violated the Brown Act or another provision of state law “reckless.” Luth said he wanted to express “my support for our legal counsel, Jeff Ballinger.” Luth said Williams was on a “quest for retribution. In your pursuit of reprisal, you maligned good people, alarmed staff, and wasted district resources. I respect the position you hold on this board; unfortunately, I do not trust your intention and motivations, which seem driven by personal concerns, not concerns for this district.”
Ramos-Evinger read a prepared statement.
“Director Williams, your actions are not what the public has elected you to do,” Ramos-Evinger said. “Your obvious self-serving contempt for this department, its employees, its leadership, the fire chief, and the board is counterproductive, distracting and a downright nuisance. Your 10-year vendetta, has become quite evident. Instead of focusing on what the district needs to do, we’re dealing with your personal issues. During our last meeting, you stated that you care more about this department than anybody else. If you truly mean that statement, I would like you to consider resigning from the board of directors, not only for defacing this great department, but also to prevent any future embarrassment.”
DeMonaco said that Williams’ election to the board had brought “a troubling set of values” into the district. “As board members, we do not always see eye to eye on policy issues,” DeMonaco said, but conveyed that such differences were previously productively resolved. Williams he said, had during his 76 days on the board demonstrated “a consistent pattern of pushing back and threatening litigation when he doesn’t agree with something.”
DeMonaco said, “Mr. Williams wanted access codes to all district fire stations so he could have access to all district fire stations. He was told that he could not have the security codes, and then he stated that this was disrespectful to him. As a note, our board members do not have and have never had access to our fire stations.”
Williams said that there was “no way in hell” that he would resign. He said that in the latter years of his employment with the district and during his previous stint on the board and in the intervening years up to the present, district officials had engaged in favoritism toward certain employees and officials and exhibited bias against others. A prime example, he said was a paramedic with the department whose function required that he drive a paramedic unit. At some point while driving intoxicated, that paramedic had collided with a police car, thereby losing his license, Williams recounted. The department’s former chief, Paul Benson, however, had arranged for the paramedic to keep his job during the year his license was suspended by having him ride in the district’s fire units rather than drive. Williams contrasted the favoritism shown to the paramedic with the way in which Benson had treated him. “It’s unbelievable!” Williams said. “But it happened. And it’s a requirement to have your driver’s license to be on the fire department. For a year he didn’t have it after that. So how can that be okay and somebody else get knocked down for doing something? How low does the bar go? I was here when that happened and there are several guys here that can testify to it. That’s the thing I do remember. Well, what am I supposed to do? Where do you draw the line? That’s what I want to know and that’s what I will fight. I want to be treated fair. And when stuff like this comes about, I’m going to make an issue of it. It has to be brought out. The law says that my retirement is not valid. I’ve read it to you a hundred times, probably, every time before I got on the board. You’ve heard it numerous times, but you don’t want to hear it. Of course you don’t. You don’t want to do anything about it, either. The last meeting you said I should be one to go along with the law. I can say that to you about this, too. And I’ve said it to you a hundred times.”
Williams said, “I don’t want to be censured. I don’t want to have any problems. I don’t want to be stopped from being a liaison, or anything like that. I would like to fit in. I would like to be able to call these people and talk to them on the phone about issues. I don’t think they want to talk to me.”
Williams said he agreed and understands what Kreeger wants. He said he was prepared to go along with that. He said he was not there to cause trouble for the fire district. He said he agreed with Kreeger that the board has a lot of things that need to be addressed.
On a motion by Ramos-Evinger, seconded by Kreeger and carried by a 4-to-1 vote, the board passed a resolution of censure based on Williams’ conduct.
A motion by Ramos-Evinger seconded by DeMonaco to remove Williams from his appointed liaison and committee assignments failed by a 2-to-3 vote with Luth, Krieger and Williams in opposition.
A motion by Ramos-Evinger seconded by DeMonaco to prohibit travel and per diem compensation for Williams failed by a 2-to-3 vote with Luth, Krieger and Williams in opposition.
Luth made a motion to require Williams to make an appointment with the fire chief for any fire district staff contact or before visiting any Chino Valley Fire District facilities. The motion, seconded by Ramos-Evinger, carried by a 4-to-1 vote.
Ramos-Evinger made a motion to require a witness in attendance at all meetings with Williams and any member of the fire district and that the meetings may be recorded with notice to all meeting members. That motion, seconded by Kreeger, carried by a 4-to-1 vote with Williams in opposition.
At the next board meeting held on March 13, Luth questioned a reimbursement check for $31.09 that was paid to Williams. The agency’s finance director explained that it was for mileage reimbursement in the amount of $17.52 for an Association of San Bernardino County Special Districts meeting on January 28, 2019 in Rancho Cucamonga and for mileage reimbursement in the amount of $13.57 for a California Computer Schools class that Williams attended in Ontario on January 29, 2019, for a total of $31.09.
Luth questioned whether the reimbursement for Williams’ travel to the computer class was appropriate, since it was his understanding that the class was not required but that Williams asked to attend the computer class at the district’s expense. Williams responded that he did not ask to attend that class. Williams said, “I was asked to attend. I did not ask to attend. I attended for the good of the district and for the good of being on the board. That’s what it came down to.”
Luth said he did not believe that Williams should have received a per diem for taking a course for something he should have had an understanding of before he began serving as a member of the board. Luth said it was the responsibility of the board’s members to be able to use a computer and email, and to function in the way that the district communicates and supplies information. Luth stated that he believed that Williams’ collection of a per diem to attend the computer use seminar was an abuse of privilege of the opportunity the district had provided to Williams.
DeMonaco said he didn’t view the class as typical training and education as a conference that the board would usually attend.
“Are we going to have another ‘beat Winn up session’ here or what’s going on?” Williams said. “I explained to you what the situation was and I did it for my own benefit but also for the benefit of the board, thank you.”
Ultimately, the board approved the expenditure, but thereafter took action removing Williams from all liaison and committee appointments and prohibiting him from receiving travel, per diem compensation and reimbursements for meetings, conferences, seminars, training and education.
Later in the meeting, when Williams inquired about an item under discussion and Ramos-Evinger chided Williams for not having adequately familiarized himself with what was on the agenda, Williams pointed out that the board had previously limited his access to the district staff. “You’re going to tie my hands if I can’t communicate,” Williams said. “I didn’t make any statements that would not allow me to talk to staff and yet that is what you have decided that the chief should do. So if you do that, it’s only going to make things worse, if you want me to not talk to staff. I did not talk to staff this past month.”
Also previewed at the March 13 meeting was Deputy Fire Chief Mike Faherty’s proposed set of security options for the district’s headquarters, consisting of removing the existing board office access door and enclosing the opening, installing a new access door on the same wall closer to the building’s southwest entrance, installing a secondary access door where the two hallways intersect, installing an access control key pad on the secondary access door, installing an override switch on the secondary access door, and modifying the security system to adapt to the existing installation.
When the rationale for the security upgrades was broached, Williams said, “I’m kind of curious” about why the upgrades were taking place. He then asked, “Am I the board [member] that staff is being protected from?
DeMonaco replied, “Yes”.
Williams responded, “Let’s remember one thing. I worked for the fire district for 33 years and never once was there ever any incident, any kind of physical kind or type of situation. If this is the reason for this, there’s no need for it. I haven’t threatened anybody; not violently, that’s for sure. There’s no need, if that is the concern. It just doesn’t add up. It’s never occurred.”
Luth told Williams that he has put staff on edge, and that staff needs to be protected. He characterized as “ridiculous” that the board needs to take this step, but said he was convinced it was necessary. He told Williams that whether he has made a direct physical threat or not, his demeanor, actions, words, and confrontations “put staff on edge, and staff needed to be protected.”
At the April 10 meeting of the Chino Valley Independent Fire District Board, the contretemps reached a new low.
Williams’ son, Kyle, addressed the board. In his statement, Kyle Williams brought into question, or at least attempted to bring into question, Fire Chief Tim Shackelford’s qualifications. He did so by first referencing Shackelford’s father, Ray Shackelford, who formerly served in the capacity of the district’s fire chief.
“Ray Shackelford was hired as chief in 1991,” Kyle Williams said. “Then, just a few short months later, his son Tim just happened to be hired for a highly competitive firefighter position. If that sounds like more than just coincidence, that’s because it was. I spoke with multiple former employees, and they have all told me the same story about what occurred. They say that Tim Shackelford was eighth on the list to be hired and would not have received the position. However, his father rigged the hiring process, throwing out the candidates that were more qualified so his son could move to the top of the list. Ray Shackelford was later forced out after he was caught stealing from the department, so it’s not surprising he would corrupt the hiring process to benefit his kid.”
Referencing the then-unfolding revelations relating to payments being made to officials at major colleges nationwide to obtain admissions for poor academically performing but wealthy college applicants, Kyle Williams continued, “Now, the kids who benefited from the cheating scandal are all being expelled from their schools. It doesn’t matter how long they were at the school, or how they were performing; they cheated and they shouldn’t be there, so they’re getting kicked out. Likewise, [Fire Chief Tim] Shackelford is only here today because the process was corrupted, cheating out more qualified candidates than him, regardless of how long ago this was. The college cheating scandal highlights the need to right these past wrongs when people have attained their position by cheating. In order to right this wrong, how Tim Shackelford was hired by this district, he should resign, and if he won’t, he should be removed.“
After that sally against the district establishment and in favor of Winn Williams was delivered, another attacking Williams was made. This came from Frank Sexton, a retired engineer with the Chino Valley Fire District, who had worked with Williams in decades past. Sexton said he met Williams on May 1, 1979. He offered the view that Williams “only loves two things: his family and a dollar bill.” He accused Williams of engaging in personal activities while on duty ‘so he could feel that he was accomplishing a personal task on company time. I believe that a motivation for his retirement was that he could collect a paycheck without having to come to work. I further believe, and it is my opinion, that once the firefighters earned a series of raises in compensation, he tried to renounce his retirement in order to get back on the job and secure a higher retirement benefit. Of course, intentions cannot be proven very easily, but I am entitled to my opinion.” He said Williams “is incapable of working and or playing well with others. I think he got on this board believing that he could leverage his presence into capitulation on his various legal pleadings, collect a few Benjamin Franklins [$100 bills], and move on.”
Lionizing firefighters, Sexton implied that Williams had exploited the positive associations the public has with those who have worked in the firefighting profession in general to fool Chino Valley’s voters into putting him in office. “Most of the ‘old timers’ that I worked with would agree with me that some of the worst leadership of this new independent fire district, going all the way back to its inception, has come from active or retired firefighters serving on this board of directors.”
Sexton said the installation of security measures at headquarters was called for because of Williams’ propensity for violence, which he illustrated with his account of “one evening long ago, at Fire Station 64” when, directly addressing Williams, he said, “You were going crazy because you were certain that someone had hidden the station’s salt and pepper shakers from you. You ranted for at least an hour about this, and it culminated around 10 p.m., when you assaulted me in my bunk. You had both of your hands placed firmly around my neck and were screaming at me to tell you where the salt and pepper shakers were.”
Sexton offered Williams a crisp $100 bill if he would resign.
Later in the meeting, while the board engaged in a discussion about the need for an “independent” investigation of issues besetting the district as a consequence of the bitterness and back-and-forth between Williams and other district officials, Kyle Williams again addressed the board. He said that Ballinger, because of the accusations that had been leveled at him by his father, who as a board member is represented by Ballinger, should have discontinued his representation of the district. This was brought about by the ethical restrictions on attorneys, Kyle Williams said. Quoting a bar rule that states a “lawyer’s own interests should not be permitted to have an adverse effect on the representation of a client,” Kyle Williams said that “if the probity of a lawyer’s own conduct in a transaction is in serious question, it may be difficult or impossible for the lawyer to give a client detached advice. Clearly, Mr. Williams has accused Ballinger of several instances of malfeasance and impropriety. The probity of Ballinger’s conduct is in serious question, making it difficult or impossible to give detached advice. However, despite the obvious personal interest conflict raised by Mr. Williams’ allegations, Ballinger has neither withdrawn nor has he sought and received informed written consent from the district to continue advising on matters related to Mr. Williams. This is a clear violation of Bar rules, and it is no trivial matter. The California Supreme Court has held that an attorney for a public agency is a public official, and held to an even higher standard than a typical lawyer. Special considerations apply to lawyers who are public officials, including the duty to act evenhandedly and with impartiality, and to refrain from abusing the power of government.”
After further discussion, the board voted 3-to-1, with Kreeger absent and Williams in opposition, to authorize DeMonaco as board president to to appoint an ad hoc committee to engage and oversee an independent investigator to address accusations made by Williams and Fire Chief Shackelford.
The accusations by Shackelford alluded to in the investigation authorization consisted of the fire chief’s account of what he said was an overture by Williams to sell him drugs, specifically Vicodin tablets. Sheckelford’s accusation provoked a retort from Williams in which he called the fire chief “a liar.”
At the May 8 meeting of the board, Williams asked what authority the board had to withdraw his reimbursements for travel, per diem compensation and reimbursements for meetings, conferences, seminars, training and education. Legal Counsel Ballinger responded that the policies are policies of the board and, as such, what the board establishes the board can change and can amend from time to time. The board can, Ballinger insisted, take away things that it has granted individual board members.
During the meeting, the board queried Chief Shackelford about occasions when Williams had made what were termed “unauthorized” efforts to access or come onto district properties and facilities, and his efforts to have direct contact with district personnel without having coordinated those contacts through him.
On May 30, at a specially called meeting of the board, Isaac Rosen was, perhaps because of Kyle Williams’ complaint against Ballinger, serving as district counsel.
The board voted 4-to-1, with Williams dissenting, to retain Debra L. Reilly, an attorney investigator and employment law attorney, to conduct an internal fact-finding investigation. Under the arrangement, Reilly is to conduct interviews and otherwise engage in legal services for the limited purposes of making factual findings regarding the veracity of 10 specific allegations that may constitute a hostile work environment for district personnel.
Reilly was consigned to prepare a written report of her findings and factual conclusions to be mailed/e-mailed to Board President DeMonaco and Board Vice President Luth, who constitute the ad hoc committee regarding the investigation.
Williams said, “This investigation has nothing to do with hostile work environment. It’s whether ‘Winn said something we didn’t like’, or ‘said something in a manner we didn’t like.’ And I’m not going to play along. I’m not going to participate in an investigation where the allegations have nothing to do with the stated scope of hostile work environment. This is a joke. It’s a complete waste of taxpayer money to pay an attorney $325 an hour to determine if I said something critical of Tim Shackelford, which I have every right to do. In fact, that’s exactly the role of board members that are doing their job: to oversee the department and the chief. He’s not immune from criticism, as he seems to believe. There was one amusing yet disturbing thing in allegation number four in the letter to Ms. Riley. It said ‘Chief Shackelford was frightened in a meeting that occurred on January 8, where there was a heated exchange’ between myself and John DeMonaco. I will not deny there was yelling in that meeting, but John DeMonaco was an equal participant in the yelling. Tim Shackelford didn’t say a word in that meeting. All of the discussion was between John DeMonaco and myself. If Tim Shackelford was frightened just from witnessing a heated exchange between two board members, I am extremely concerned about his capacity to lead during a major incident without getting frightened. It makes me very concerned that this department is led by someone with such thin skin that frightens so easily. If we’re going to do an investigation, let’s be transparent. The agreement with Ms. Riley says her report is privileged and might never be disclosed to the public. Why not? So you can bury this one-sided investigation if the results aren’t what you want?”
Shackelford reported that on February 27, Williams had engaged in what he characterized as a violation of a board directive when he left a voice message for the district’s administrative secretary asking for her to call him back to coordinate travel arrangement and attendance to upcoming events. Shackelford read an email pertaining to communication he had with Willliams relating to the violation. Shackelford said that Williams engaged in other violations of board directives relating to contact with or phone messages to district staff members or coming onto district premises without prior arrangements with Shackelford on March 28; April 12, 17, 18, and 22; May 15, 16 and 30. Unclear from the report was whether such restrictions were being enforced upon the board’s other members.
After Williams left the May 30 meeting to attend a previously scheduled dinner at 5:59 p.m., the remaining members of the board discussed their options relating to Williams’ reported violations of the board’s directive relating to his direct contact with staff. Ultimately, the board voted 4-to-0 to have staff prepare either an addendum or bring forth an additional resolution of censure of Williams and empower staff to disengage with Williams when impacted by Williams’ lack of compliance with the directives previously adopted by the board.
At the board’s June 12 meeting, when the item relating to a second censure of Williams was taken up, Williams stated that by his election to the board, he had not surrendered the rights of everyday citizens. Chief Shackelford was then asked whether residents of the district were permitted to have access to the district office’s lobby. Shackelford clarified that a member of the public would have access to the administration building’s lobby. He said that at each fire station, typically the general public would have access to the captain’s office area. He also reported that there is a public area that members of the general public would have access to if they stop in and have a question.
Luth said he believed Williams’ rights as a citizen were not being violated by the restrictions, and that the censures and directives, from his perspective, did not subordinate any board member to the fire chief. The directive, Luth said, was simply asking or directing, in particular Williams, to coordinate through the fire chief for approval to schedule a time to meet with district staff. This was done, he said, because of Williams’ past abuse of his discretion with regard to contact with district staff. Luth said no one is trying to restrict Williams or prohibit him from coming to district offices, but rather trying to control how that access, and when and where it happens, and with whom.
Ballinger, who was present at the meeting despite Rosen being there in the capacity of the district’s legal counsel, asserted the board has the right and inherent right, as any legislative body does, to adopt resolutions of censure, as well as place restrictions on access to district facilities. He also reported that’s what the district did, and did it for the protection of district employees, implying Williams represented a danger to the district’s employees.
Williams said, “Part of the problem with what you guys have done is you put restrictions on there to begin with that were unreasonable, absolutely unreasonable, and not to the benefit of the people I serve. But along with that, you’ve given no timeframes – you’ve taken away everything that I had – my liaisons, everything else, and acted like I threatened… like I made threats of physical violence or something like that, which is absolutely ridiculous. With that, I take exception to that. That’s absolutely wrong. There were no threats. And I’m sure that if there had been threats, things would be probably be a whole lot worse than they are. So, let’s call it like it is, and say that this is nothing but a vendetta. And I think it’s a vendetta because I knocked out your buddy [Ed Gray] on the election. Because, it wasn’t hardly into the first meeting that Sarah [Director Ramos-Evinger] was telling me that I ought to resign. I couldn’t believe that. When I was on the board in ’05 & ’06, I did things to try and get along. And it didn’t work. They just kept stepping on me. And this time, I said ‘I’m not going to do it.’ And there’s going to be things coming out when the board members have a chance to speak; I’ve got other things that I’m going to be talking about that are very relevant, along the same lines. But I feel you guys have done enough by taking away all my liaisons and everything else. But I mean, geez, why don’t you bring a gun here and kill me? I mean that’s what you want, you want me out. I’m not going anywhere. The only way you’re gonna get me out of here is something like that. Because I’m not going anywhere. But be reasonable, be understanding, and don’t take away my rights.”
On a motion by Ramos-Evinger, seconded by Luth, with Kreeger absent, the board voted 3-to-1 to adopt a resolution of censure against Williams based on his failure to adhere with previously adopted board directives related to his interaction with district staff.
Word now comes that Kyle Williams has submitted to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office’s Public Integrity Unit a complaint alleging Kreeger engaged in activity tantamount to embezzlement by submitting fraudulent invoices to the district to obtain reimbursement.
Kyle Williams alleged that Kreeger was a no-show at the board meetings on August 16, September 20, October 4, October 18, and November 15, 2018 and that this year he did not attend the January 17, February 21, March 7 and March 21 meetings, but had invoiced the district for being in attendance. He was paid $157.50 for attending each of those meetings, according to the district.
Kyle Williams in his complaint alleged “Through this ongoing scheme, Mr. Kreeger has misappropriated fire district funds in a cumulative total amount in the thousands” of dollars.
The most recent evidence of the district’s decline into incivility came with Shackelford’s expenditure of $4,000 from his annual $25,000 discretionary funding allotment to install a portable metal detector in the district lobby. Those filing into the district’s board meeting room must pass through the detector. It was made clear the screening is being done specifically with Williams in mind, for use before board meetings.
Almost immediately, the metal detector hit pay dirt. On July 10, the detector’s alarm was triggered when Williams attempted to come into the chambers while carrying a pocketknife. He was turned away and only allowed in after he went out to the parking lot and placed the knife inside his vehicle.
Efforts to obtain input directly from all of the board members prompted no response from Ramos-Evinger and Luth. DeMonaco referred the Sentinel to statements made on the record during board meetings and to several newspaper articles about the controversy that have run in the Chino Champion and the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.
Williams told the Sentinel that his board colleagues, in particular DeMonaco, as well as Shackelford and Ballinger “are so vindictive and so against me that they can’t think straight. They are doing everything they can to marginalize me. They want me to sit in the corner and be quiet and have it like I’m not even there unless it is a circumstance where they absolutely have to deal with me.”
Williams likened the district’s officials to “a bunch of schoolyard bullies. They don’t want it out there that they are not upholding the law. I worked for the district for 33 years and they forced me out. I was illegally retired. There was absolutely no basis for it, and they know that.”
There are few substantial differences between him and the others on issues relating to the actual running of the fire safety operations at the district, Williams said. The few exceptions there are consist of some minor financial considerations and information availability, he said. “This is a personality conflict, pure and simple,” he said.
Now they are grasping at straws to discredit him, Williams said. He referenced spurious suggestions by Shackelford that he had attempted to sell him drugs.
What occurred in actuality, Williams said, was he had met with Shackelford and Deputy Chief Mike Faherty and Deputy Chief Kyle Collins at noon on February 11 at BJ’s Restaurant in what was a routine monthly meeting to keep him abreast of district issues. There was a bit of tension when the meeting began, Williams said, because Shackelford said he had some concerns that he had in common with DeMonaco about Williams’ interaction with district staff. In the course of the conversation, the subject of a couple of the district’s firefighters being out on Workers Compensation leave came up. Shackelford said there was a likelihood that the firefighters would need to undergo rehabilitative surgery and would be out of commission for some time. Williams drew an analogy to what he had experienced with his injury and expressed the need for caution on the part of the firefighters because of the likelihood they would be prescribed opioid painkillers. Williams said that on the day he had come back to work, he was ordered at once to submit to a drug test, which he had fortunately passed because he had not used the Vicodin that had been prescribed to him. He remarked that he had bottles of the stuff left over. “Do you know anyone that would want to buy it?” Williams asked. “It’s old but it will probably still work.” Williams told the Sentinel he had made the remarks as a joke, one intended to break up the tense atmosphere of the meeting. He is appalled that Shackelford publicly related his remarks, suggesting that he was seriously making an offer to sell opioids, when, he said, Shackelford “damn well knew” he was making a joke.
Williams said that after he received the December 26 letter from Ballinger and he determined that DeMonaco had pushed to have the letter sent without support from the rest of the board, thereby violating the Brown Act, he stood his ground. “That is when the hostilities against me really ramped up,” he said.
Williams said the requirement imposed on him by the board that “I make an appointment with the fire chief for any fire district staff contact or before visiting any fire district facilities effectively makes me a subordinate of the chief, whom I am supposed to be overseeing. I have to get his approval to do the job I was elected to do and he can now control who I can talk to and filter what information I can receive.”
Williams said “On April 20, they voted to initiate an investigation of me. The essence of the investigation is to determine whether I made comments critical of the chief and asked him about misconduct concerning employees in the department. Incidentally, I have not heard a single word about that investigation even though that was initiated over three months ago.”
On May 30, Williams said, “The chief detailed all of the violations of their ‘board directive’ to get approval to do my job. If you look at the list presented by Chief Shackelford, you will see that each one is for routine board business, but they are trying to make it seem as if I am menacing or harassing employees. Also at the May 30 meeting, they voted to allow the chief to disable my key card access to the building, which he promptly did. Additionally, they voted to prohibit me from attending any district function that is not open to the public without prior approval from Shackelford. This was done to prevent me from attending a retirement luncheon for one of the assistant chiefs that was taking place the following week. DeMonaco even told me in open session at the June 3 special meeting that the sheriff would be at the luncheon, which I took as a clear threat that I would be subject to arrest if I showed up.”
Williams continued, “On June 12, they censured me once again for violating their ‘board directive’ not to go to the fire district facilities without prior approval. They also took no action on Shackelford’s recommendation to restore my key card access to administration. Shackelford’s own recommendation specifically noted that the restrictions have made it virtually impossible to do my job, stating, ‘As board members occasionally need to interact with staff for routine business purposes it has been challenging to provide Director Williams with the staff support that he requires while remaining compliant with the staff interaction guidelines as imposed by the board.”
Williams said that “At the July 10 meeting, Shackelford explained that expensive security screening procedures had been implemented for board meetings purportedly because I presented a threat. However, their charade to make it seem as if I am some sort of unhinged threat quickly fell apart when I asked Shackelford point blank if I had threatened anybody with violence, and he responded, ‘not that I am aware of.’”
Williams said, “To sum it up, here is the list of ‘violations’ I have committed that have resulted in the actions against me: (1) I tried to make two photocopies to provide documents to a board consultant; (2) I made comments critical of the fire chief; and (3) I went to fire district administration to do my job without pre-approval from the chief. The other board members, and DeMonaco in particular, have stated that the meetings have become all about me. However, it is DeMonaco that is driving the agenda and taking some sort of action against me at every meeting. They are making it all about me.”
Kreeger told the Sentinel, “My hope is that Mr. Williams becomes a productive member of the board without bringing his personal business into the board meeting and just concentrates on good work for the fire district.”
By Mark Gutglueck