By Mark Gutglueck
Adelanto Mayor Gabriel Reyes this week offered his perspective on recent turns of events in the City With Unlimited Possibilities, contesting the widening perception that City Manager Jessie Flores has come to represent a torch of graft that has been passed to him from the Rich Kerr regime that Reyes and two of his council colleagues deposed in the 2018 municipal election.
Flores, with his thin curriculum vitae, marginal academic and professional background, sketchy governmental experience and highly dubitable track record, was plucked from relative obscurity last year by then-Mayor Rich Kerr to serve as Adelanto city manager. Previously, as the city’s contract economic development director put into place by Kerr, Flores carried out Kerr’s marching orders to transition the financially-challenged city to a marijuana-based economy, and had facilitated a free-for-all atmosphere in the city for actual and would-be cannabis entrepreneurs that had caught the attention of the FBI. With Kerr as mayor, Kerr’s two allies on the city council, Jermaine Wright and John Woodard, and Flores in the role of unchecked economic development consultant, Adelanto in the first three-and-a-half years of Kerr’s tenure as mayor had burned through six city managers, each with greater or lesser misgivings about the way in which Kerr was having the city conduct its affairs by partnering with dozens of questionable business applicants, often suspending its own ordinances, regulations and rules to please those business people. Along the way, Wright had been arrested by the FBI and charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with bribery as a consequence of his having personally cashed in on the marijuana bonanza all around him, and both City Hall and Kerr’s home had been raided by the FBI seeking to uncover evidence of kickbacks being delivered to city officials by grateful marijuana entrepreneurs granted lucrative marijuana cultivating and marketing licenses in the city. Upon being elevated to the city manager’s post, Flores expressed his gratitude to Kerr by intensifying the effort to establish Adelanto as the California city with the largest number of legalized and licensed operations involving the cultivation of marijuana, the wholesaling of marijuana, the manufacturing of cannabis-based products, the distribution of unaltered marijuana together with cannabis infusions and derivatives, and the storefront retailing of marijuana and cannabis-based products. Accompanying that intensification came ever more bold suspensions of the city’s own regulations, greater scrutiny of the city’s action by the FBI and suspicion among the public in general that a mob-like element, led by Kerr with Flores as his capodecina managing his made guys, had muscled in on City Hall.
In that atmosphere, with the growing perception that bribes and kickbacks were the reality in Adelanto’s municipal culture, a reform movement grew, crystallizing around the mayoral candidacy of Gabriel Reyes and the council candidacies of Stevevonna Evans and Gerardo Hernandez in the 2018 election. All three were successful, driving Kerr and Woodard from office.
A clearly pronounced expectation was that upon their installment in office, perhaps even as early as the day all three were sworn in, Reyes, Evans and Hernandez would vote to terminate Flores. No such move played out upon the trio taking their places on the council dais. Reyes, as the new mayor, quickly established the pecking order on the council, nominating Evans to serve as mayor pro tem. In fielding the obvious and expected questions about what the council intended to do with Flores, Evans acknowledged Flores’ undeniable connection to the Kerr regime and the outstanding issues with regard to the activities within the city over the previous three years and the way in which Flores represented both a real and symbolic obstruction to the reform of City Hall that the voters had expressed so clearly at the polls. Still, Evans said, she and her colleagues could not precipitously fire Flores for no stated cause whatsoever in what might be widely perceived as a crass political move. She said the council was reviewing the city manager’s past and current performance very carefully and would take whatever action, including termination, was appropriate based upon methodical evaluation.
In the meantime, the marijuana entrepreneurs who had backed Kerr and Woodard to the hilt with generous donations to their campaigns before the election in November had to come to terms with having wagered their money on the wrong political horses. They looked to make amends, swooping in to provide post-election campaign donations to the victors, hoping doing so would help them forget that they had opposed their elections so they might not hold that against them when votes impacting them came up in the future. Central among those was Brad Eckenweiler, the chief executive officer of Lifestyle Delivery Systems, which had obtained an operating license for a sizable undertaking involved in all order of cultivation and production, which included manufacturing under-the-tongue absorption cannabinoid strips. Eckenweiler provided Reyes with a $7,000 peace offering in the form of a political donation.
As 2019 progressed, the will to part with Flores did not materialize. While Councilman Ed Camargo, who had been at odds with Kerr over the direction he had been committed to taking the city in from the outset, was a solid vote to cashier Flores, Councilwoman Joy Jeannette, a holdover from the Kerr political team, remained foursquare behind Flores. By late January, it was clear that Hernandez was in agreement with Camargo, and was willing to jettison Flores. Still the same, Reyes and Evans, who were both being heavily lobbied by Kerr and his supporters, including those from the cannabis industry, were learning of the city’s dire financial position. They were being prosthelytized with the mantra that the capital to be generated by the marijuana trade that had been created for the city by Kerr, Wright, Woodard and Flores represented the one surefire prospect the city had of being able to find the revenue needed to remain as a going concern and avoid eventual bankruptcy or disincorporation.
On February 13, after Reyes learned of a $30,000 severance payment Flores had made to a city code enforcement officer Flores had apparently forced into resigning, the mayor made a point of raising the issue during a closed session and the city council voted to place Flores on paid administrative leave while an internal investigation relating to the matter was carried out. On March 7, the council voted 3-to-2 to reinstate Flores to his full duties as city manager, with Reyes, Evans and Jeannette prevailing and Camargo and Hernandez dissenting.
Last week, it appeared that a third vote had materialized to hand Flores his walking papers. Evans had sent signals indicating she would be willing to entertain another review of Flores’ performance, to be accompanied by an up-or-down vote to hand him a pink slip. Camargo arranged, through City Attorney Victor Ponto, to put the evaluation and possible action on the agenda for discussion at the council’s August 14 meeting. Before adjourning into that executive session, however, Mayor Reyes objected to the item being resurrected after the council had endured a recent closed session discussion relating to Flores’ performance and Flores had come away from that evaluation unscathed. Enough is enough, Reyes maintained, saying he objected to again subjecting Flores to a life-or-death vote. When Reyes called for a vote to remove the item from the closed session discussion, Hernandez, who was widely assumed to be a reliable vote to get rid of Flores, swung to support Reyes and Jeannette, preventing Evans and Camargo from being able to take the issue up in that evening’s closed session. Later, Reyes, Hernandez and Jeannette foreclosed an effort to schedule Flores’ possible firing during a future closed session.
Evans’ unanticipated reversal showing her willingness to fire Flores was thus accompanied by an equally surprising flip in the opposite direction by Hernandez, who went from gunning to remove Flores to supporting his retention as city manager. That development sent shock waves through the community, raising suspicions and hackles. Compounding the confusion, it was revealed that Reyes is on the verge of asking his colleagues to rescind Evans’ appointment as mayor pro tem and to confirm his nomination of Hernandez to the position.
The full implication of all of this requires a contextual understanding.
The November 2018 election cycle that heralded the ascendancy of Reyes, Evans and Hernandez matched by Kerr’s, Woodard’s and former Councilman Charlie Glasper’s removal from office mirrored the 2014 election when Kerr, Woodard and Glasper had ousted incumbents Cari Thomas, Charles Valvo and Steve Baisden in a clean sweep.
Upon joining Ed Camargo and Jermaine Wright on the city council in 2014, Kerr, Woodard and Glasper, mindful that in June 2013 the Thomas-led council had declared Adelanto to be in a state of fiscal emergency, a move preparatory to a declaration of bankruptcy, embarked on an effort to rejuvenate the city financially.
Without hesitation, Kerr and Woodard embraced dispensing with the city’s longstanding ban on the sale of medical marijuana within the city limits, calling upon staff to prepare the way for the city to utilize the freedom it had under the auspices of the 1996 passage of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act, to license entrepreneurs to sell medical marijuana within the city and capture the revenue from taxes imposed on the sales of the drug to fatten city coffers. Because of Glasper’s advocacy against making marijuana available for any purposes and his contention that a significant number of those purchasing medical marijuana for medical purposes would actually be using it for its intoxicative effect, Kerr and Woodard, by that point joined by Wright, compromised with Glasper to change the nature of the marijuana-based businesses the city was contemplating permitting from dispensaries and storefronts marketing or selling marijuana to end uses to large-scale indoor cultivation facilities operating exclusively from buildings within the city’s industrial park. Councilman Ed Camargo remained in opposition to allowing any commercial activity that entailed the production or sale of marijuana. The council majority also had to overcome the resistance of several city staff, which included former City Manager Jim Hart, former City Engineer/Public Works Director/interim City Manager Tom Thornton and City Attorney Todd Litfin.
By late 2015, having succeeded in getting the city moving full speed ahead on a strategy that would allow the agricultural production of marijuana to create tax revenue for the city, Kerr, Woodard and Wright began to maneuver around Glasper, who at that point was in the early throes of dementia, to broaden the city’s toleration of a cannabis-based economy from cultivation alone to retail sales of the medical marijuana product. Moreover, looking forward to what they anticipated would be the November 2016 statewide approval of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act which would allow marijuana to be used for its intoxicative effect, Kerr, Woodard and Wright began militating toward opening areas of the city within its industrial and commercial districts to retail establishments.
The council majority arranged to hire Jessie Flores, a longtime political hanger-on, whom Kerr, Woodard and Wright recognized might be useful. Flores, who would do practically anything for money, was given a position as the city’s contract economic development director, under a contract which skirted conflict of interest regulations and allowed him to seek out business interests and entrepreneurs and facilitate their applications for business licenses and permits and, if the applicants were amenable, hire Flores to work for them or retain him as a consultant. On the face of this, it appeared that Flores might be acting as a means of conveyance – through accepting money from the applicants for Adelanto business licenses – as a bag man for bribes being delivered to members of the council to guarantee the approval of those business license applications.
As the City of Adelanto expanded its acceptance of marijuana-related businesses to include retail establishments, it adopted a host of zoning, permitting, inspection and regulation measures meant as window dressing to reassure the public that the city was seeking to ensure the move toward liberalization of marijuana use did not create a lawless environment. These regulations were offered as a demonstration that the new age of enlightenment was not ushering the city into an era of chaos after more than a century of marijuana prohibition. As importantly, the regulations at least appeared to be an assurance that the permitting fees and taxes that were to accompany the marijuanification of Adelanto that was to generate money to sustain the city would be fairly, uniformly and conscientiously collected.
In short order, however, it was growing ever more apparent that the Kerr regime’s publicly announced plan to get Adelanto in on the ground floor of the California marijuana revolution and thereby see to it that the city moved ahead of other municipalities in terms of hosting lucrative tax- and fee-producing businesses was essentially a cover for venal and self interested purposes. Initially Kerr and his team said the number of cannabis related business licenses would be limited to six operations citywide and would need to comply with a requirement that those operations draw at least fifty percent of those who work there from Adelanto itself.
Virtually overnight the limit on the number of operations to a half dozen was dispensed with. For a time, city officials said the untoward impacts of businesses selling a substance, the possession of which California law previously designated as a felony, would be minimized by strict zoning codes. Those zones were generally in areas away from residences, schools, churches and other sensitive uses. But as the number of applicants for marijuana-related business permits burgeoned, the council casually expanded the zones. In multiple cases there was evidence to suggest that marijuana-related business applicants were provided with information in advance of those zone changes with regard to where land previously designated as off-limits to commercial cannabis or agricultural activity was to be altered to permit such operations, allowing the entrepreneurs to secure quarters in which to operate before those zone changes caused the price on the property to escalate. Word on the street was that members of council or Flores were providing that inside information, at a price.
As Kerr, Woodard and Wright persisted in their headlong pursuit of allowing virtually unbridled permitting of any marijuana-based businesses in the city, some city employees openly questioned the wisdom, propriety and legality of what was occurring. Others were less expressive but quietly protested by insisting on adhering to protocol and having the applicants meet both the spirit and letter of the city’s ordinances. This brought a reaction from Kerr, Woodard and Wright, expressed both officially and unofficially, instructing staff to get with the program and clear the way for the project applications to proceed, or else. Both code enforcement and building and safety officials were ordered to stand down and simply check off the inspection documents relating to the new cannabis-related businesses. When some applicants learned that many of the properties that had been zoned to allow for water-intensive and electricity-intensive indoor cultivation facilities were located in areas of the city that were not yet outfitted with the utilities to supply water and electricity, they made offers to purchase city facilities where such utility hook-ups were in place. In one case, C.B. Nanda, a marijuana cultivator who was a principal with two companies, AMN, LLC, and American Scientific Consultants, who had entered into an agreement with Canniatric, LLC, a company which makes tinctures of cannabis, tendered a $1 million offer on the city’s public works yard, located at 17451 Raccoon Avenue in Adelanto. The public works yard featured two two-story metal buildings, one of which housed the city’s emergency operations center, which had been constructed on the site and outfitted through a $375,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security the city received expressly for that purpose in 2011. City officials committed to selling the public works yard to C.B. Nanda for $1 million, despite one time-City Manager Gabriel Elliott’s insistence that it would cost the city two-and-one-half times to three times that amount to replace it. Because of that resistance, Elliott ultimately found himself on the wrong side of Kerr, and was suspended and eventually fired. Similarly, other city employees were shown the door because they were not on board with the then-council majority’s agenda to transform Adelanto into the marijuana capital of California. Those included Senior Management Analyst Mike Borja, Conservation Specialist Belen Cordero and Public Works Superintendent Nan Moore, former City Clerk/City Manager Cindy Herrera, former City Attorney Julia Sylva, former City Attorney Curtis Wright, former interim City Manager Brad Letner, former contract City Engineer Wilson So; former Assistant City Engineer Aaron Mower; Senior Planner Mark De Manincor; and a former public works employee, Jose Figueroa.
Under the contract that Flores had to serve as the contract economic development director that had been approved by Kerr, Woodard and Wright, Flores was able to serve work both sides of the street with marijuana project applicants by ensuring that they received approval and were given permits and licensing to operate while going to work on their behalf on his own as a consultant. This became a laundering mechanism for kickbacks to the city council members who were approving the projects and the needed zone changes to allow them to set up. Wright, dissatisfied with having to accept only a portion of the money coming back to him through Flores, chaffed under that arrangement and took to making deals with the cannabis entrepreneurs on his own. Ultimately, in 2017 he was tripped up when he accepted a $10,000 cash payment from an FBI agent who was posing as an applicant for a marijuana distribution business. Wright agreed to accept the money in return for protecting the putative marijuana distributor from enforcement and regulatory action by city employees. After a failed attempt by the FBI to utilize Wright to gather information for them relating to Kerr’s, Woodard’s and Flores’ involvement in receiving and distributing bribes and kickbacks, the FBI arrested Wright in November 2017 and he was charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with bribe-taking. He remained incarcerated for more than six months after his arrest, and on January 3, 2018 the council voted to remove Wright as a council member based on California Government Code §36513 and the Adelanto City Charter §505, under which city officials are obliged to vacate a council member’s position when that official has been absent from all regularly scheduled city council meetings for a period of 60 consecutive days.
The city five months later held a special election corresponding with California’s June Primary in which Kerr and Woodard marshaled their political forces to get their ally, Joy Jeannette, elected to the council. Kerr’s political machine continued to dominate the city for the next five months, during which Kerr and Woodard manipulated Jeannette and Glasper to support elevating Flores, who possess no educational degrees beyond a high school diploma and whose only governmental experience other than his contract position as Adelanto’s economic development director consisted of political appointments to field representative posts by former San Bernardino County supervisors Bill Postmus and Brad Mitzelfelt as rewards for work he did on their electoral campaigns, to be city manager. In the November election, the city’s voters wary of the direction the Kerr regime was moving in, chased Kerr and Woodard from office, voting in Reyes, Evans and Hernandez, who were widely perceived as reformists. Glasper did not seek reelection.
After assuming office, Reyes, Evans and Hernandez came face-to-face with example after example of Flores’ missteps, incompetence, questionable judgment, skirting of the law and outright violations of city ordinances and state law. An examination of the record and city documents showed that in return for his promotion to city manager, Flores had agreed to more fully institute the graft-tainted paradigm of municipal governance that met with Kerr, Woodard and Jeannette’s expectations. That involved tweaking the policies that applied to Adelanto making the transition to a reliance on a marijuana-based economy and simultaneously favor a set of cannabis entrepreneurs who were being provided with, if not a monopoly within the cannabis market, a position of dominance over the lion’s share of their competitors and some order of assurance that they would get fees waived, would not be required to pay duties and taxes, and would not be subject to the basic regulations such enterprises were supposed to be functioning under. The upshot of the evidence within the record was that Flores had accommodated Kerr and Woodard in providing favorable treatment to the marijuana-based operations that had taken care of them financially. The expected revenue to the city that was to come from the marijuana operations that had been allowed to set up in the city so Adelanto could turn its dire financial circumstance around had not materialized. Indeed, the city had failed to collect the lion’s share of the taxes that were supposed to be provided by those operations. The council learned that under Flores the city had failed to record a whole host of its transactions, allowing its books to fall into such disarray that they did not lend themselves to being audited.
By March, a majority of the council appeared to have lost its nerve as well as the pre-electoral zeal to reform operations at City Hall. Indeed, several principals among the coterie of cannabis-entrepreneurs, as well as Kerr himself, had taken to lobbying the council, asserting that the city’s only hope for avoiding financial ruin was to stay the course with the gameplan that Kerr, Woodard and Wright had formulated, which consisted of allowing the cannabis industry license to function essentially unmolested by the city’s regulatory arm, primarily its building and safety as well as its code enforcement divisions. They urged the council to look beyond the consideration that the highest grossing marijuana-based businesses were paying minimum taxes or not paying any taxes at all and that they were essentially functioning on the so-called “honor system,” by which they were trusted to report their proceeds without having to allow an independent set of eyes to see their books. Keeping Flores in place was imperative toward the goal of the cannabis operations making their way through their individual start-up phases to gather the strength to sustain themselves and continue to operate into the future, the industry’s advocates maintained.
Those elements of the community that were yet calling for reform pointed out that in early 2018, Kerr and Woodward were confidently predicting that milk and honey were just around the bend for Adelanto, which merely needed to continue to allow the marijuana operations to put one foot in front of the other on a daily basis and that by the time the city got to fiscal 2019-20, some $5.2 million to $5.6 million in marijuana tax revenue would be flooding into the city, such that Adelanto City Hall could meet all of its needs, and further allow city officials to restore line items to the city’s budget that had been taken out years ago and still more than balance the city’s ledgers. They predicted the city would boast a $1.1 million surplus when the new fiscal year began more than a month-and-a-half ago, as of July 1, 2019. In actuality, as June 30, 2019 and the end of Fiscal 2018-19 approached and the beginning of Fiscal 2019-20 was moving up on the city, the reality was that Adelanto had a $6.5 million budget deficit.
At this point, nine months after the election, with Flores yet in place as city manager, Reyes finds himself fending off charges that Adelanto is essentially engaged in the same dance as it was during Kerr’s tenure with a different partner.
This morning, in a wide-ranging exchange with the Sentinel, Reyes sought to dispel that notion.
The city is wrestling with overwhelming financial challenges that in many ways have limited its options, Reyes said. At the same time, the city needs to be run and managed on a day-to-day basis, and the council and city administrators have to devote some of their focus toward sustaining the city into the future. These are daunting tasks, the mayor said, that require calm and reasoned analysis that can only be carried out in an atmosphere of stability. Frenetically lurching from one desperate action to the next in the face of one crisis after another is likely to lead to a cascade of further crises, he said.
He acknowledged that excess and corruption marred the city under Kerr.
“I personally believe that, yes,” Reyes said. “One of the reasons I believe there was corruption is the episode with Bug [i.e., Woodard, who was a real estate professional] being the broker on the deal for the Jet Room.”
The Jet Room was a bar located at 17535 Adelanto Road, that was a popular drinking establishment and night spot frequented by airmen when George Air Force Base was operational. It went into decline and closed after George Air Force Base was shuttered in 1992. It lay fallow for more than two decades and was purchased at the bargain basement rate of $450,000 in October 2016 by David Serrano, who subsequently transformed it into a medical marijuana dispensary. When Serrano purchased the property, it lay outside the zone that would permit uses involving the retailing of marijuana. Woodard brokered the sale to Serrano, receiving a commission of $12,375. A month-and-a-half later, Woodard was involved in council action which expanded the cannabis retail zone to include the property.
“I hope there was no wrongdoing,” Reyes said. “I hope all of this is not true, but personally, I believe something [illegal] was done. I do believe the FBI will eventually arrest all the people who are guilty.”
That Flores was mixed up in what was going on at City Hall while Kerr, Woodard and Wright were on the council is undeniable, Reyes said, but he pointed out that a whole lot of people were working for the city during the four years Kerr was mayor and they cannot all be painted with the same brush or be held to be complicit in what Kerr, Woodard and Wright were doing simply by association. Both the high ranking staff, such as the city’s several city managers during that time, and those lower down on the chain of authority were overwhelmed by Kerr, he said.
“None of them were able to stand up to Rich [i.e;, Kerr],” Reyes said. “If they didn’t do what Rich told them to do they were fired.”
When it was pointed out that Flores, before he was city manager and while he was still in the capacity of the city’s contract economic developer, was militating on Kerr’s behalf and functioning in such a way that he had removed himself from being answerable to any of the city managers, and was in essence enabling Kerr to assert his authority in ways that were improper, Reyes acknowledged that it was possible that Flores had acted in ways that were, at best, ethically questionable, and there were probably other instances in which he had crossed over into skirting the law. The mayor said there is currently an effort to determine the full extent of the abuses that occurred under the past regime. “We are still looking into that,” he said. “I’m really trying to understand how the economic development director could have more power than the city manager.”
When he trained his focus on the consideration that Flores was working for the city under a contract that called for him to interest businesses, investors and speculators in establishing operations or investing in Adelanto while allowing Flores to go to work for those business interests he was courting on behalf of the city – a classic case of a conflict of interest – Reyes indicated it did not seem right to hold Flores to account for a shortcoming in the terms of a contract he was functioning under. “I can’t say that is the type of a person who should be fired,” Reyes said.
With regard to recurrent reports that under Kerr’s watch as mayor favorable treatment was provided to certain marijuana-related entrepreneurs, in particular ones believed to have kicked back to Kerr, Reyes reacted, “Did Jessie take part in setting that up? Did he create it on his own? Would he have orchestrated that by himself or was that something done by Rich?”
Reyes acknowledged that the city has failed to realize the tax income from the cannabis trade in the city that was predicted, and he did not dispute that an element of that shortfall might have been due to favoritism that was shown to a select, or even large, number of marijuana cultivators or cannabis purveyors.
There are three factors at play which have significantly reduced the city’s revenues from the cannabis-related operations that have already been permitted in the city, he said, of which, he added, the public is generally unaware.
One is that a deal was cut with some growers that allowed them to make an upfront payment at the time they were licensed and then forego having to make tax payments for several years thereafter. He said it is not clear which companies entered into such an arrangement, which is favorable to the companies but disadvantageous to the city. “There were companies who paid that tax in advance,” he said. “The city is trying to determine which companies those are,” Reyes said.
Another factor which has severely limited the success of the cultivators in Adelanto and thereby has cut the city off from a commensurate amount of tax revenue, Reyes said, is that at least 65 percent of the properties where cultivation operations are licensed in Adelanto do not have electricity and therefore are not engaged in operations.
“No more than 35 percent – and it is probably less than that – have electricity,” the mayor said. “I have talked to So Cal Edison and they say that those utilities will not be extended to that area until 2021 or 2022.”
And the mechanisms for collecting the tax revenue was neglected, Reyes said. “No one thought about the infrastructure system that had to be in place,” he said. “No one thought about the cannabis tax collection end of this. The collection system that we have now was put in place by my administration. Before, the city collected $40,000 per month. Since I have come into office, our collections are now up to $160,000 to $170,000 per month. Year to date, we have collected $920,000. By the end of the month we will have collected almost $1,000,000.”
Reyes took on the invective that was hurled his way which suggested that he was deposing Evans as mayor pro tem to punish her for her move toward terminating Flores, and that he was rewarding Hernandez with the mayor pro tem appointment for his support for keeping Flores in place.
“Jerry is not a sell-out,” Reyes said. “He wouldn’t change his vote for a promotion and I am not making Councilman Hernandez mayor pro tem for a vote. I am not in control of this council and how it votes. I have run into plenty of opposition and been outvoted on at least five occasions.”
He said he was seeking to remove Evans as mayor pro tem because “I don’t trust her.”
Asked to explicate Evans’ change of heart toward Flores, he said that her motivation was “political and personal,” citing four issues.
He said Evans’ loyalty to the Democratic Party outran her loyalty to the residents of Adelanto, which he said was demonstrated by her reaction to Flores’ unilateral decision to terminate the city’s contract with GEO Group at the Adelanto East Prison facility. That cancellation was done, Reyes said, for sound financial reasons and was entirely within Flores’ purview as city manager. Evans took umbrage at it, the mayor said, because GEO Group is a generous backer of the Democratic Party, in which Evans is highly active.
Reyes said that after the city council inadvertently engaged in a violation of the Brown Act – the State of California’s open public meeting law – the city’s law firm advised the council to make a correction of the error. Evans, Reyes said, used the incident to assert the law firm had not been diligent in preventing the violation from having occurred in the first place, and she sought to have the city switch its legal representation to another firm with which she has a relationship. Reyes said he believed this was inappropriate.
Evans was miffed with Flores’ move to reduce the number of service groups and nonprofit entities, including the city itself, from the eligibility list for the sale of fireworks within the city, according to Reyes. That is another element of her motivation against the city manager, the mayor said, and does not form a rational basis for removing him.
A fourth animus that Evans has against Flores stems from his suspension of three employees in the city’s water division, one of whom is Evans’ friend, the mayor said.
“All of those things are personal or political,” Reyes said. “Those should not be factors in the decisions she is making about the city and its policies in her role as a councilwoman. That is why I feel she should be removed as mayor pro tem.”
With regard to Flores’ qualifications and performance as city manager, Reyes said, “Jessie is not the best city manager, but we haven’t given him the tools to be successful. He has been effective with the resources he has.”
The city has the need for experienced and skilled leadership, Reyes said, but at present, it does not have the wherewithal to obtain it, and the challenge of finding someone with the skill set to guide Adelanto out of the straits it finds itself in is daunting.
“I’ve talked with five city managers,” Reyes said. “One of them was Jim Hart.”
Hart had been the administrative services director in Rancho Cucamonga, the city manager in Twentynine Palms and the city manager in Rancho Margarita before he landed the job as Adelanto city manager in 2004. Hart was fired in February 2015, three months after Kerr became mayor.
“We went through five city managers in three years after Rich became mayor,” Reyes said. “Everyone I talked to said it would be professional suicide to go to work in our city. I was told that we would have to pay from $325,000 to $375,000 [yearly salary to convince an experienced and fully competent city manager to come to work in Adelanto]. We’re paying Jessie $150,000. That’s what we can afford.”
Reyes said he is acutely conscious “of the rumors that are out there. People are saying I’m taking bribes from the cannabis crowd. They say all kinds of things I would rather not hear. None of them are true. It would be so easy to just fire Jessie. That would end a lot of what people are saying. But that’s not a reason to fire someone.”
Kerr made the mayor’s bed in Adelanto, and now he, as Kerr’s successor, has to lie in it, Reyes said.
“We have the cannabis industry here,” Reyes said, adding that it is in substantial disarray. “I am trying to stabilize that industry.”
Voicing stoic resignation, he asked, rhetorically, “Do I want Adelanto to be known for nothing more than weed?”
After a pause, he said. “No, I don’t. Adelanto is much more than that. But it is a major industry here, and I have to support any industry in my city.”
By Mark Gutglueck