16 Of WVWD’s Department Heads Want Manager Sacked

Less than a week after what appeared to be a key change in the leadership of the West Valley Water District’s board of directors that may or may not signal a substantive shift in the governance of the district, the lion’s share of the department heads in the politically embattled district banded together in a petition seeking the ouster of West Valley’s general manager, Clarence Mansell.
At press time, no action had been taken by the board, and Mansell was yet in charge of the district, which operates five treatment plants, 385 miles of pipeline, 25 reservoirs and 17 wells in the Chino, Bunker Hill, Lytle Creek, North Riverside and Rialto-Colton water basins to serve more than 80,000 residents in Rialto, Fontana, Bloomington and north Riverside County through more than 24,000 service connections.
Following the June 2015 departure of Butch Araiza, who had served as the district’s general manager for three decades, the district went through a series of general managers who lasted only a short time. In 2018, at the suggestion of Board Member Michael Taylor, the district hired Clarence Mansell to oversee the district. At the time of Mansell’s recruitment, there was a spirit of bonhomie on the district board, which was then headed by Dr. Clifford Young as president. The board included Dr. Young, Dr. Taylor, Kyle Crowther and Greg Young, who is no blood relation to Dr. Clifford Young, all of whom are Republicans. The lone Democrat on the board was Don Olinger. Though the board posts are technically non-partisan ones, party affiliation is nevertheless a major factor in the board’s governance of the district. In the latter half of 2018, an internecine Republican rivalry broke out between Dr. Young and Dr. Taylor, at which point a factional divide formed with Taylor, Crowther and Olinger on one side and Dr. Young and Greg Young on the other. Clifford Young was deposed as board president and Dr. Michael Taylor was installed in that position.
While most staff members at the district attempted to steer clear of politics, the factionalism on the board was reflected to some degree at the staff level. Mansell, the district’s general counsel, Robert Tafoya, and the district’s human resources and risk manager, Deborah Martinez, hewed to Taylor’s side of the divide. The district’s chief financial officer, Naisha Davis, and the district’s assistant board secretary, Patricia Romero, aligned with Clifford Young.
With the transition from 2018 to 2019, tension within the district deepened and the relationship between Young and Young, on one side, and Taylor, Crowther and Olinger, on the other, worsened. In February, Clifford Young, Davis and Romero filed a qui tam lawsuit alleging widespread wrongdoing within the district, including kickbacks provided to Taylor and Crowther from Tafoya and Martinez, as well as from other attorneys and consultants employed by the district. The lawsuit, which was filed as a gesture on behalf of the district and its ratepayers with Dr. Young, Davis and Romero as plaintiffs, was allowed to proceed because of the nature of the suit which contested the legitimacy of district expenditures, despite the consideration that Clifford Young did not have aligned with him a controlling majority on the district board and that a clear majority of the board – Taylor, Crowther and Olinger – did not support the filing of the suit.
The West Valley Water District holds its elections in odd-numbered years. With Crowther, Olinger and Greg Young up for reelection, the political control of the district was at stake in the November balloting. In an effort to ensure the continued dominance of his faction, Taylor worked assiduously during the campaign in support of Olinger and Crowther and against Greg Young.
Taylor provided Crowther with $6,192.50 provided directly from his campaign fund to assist Crowther in his reelective effort against challengers Betty Gosney and Linda Gonzalez in the district’s newly-formed Division 1, consisting primarily of eastern Fontana.
In the district’s Division 5, covering virtually all of Bloomington, Greg Young was in a contest against Angel Ramirez and Jackie Cox. Taylor put up $19,128.04 to help Ramirez, using money from his own campaign fund that went either directly to Ramirez’s campaign or which was spent to pay for pro-Ramirez materials provided by a third party or an independent expenditure committee.
Olinger, competing in the district’s Division 4 which is contained within Rialto, found himself up against another Democrat, Channing Hawkins. In support of the effort to keep Hawkins from replacing Olinger, Taylor utilized $22,620.48 from his own campaign war chest to help the incumbent by either transferring funds from his account to Olinger’s campaign fund or purchasing electioneering materials in the form of ads or mailers for Olinger.
Once the dust settled after the November 5 election, Crowther had prevailed with 282 votes or 53.41 percent; Greg Young had held off his two challengers by capturing 340 votes or 52.63 percent; and Hawkins had trounced Olinger by capturing 623 votes or 64.83 percent.
Quietly, behind the scenes, Clifford Young had supported Hawkins. With Taylor having worked to keep Hawkins out of office, it appeared that Taylor’s political hold on the West Valley Water District was about to elapse.
At the December 5 board meeting at which the victors in the November election were sworn into office and the board took up the selection of board officers for the coming year, Dr. Taylor utilized his hold on the board president’s gavel to make a political maneuver that would, if not maintain him as the dominant player on the board, at least prevent Dr. Young from again taking control of the district. In a slick use of parliamentary procedure, Taylor in the last minutes of his tenure as board president used his authority in presiding over the meeting to immediately nominate the newly elected Hawkins to succeed him as board president. Hawkins, who appeared to have been in on the maneuver, made a lightning-fast second of his own nomination. A vote was taken before a competing nomination could be made. With Dr. Young abstaining, the board voted 4-to-1 to elevate Hawkins to the chairmanship of the board. By his action, Taylor appeared to have made significant amends with Hawkins. With the maneuver, Taylor caught Clifford Young flatfooted. In the immediacy of what was occurring, and dismayed at the chairmanship of the board having eluded him even before he could get a grip on the gavel, Dr. Young made the mistake of abstaining on the vote to make Hawkins president, undercutting any further progress toward an alliance between himself and Hawkins that might have been heretofore taking shape.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the election, to district staff it had initially appeared that Taylor’s ruling coalition was about to dissolve, and with it Mansell’s continuing viability as general manager. What was not widely known outside the confines of the district’s offices was the degree to which a significant portion of the district’s staff was chaffing under Mansell’s direction. Many of the district’s employees believed that with Hawkins’ election and the anticipated changing of the guard that would follow, Hawkins would line up with Dr. Young and Greg Young to take control of the board. Thereafter, it was anticipated, those members of the district staff seen as being Taylor’s associates – Mansel, Tafoya and Martinez – would be sacked, perhaps as early as this month, but in no case any later than January or February. Taylor’s assistance in establishing Hawkins as board president, however, put those assumptions on hold or may have made them inoperative altogether. Accordingly, early on December 12, just less than a week after Hawkins’ acceptance of the board presidency, a letter from all but two of the district’s eighteen department managers was delivered to Hawkins and the remainder of the board, pressing them to relieve Mansell of his position as general manager.
“Morale has never been lower at West Valley Water District,” the letter states. “General Manager Mansell has alienated employees by removing responsibilities from specific individuals to those who will do his bidding. We bring this to your attention because of our commitment to our customers and employees. We the undersigned, management and supervisory staff of the West Valley Water District, are bringing to you, the board of directors, our extreme concerns with regards to the executive management and overall unsatisfactory performance of General Manager Clarence Mansell, Jr. Our water district is at a crossroads and we felt compelled to take this action because it is our fundamental belief that without a change in leadership, our once proud West Valley Water District will continue to decline and water services will be at risk to our customers. Unfortunately, after continued lack of transparency, communication, honesty, professionalism and respect for employees of West Valley Water District, we have come to the firm conclusion that the only way to save our water district is to change the leadership of the West Valley Water District.”
The letter alleges that Mansell has engaged in favoritism in the hiring process for the district, saddling it with employees who cannot perform adequately.
“Hiring practices are more flawed than before,” the letter states. “Job description vacancies within our departments are molded to fit specific individuals our general manager desires, most of whom have a personal relationship with him. Often, these employees lack the qualifications and experience required to perform basic tasks and begin at an inappropriately high pay step, creating tension among long term employees of the district.”
Mansell has recruited and hired employees without adequate screening or consultation with department managers, and has bypassed interviewing candidates as well, according to the letter. “Mr. Mansell has justified all of his actions by stating that the board is aware of and in support,” the letter states. “We believe this to be an untrue statement as his actions are oftentimes in direct contradiction to your statements on the dais.”
The sheer number of high level district employees signing what amounts to a letter of no-confidence was noteworthy. Sixteen signatures were affixed to the bottom of the two-and-a-half page missive, which bore the water district’s letterhead, which includes Mansell’s name and title, along with those of several other district officials, including the board members to whom the letter was sent. Those signing the letter were Public Affairs Manager Naseem Faroqi, General Services Manager Jon Stephenson, Acting Human Resources Manager Paul Becker, Operations Manager Joanne Chan, Engineering Services Manager Linda Jadeski, Business Systems Manager Albert Clinger, Accounting Manager Jose Velasquez, Geographic Information Systems Manager Telat Yalcin, Purchasing Supervisor Al Robles, Production Supervisor Joe Schaak, Water Quality Supervisor Anthony Budicin, Customer Service Supervisor Alberto Yulo, Chief Treatment Plant Operator Ernie Montelongo and Chief Treatment Plant Operator Sergio Granda.
According to the district’s employees, this is the first time staff has en masse sought the resignation of the district’s top administrator. Questioning of the district’s leadership has intensified in recent years and months, as audits of the district by the California Controller’s Office and a firm hired by the district are underway.
Hawkins, who had campaigned on a reform platform and had pledged to make needed changes to ensure the district was focused on its relatively limited charter of delivering water to its ratepayers, appeared to be paralyzed by the letter and its call for Mansell’s removal. Given Mansell’s connection to Taylor and that Hawkins is in the early stages of acclimating himself to the intricacies of the district and the treacherous, conflicting and shifting alliances on the board, the call for him to jettison Taylor’s designated manager before the terms of his own relationship with Taylor and the other members of the board are fully settled was a challenge Hawkins clearly did not wish to deal with at this juncture. At press time, he was seeking to maintain a low profile and not engage with the public to avoid having to make a statement that would create a contretemps that had the potential of careening out of control.
Mansell could not be reached by press time. The district, did, however, offer a terse statement that appeared to have emanated from Mansell. “The leadership at West Valley Water District has received a letter expressing items by our employees,” it said. “I can say we are very concerned and will be reviewing the matter. President Hawkins and the board of directors are committed to maintaining the confidence of our employees and ratepayers.”
Mark Gutglueck

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