In Deflection Move, WVWD’s Taylor Soothes Hawkins By Nominating Him To Presidency Of The Board

In what was intended as and may yet prove to be a brilliant political masterstroke, outgoing West Valley Water District Board President Michael Taylor last night engineered the hand-off of his gavel to incoming board member Channing Hawkins, against whose election Taylor had been assiduously working right up until the closure of the polls on November 5. Whether Taylor’s gambit in seeking to transform a potentially implacable political foe into an ally has worked and will last yet remains to be seen, but its very boldness and the skill with which Taylor executed it stands as a testimony to the impressive political panoply he has himself developed in the last two years.
Taylor, who has exhibited a degree of competence in a wide variety of endeavors and disciplines in cultivating an image as something of a Renaissance Man while rising to the top of the law enforcement profession, came to the world of politics relatively late, seeking political office for the first time in 2015. Despite an initial setback that year when he failed to capture a spot on the West Valley Water District Board, he successfully networked with the well-connected and in-place forces that could assist him, and was successful in his second run for that office in 2017.
A key affiliation Taylor had made which allowed for his 2017 election was that of his neighbor, Dr. Clifford Young, a San Bernardino State University professor, a former member of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and a longtime political activist who is now counted among San Bernardino County’s leading African-American Republicans. Young, who had devoted most of the decade after he left the board of supervisors in 2004 to his professorship, reinserted himself into politics in 2013 when he successfully ran for a position on the West Valley Water Board. In 2017, when he was due to run for reelection himself, Dr. Young encouraged Taylor to run once more, lending him money from his own electioneering fund to assist him. At the same time, Young was supporting Kyle Crowther, an officer with the Fontana School District’s police department and like him and Taylor a Republican, in the special race being held that year to fill out the last two years of the term to which Alan Dyer had been elected in 2015 but from which he had resigned earlier that year. In a trifecta, Young was reelected and both Taylor and Crowther were elected in the November 2017 election, advancing Dr. Young into a dominant position on the board. Greg Young, a member of the Republican Central Committee who is no blood relation to Clifford Young but was still the same one of his existing political allies who had been elected to the West Valley Water District Board in 2015, joined with Dr. Young, Taylor and Crowther to form a rock solid ruling coalition on the water board. At that point, Don Olinger, the then-90-year-old longtime member of the water district’s board and its only Democrat, had been reduced to a political irrelevancy.
In the aftermath of the 2017 election, his board colleagues elevated Dr. Young to the position of board president. Moreover, based upon Taylor’s recommendation, the board at its first meeting with him in place, voted to hire Baldwin Park’s city attorney, Robert Tafoya, to serve as the West Valley Water District’s general legal counsel. Several months later, again based on Taylor’s recommendation, the board voted to bring in Ricardo Pacheco, a Baldwin Park city councilman, to serve as the district’s assistant general manager overseeing external affairs. Further, in the aftermath of the district’s jettisoning of its general manager, Matthew Litchfield, with whom Clifford Young had developed differences, and following the short term tenure of Interim General Manager Robert Christman, a close associate of Dr. Young, the board consented to Taylor’s recommendation of bringing in Clarence Mansell to serve as the district’s interim general manager replacement. Subsequently, Mansell would be elevated to the position of full-fledged general manager.
At some point in late 2018, differences developed between Dr. Young and Taylor. Hidden and seemingly subtle at first, the dispute grew and became more pointed when Dr. Young was deposed as board president and replaced with Taylor. This occasioned a transition of alliances on the board, with both Dr. Young and Greg Young hewing to one side and Taylor, Crowther and Olinger forming a ruling coalition on the other.
The already tense relationship between Clifford Young and Taylor deepened in Spring 2019 when Dr. Young joined with West Valley’s former chief financial officer, Naisha Davis, and the district’s administrative services analyst, Patricia Romero, in filing a Qui Tam legal action alleging that Taylor, who was chief of the Baldwin Park Police Department from 2013 to 2016 and was subsequently re-hired to a one-year contract to again serve as Baldwin Park police chief on December 1, 2017, utilized his position as a West Valley Water District board member to hire Robert Tafoya as a reward to him for arranging his rehiring as Baldwin Park police chief. Taylor was brought back to serve as police chief by the Baldwin Park City Council, which counted among its members Pacheco, some 25 days after being elected to the water board and six days before he was sworn in. Taylor’s contract to resume his duties as police chief was drafted by Tafoya, who was also Baldwin Park’s city attorney, according to the lawsuit. Upon being sworn in as a water board member and assuming his duties in that capacity on December 7, 2018, according to the suit, Taylor effectuated the hiring Tafoya as the West Valley Water District’s general counsel on a contract with no end date. In the ensuing 18 months, according to the lawsuit, Tafoya’s firm billed the West Valley Water District approximately $395,000.
Further, according to the suit, less than four months later, after Taylor assumed his position on the West Valley Water Board dais, Pacheco, a Baldwin Park City Councilman who had voted for Taylor’s reinstatement as police chief, was hired by the West Valley Water District as assistant general manager, eventually earning a salary of $192,000 per year, the suit alleges. Since his hiring, Pacheco and the California Education Coalition PAC he controls donated a total of $8,000 to Taylor’s campaign and $1,000 to Kyle Crowther’s campaign, according to the lawsuit.
The suit further maintains that in 2018 Taylor spearheaded the effort to hire his associate, Mansell, as the West Valley Water District’s interim general manager and subsequently as the permanent general manager, at an annual salary of $225,000.
The lawsuit alleges that in 2017 and 2018, Tafoya provided Taylor and Crowther with a mixture of gratuities and political contributions, and that Tafoya further militated or lobbied on behalf of the Law Firm of Albright, Yee & Schmit, the Kaufman Law Firm and Robert Katherman in getting the two former entities legal work for the water district and a consulting contract for the latter while those firms and/or their principals were providing gifts, travel accommodations, entertainment and political contributions to members of the water board, in particular Taylor and Crowther. Additionally, the lawsuit states that West Valley Water District Human Resources and Risk Manager Deborah Martinez and other law firms and consultants connected to Taylor and Tafoya “have engaged in illegal kickbacks and bribes to ensure contracts with the district and subsequent approval of invoices for payment.”
As the 2019 election approached, with Greg Young, Kyle Crowther and Don Olinger up for election, the fragile coalition of Tyler, Crowther and Olinger was in jeopardy. To keep his political hold over the district intact, it was imperative that Taylor maintain two votes on the board to join with his own. Thus, he needed to keep the status quo intact, returning both Crowther and Olinger to the board in the election in the event that Greg Young was also victorious, or, if either Crowther or Olinger failed to gain reelection, ensuring that Greg Young lost and was replaced with someone who would join with his coalition.
In a remarkable demonstration of his command of the political electioneering process, not to mention his generosity with funds from his own political war chest, Taylor followed a strategy of supporting both Olinger and Crowther, while working against the reelection of Greg Young.
Whereas in years past, elections in the West Valley Water District were held at-large, this year for the first time board members were elected within the geographical division of the district in which they reside by those also living in that section of the district.
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 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 that 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. Thus, Taylor’s political hold on the West Valley Water District appeared to have elapsed. With Olinger gone and Greg Young reelected, the reascension of Dr. Young was at hand.
Last night, at the water board’s December 5 meeting, the installations of Greg Young, Kyle Crowther and Channing Hawkins as board members for the next four years were scheduled. It was widely assumed that shortly after that the replacement of Taylor as board president would take place and he would be replaced by either Dr. Clifford Young or Greg Young.
After Rialto Mayor Deborah Robertson and Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren performed the swearing in of Hawkins, Crowther and Greg Young, the meeting proper convened. At that point, Taylor was yet in the post of board president, in control of the proceedings, perched on the verge of surrendering control of the district to either Greg Young or Dr. Clifford Young.
At that juncture, Taylor had one last opportunity to utilize the leverage which he yet possessed to extend his political primacy.
It is a matter of legitimate debate at this time as to who – Dr. Clifford Young or his one-time political protégé and ally now-turned rival Michael Taylor – has the greater degree of sophistication, gravitas and agility. Last night’s proceedings might well indicate that Taylor has the stronger claim to that distinction.
Dr. Young is at present the longest-serving member of the West Valley Water District Board of Directors. He is among the top two or three leading African-American Republicans in San Bernardino County. Born in Midland, Texas, Clifford Odell Young, Sr. moved to California at the age of 15, graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles and then California Baptist College in Riverside, where in what he now considers to have been an act of youthful indiscretion he hooked up with the Democrats and formed a group called the Riverside Young Democrats. Following his graduation, he went to work for the Shell Oil Company. By the early 1970s he had obtained a masters degree in divinity, was ordained as a minister and converted to Republicanism, running for Congress in 1976, gaining the GOP nomination for the 32nd Congressional District but losing in the general election. In 1980, he was appointed by the Reagan Administration to the post of deputy director of minority business in the Department of Commerce. He thereafter spent the next seven years as the pastor of the Hope Presbyterian Church and in 1989 began his career as an educator when he joined the faculty of Cal State San Bernardino, teaching public administration and business, rising to become head of the department.
In 2004, Young was selected to serve as Fifth District San Bernardino County supervisor when Jerry Eaves, a Democrat, was removed from office as the consequence of his prosecution on political corruption charges. Young did not seek election at the end of that term but remained at Cal State San Bernardino as a professor and special assistant to the college president.
Michael Taylor began as a patrol officer with the Baldwin Park Police Department in 1982, rising through the ranks such that in 2013 he was appointed chief of police. He served, in total, four years in that post. In addition, between December 2013 and August 2014, he served as Baldwin Park’s interim chief executive officer/city manager.
Taylor possesses a bachelor’s degree in political science from California State University San Bernardino, a master’s degree in political science/national security studies from California State University San Bernardino and a doctorate in education from Redlands University. In addition, he graduated in 2012 from the FBI national Academy in Quantico, Virginia where he studied law enforcement leadership.
Last night, with the gavel yet in Dr. Taylor’s hand, the West Valley Water Board as one of its first items of business considered the reorganization of the board’s officers. As soon as the item was taken up, Taylor used his control over the proceedings to avoid the recognition of anyone else and immediately nominated Channing Hawkins to the position of board president. Without hesitation and not waiting for Crowther to second the nomination, Hawkins himself voiced the second. The vote was then taken. Clifford Young, who had hopes of being returned to the position of board president before the evening was over, abstained from the vote. Greg Young, who as the member of the board with the second most seniority after Dr. Young, likewise had a shot at being chosen board president. He recognized, however, by virtue of Taylor’s astute and quick action, that possibility was foreclosed to him. Greg Young  joined with Taylor, Crowther and Hawkins in voting to establish Hawkins as the new board president.
Through his gambit, Taylor may have headed off the manifestation of any hard feeling that perhaps existed on Hawkins’ part toward him over his support of his opponent, Olinger, in the November 5 contest, in particular the $22,620.48 of Taylor’s own campaign funds that had been used in the effort to keep Hawkins out of office. By forging a bond with Hawkins through ensuring his elevation to board president immediately after coming into office, a highly unusual advancement in the world of politics where such honorifics are not normally extended until an office holder has gained some years of experience in office, Taylor may have obstructed the formation of a natural and what otherwise might have been an inevitable alliance between Hawkins and Dr. Young, and put himself into position to make further amends with Hawkins and establish a working political relationship with the board’s newest member that will stymie Clifford Young’s vision of once again asserting his own control over the district.
In making his nomination of Hawkins, Taylor said of his new colleague that he perceived him to be “a very bright and gifted person who has an amazing degree of maturity for a person of his age.”
Hawkins, following the meeting, told the Sentinel that he believes the board “must make sure that we are more transparent. We need to be accessible. We need accountability in evaluating our effectiveness and being responsive to our ratepayers. We should build our reputation for accountability by instituting new fiscal controls and through investing in our infrastructure. For too long, we have not paid attention to fixing our infrastructure. Some elements of our system are broken. We should begin by fixing wells and by making sure routine maintenance takes place.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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