A report is circulating that Upland Police Chief Darren Goodman has resigned. The Sentinel has not verified this with Chief Goodman.
If you click on the blue portal below, you can download a PDF of the February 28 edition of the San Bernardino County Sentinel.
By Mark Gutglueck
Fueling concerns that the San Bernardino County Republican Party is intensifying its strategy of maintaining its domination of local government by the placement of political operatives into agency, municipal and county management posts, the Fontana City Council on Tuesday voted to hire Mark Denny as its city manager to replace Ken Hunt, who was forced out of the city manager’s post last year after 20 years with the city. Denny is set to assume the post on April 6.
It appears that Denny, who has established bona fides as a political dirty trickster in the form of a criminal conviction for election fraud, has assumed the top staff position in San Bernardino County’s second most populous city, putting him in position to network with other Republican political functionaries likewise holding high-paying and prestigious government jobs locally to engineer electioneering efforts supporting GOP candidates and undercut Democrats.
In 1996, Denny, who at that time was an aide to California Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle, was charged by the Orange County District Attorney and subsequently convicted of engaging in political skulduggery. Denny’s convictions on campaign documentation falsification charges before Judge Marjorie Laird Carter came in close conjunction with the recording of similar or related convictions of five others which ensued from an effort by the Republican Party, and in particular the Orange County Central Committee, to prevent the GOP’s then-tenuous hold on the state’s lower legislative house from slipping. Working with Pringle’s deputy chief of staff, Jeff Flint, the then-27-year-old Denny set about interesting Laurie Campbell in running as a decoy Democrat candidate to weaken the candidacy of Democrat Linda Moulton-Patterson who was vying against Republican Scott Baugh in the specially-held 1995 election to replace Assembly Speaker Doris Allen, who had been recalled from office through a campaign orchestrated by the Republican Party. Though Allen was a Republican, she was considered a turncoat by the GOP because of her cooperation with Democrats with regard to a number of appointment, procedural and legislative issues, including her election as speaker of the Assembly with unanimous Democratic support.
Ultimately, a nest of Republican operatives – Allen recall campaign manager Jeffrey Christopher Gibson; Rhonda Carmony, at that time a senior aide to and later the wife of Congressman Dana Rohrbacher; Baugh’s chief of staff Maureen Werft; Richard Martin, a campaign worker for Assemblyman Scott Baugh; Flint; and Denny – were convicted of election fraud. In Denny’s case, he admitted to participating in a scheme to siphon votes from Moulton-Patterson, the more established Democratic candidate in the Assembly race. While suspicion fell on Baugh, Pringle and Rohrbacher over their involvement in masterminding and directing the ruse, Gibson, Carmony, Martin, Flint, Werft and Denny proved good soldiers and did not turn state’s evidence on the officeholders. The scrutiny did, however, shed light on issues with regard to Rohrbacher’s use of and accounting of his campaign funds, and he was found guilty with regard to administrative infractions relating to his having compiled improper finance records. He was fined.
Denny’s sentence included three years of probation, during which time he was prohibited from working on political campaigns. He resigned from Pringle’s office just before he entered his guilty plea.
Ultimately, Denny was able to put his criminal conviction behind him. Through his contacts within the Republican Party, he was able to find gainful employment for a time with Allergan, Inc. as its director of marketing and strategic planning. In time, he reentered the political and governmental game. When William J. Campbell, a Republican who had been in the Assembly from 1996 until 2002, successfully vied for Orange County supervisor, Denny went to work for him, eventually becoming his chief of staff. He parlayed that post into an appointment as Orange County’s parks director. He subsequently hired on as the director of public works and community services with the City of Dana Point, and in 2017, was elevated to city manager there.
Denny has not lost his identity as a Republican, though he does not list his work for Pringle on his résumé.
In the years since Pringle was Speaker of the Assembly, the political landscape in California has shifted considerably. Not only have the Republicans lost their majority position in the Assembly that was needed for them to install one of their party as Speaker, they have now surrendered control of both the Assembly and State Senate to the Democrats utterly, such that the Democrats hold a supermajority in California’s lower and upper legislative houses, that is, a better than two-thirds advantage in terms of the number of members affiliated with the respective parties. In addition, California’s governor, the state attorney general, the controller, the auditor, the state treasurer, the superintendent of public instruction, the secretary of state, and the insurance commissioner are all Democrats. Similarly, the California Congressional Delegation is heavily weighted in favor of the Democrats. California has two Democratic U.S. Senators, and its House delegation consists of six Republicans and 45 Democrat, with two currently vacant seats.
Like virtually all of California, San Bernardino County has party affiliation numbers that favor the Democrats. In 2009, after more than 40 years of Republican ascendancy in San Bernardino County in terms of voter party identification, the Democrat’s registration numbers in the 20,105-square mile county eclipsed those of the Republicans. Since that time the numbers have moved ever further in favor of the Democrats. At present, as of February 23, 410,572 or 40.4 percent of the county’s 1,015,723 voters are Democrats, while 298,578 or 29.4 percent are registered with the Republican Party. At the same time, 236,551 or 23.3 percent have no stated party affiliation whatsoever; 39,252 or 3.9 percent are affiliated with the American Independent Party; 8,959 or 0.9 are registered as Libertarians; 6,010 or 0.6 are registered with the Peace and Freedom Party; 3,079 or 0.3 percent are Green Party members; and 12,722 voters or 1.3 percent are members of a slew of other more obscure parties.
Despite the more than 4-to-3 advantage the Democrats have over the Republicans countywide, the Republicans yet dominate San Bernardino County politically. In seventeen of the county’s 24 incorporated cities and towns, Republicans hold a majority of the positions on those jurisdictions’ town and city councils, and Democrats hold the majority on only five of the remaining seven city councils. On the county board of supervisors, four of the five members are Republicans. San Bernardino County’s state legislative delegation is majority Republican, with three of its five state senators and four of its eight assembly members currently being Republicans.
San Bernardino County remains as one of the last bastions of Republicanism in California in some measure because of the higher turnout at the polls among Republicans generally. Still, higher general voter turnout does not alone explain the grip the Republicans yet have on San Bernardino County, since the statistical 8 percent advantage this confers upon the Republicans is less than the 11 percent advantage the Democrats hold in numbers over the Republicans countywide. Indeed, in San Bernardino County, its Republicans have been able to keep the political upper hand through their collective gumption, cohesion, commitment, determination, tenacity, energy, coordination, hard work, cunning and willingness to defy expectations, convention and even the law to prevail at the polls, while the complacent and indolent Democrats have shown virtually none of those traits on a consistent basis, winning only when the odds and numbers are overwhelmingly in their favor.
A key factor in the winning formula the Republicans have applied is their indulgence in purpose-driven political patronage that is intended by design to perpetuate the GOP’s hold on local government. Once in office, Republican officeholders in San Bernardino County have demonstrated a readiness, willingness and propensity to confer governmental sinecures upon a selected group of their political associates. Merriam-Webster defines sinecure as “an office or position that requires little or no work and that usually provides an income.” Once Republican officeholders have succeeded in establishing those political operatives into those sinecures, they unleash them to undertake work to keep themselves and their Republican colleagues in office. Three of the Republican members of the board of supervisors – Robert Lovingood, Janice Rutherford and Curt Hagman – in December 2018 appointed a sister Republican, Dawn Rowe, to serve out the two years of time remaining on James Ramos’s term as Third District county supervisor after Ramos, a Democrat, was elected to the State Assembly in the 40th District in the November 2018 election. Rowe then hired Matt Knox as her chief of staff, Dillon Lesovsky as her policy advisor and Suzette Swallow as her director of communications. All three of those hires are political operatives whose actual immediate assignments are to ensure Rowe’s election as Third District supervisor this year; promote the election of current 8th District Congressman Paul Cook, for whom Rowe, Knox and Lesovsky once worked, as First District county supervisor to replace the retiring Lovingood; help with the election of current 33rd District Assemblyman Jay Obernolte as 8th District U.S. Congressman; assist former Hesperia Mayor Thurston Smith in his effort to succeed Obernolte as Assemblyman in the 33rd District; and work toward getting Fontana City Councilman Jesse Armendarez elected 5th District county supervisor. Cook, Obernolte, Smith and Armendarez are all Republicans.
Like Denny, Knox and Lesovsky have impeccable credentials as top-of-the-line political dirty tricksters. In 2018, while Knox was employed by Cook as one of his staffers in the 8th Congressional District, he was also functioning as the manager of Cook’s congressional reelection campaign. Knox and Lesovsky worked together on the “Dirty Donnelly.com” effort, the campaign against Cook’s opponent which has come to be recognized as a textbook example of how political “hits” are to be carried out. Ironically, Donnelly, a far right “Conservative American Values” politician, is a Republican. Indeed, Donnelly’s stances are so quintessentially Republican, Cook and his supporters believed he represented a true threat to Cook’s continuing political viability because he possessed an ideology more in keeping with that of Cook’s majority Republican constituents than did Cook. Donnelly, who served two terms in the California Assembly before abandoning that position to unsuccessfully seek California’s governorship in 2014, is such a Second Amendment/gun rights advocate that while he was serving in the Assembly, he was arrested for carrying a gun through the security checkpoint at Ontario Airport when he was returning to Sacramento following the legislative recess after the 2011/12 Christmas-New Years break. In 2018, because of the overwhelmingly Republican nature of the 8th Congressional District and California’s open primary system in which the two top vote-getters, irrespective of political party affiliation qualify for the November election, Donnelly managed to get into the November general election against the incumbent Cook. The Dirty Donnelly.com campaign Knox and Lesovsky masterminded consisted of a website and signs directing the public to that website, which utilized doctored photos to paint Donnelly in the most negative of light, and dwelt at length on a number of derogatories relating to the former assemblyman, including that he had a criminal record (which they did not mention stemmed from his gun possession arrest at the airport), was scamming senior citizens, had deserted his family, had engaged in “political fraud,” stole from his own wife and was unemployed.
Last year, Jeremiah Brosowske, who was then a councilman in Hesperia and who was formerly the executive director of the San Bernardino County Central Committee, which is the controlling organ of the county Republican Party, was hired as assistant general manager with the West Valley Water District in Rialto, despite the consideration that he had no experience in public agency management or administration and no expertise with regard to water operations or infrastructure. Despite the number of voters registered as Democrats in the West Valley Water District, 20,068 or 49.2 percent, outrunning the number of voters in that district registered as Republican, 8,088 or 19.8 percent, four of the district’s board members last year were, and currently are, Republicans. Brosowske was given the assistant general manager’s sinecure, providing him with a total annual compensation package exceeding $250,000. While in that position, Brosowske has done very little work related to the district’s function of providing water to its customers. His sinecure, however, allowed him to work on district elections that took place in November 2019, as well as the elections corresponding with the March 3 California Primary and the follow-on elections that are to be held in conjunction with the November 2020 General Presidential Election.
In the City of San Bernardino, three of Mayor John Valdivia’s current and former staff members – Mirna Cisneros, Karen Cervantes and Don Smith – have stated in recent weeks and days that Valdivia, a Republican, had pressured them to engage in activity to support candidates he is endorsing in this year’s election, going so far as pushing them to take vacation time so they can devote themselves to work on behalf of candidates he is endorsing in the current election. Cervantes and Smith worked on behalf of Republican candidates prior to their being hired as Valdivia’s staff members. Valdvia is a Republican.
In Fontana, this week, the city council voted 3-to-1 to hire Denny as city manager. Supporting the hiring with their votes were Councilman Armendarez, Councilman Phil Cothran and Councilman John Roberts, all three of whom are Republicans and stalwart members of Mayor Acquanetta Warren’s coalition. Opposing the hiring was Councilman Jesse Sandoval, the only Democrat on the Fontana City Council. Warren and West Valley Water District Board Member Dr. Clifford Odell Young are considered to be San Bernardino County’s leading and most politically viable African-American Republicans currently holding office. That the council undertook Denny’s hiring this week, while Warren was engaged in travel to Italy, was considered to be curious, indeed suspicious, by some, a circumstance believed to have been arranged to provide Warren, as the head of the city’s Republican coalition, with some level of plausible deniability that Denny is being extended the job to allow him to function in support of the ongoing and future campaigns of Republican candidates. Foremost among those is that of Armendarez, who is competing against three others, Dan Flores, Joe Baca, Jr. and Nadia Renner, for Fifth District county supervisor. Currently, the Fifth District supervisor’s post is held by Josie Gonzales, the only Democrat on the board of supervisors. In the Fifth District, which encompasses the eastern half of Fontana, Rialto, Bloomington, Colton and the western half of San Bernardino, the Democratic lead in voter registration is overwhelming, with 92,245 or 50.2 percent of the district’s 183,780 voters registered as Democrats and 34,156 or 18.6 percent registered as Republicans. The district’s voters expressing no party affiliation, 45,636 or 24.8 percent, outnumber the district’s Republican voters. Nevertheless, the Republicans are holding out hope that they will be able to exploit circumstances that will result in Republicans holding all five of the positions on the county board of supervisors.
Gonzales, a former Fontana councilwoman who has served in the capacity of Fifth District supervisor since 2004, is obliged to leave that post as a consequence of the three-term limit put in place on members of the board with the passage of Measure P in 2006. She has endorsed Flores, who brings to the table five basic strengths. He is, like Gonzales a Democrat and Hispanic in in an overwhelmingly Democratic and strongly Latino district. He is Gonzales’s chief of staff, thus embodying an understanding of the district and its issues. He is an elected official, currently serving as a board member with the Colton Joint Unified School District. And he has accumulated $312,966.39 in his campaign war chest.
Baca, like Flores is a Democrat and Hispanic. He, too, currently holds public office, serving as a city councilman in Rialto. His father, Joe Baca, Sr., held longtime status as an established politician in the area as an assemblyman, state senator and congressman. This gives the young Baca, perhaps, the best name recognition of all four of the candidates in the race. As of this week, he has collected $116,443 to fund his race for supervisor.
Renner, a Latina, identifies with no political party. She does not currently hold public office. She has banked, overall, $19,100 to carry out her campaign.
Likewise Latino, Armendarez, the only Republican in the race, holds office in 214,000-population Fontana, representing on the order of twice as many people than the roughly 107,000 residents who live within the confines of the Colton Joint Unified School District where Flores serves or the 104,000 population of Rialto where Baca is councilman. Armendarez has accumulated into his election fund, $336,299.86.
If no single candidate garners a majority of the votes in the election being held next week corresponding with the March 3 California Presidential Primary, then a run-off between the two top vote-getters is to take place in November. The Republicans’ strategy to boost Armendarez is to drive as a many of the Fifth District’s Republican voters to the polls to support Armendarez as possible while conducting a campaign that essentially targets the district’s unaligned voters, hopefully bringing in enough votes for Armendarez to capture second place among the four contestants to qualify for November, but husbanding enough of Armendarez’s financial resources to be able to wage an even stronger and more energetic campaign in November. In the meantime, the Republican strategists believe, the well-funded but less well-known Flores will need to spend the lion’s share of the money in his political account to overcome the better known but less cash-flush Baca, as they split the more numerous Democratic vote. If, indeed, Armendarez can manage a second place or even first place finish next week, he will then have the advantage of the political team of Lesovsky, Knox, Swallow, Brosowske and Denny, all of whom will be functioning from the comfort of well-paid positions and involving the equipment and facilities of government offices paid for by the taxpayers, working on his behalf to overcome whomever he finds himself up against in November. While a Republican winning in the heavily Democratic 5th Supervisorial District is ranked as a long shot, it is not considered impossible. The 50.2 percent to 18.6 percent registration advantage the Democrats enjoy over the Republicans in the 5th District is not all that much greater than the 49 percent to 18.6 percent edge they have over the Republicans in Fontana, where despite that lopsided lead, the mayor and three of the four council members are Republicans.
The Sentinel made repeated efforts this week to reach Denny at the City of Dana Point, where he is yet employed as City Manager. He did not return phone calls left there for him. Nor did he respond to an email which sought from him whether he was aware of reports that he had been hired by the Republican coalition in Fontana with the understanding that he would bring his considerable skill as a political operative to bear to engage in electioneering activity in favor of the Republican Party and Republican candidates in San Bernardino County going forward, including on Armendarez’s behalf in the election for Fifth District County supervisors. Denny did not respond to a question asked point blank if he will be working on behalf of Armendarez in his campaign for supervisor in November, should the vote on March 3 qualify him for the November run-off. He further declined to answer whether he is already working on Mr. Armendarez’s behalf.
Denny did not speak to the circumstance of Acquanetta Warren, as the head of the Republican coalition on the council controlling the City of Fontana, departing for Europe just as his hiring was being effectuated, such that she did not directly participate in the vote to hire him. He did not field questions with regard to reports that Warren had directed councilmen Roberts, Cothran and Armendarez to hire him. Asked if he was comfortable with the mayor’s absence while his appointment was being coordinated in that fashion and if he thought it might have been better for the council to have waited for the mayor’s return before installing him as city manager, Denny remained mute. Similarly, Denny spurned the opportunity to make a response to reports that either he and/or Pringle, who now runs his own public relations and government affairs firm, Curt Pringle & Associates, was or were involved in advising Mayor Warren or the Republican coalition on the council to carry out his hiring while the mayor was not present.
Queried directly as to what his understanding was about the legality or illegality of using governmental facilities and personnel for political advocacy or electioneering, Denny spurned the Sentinel’s offer to discuss the subject.
In a move that has widened the gulf of distrust between the City of Upland’s top managerial and land use planning echelon and a growing contingent of community activists opposed to on-line retail behemoth Amazon’s proposal to establish a distribution center north of Foothill Boulevard and South of Cable Airport, the Upland Planning Commission this week without any explicit notice beforehand reversed its February 12 vote rejecting the site plan for the massive facility.
Beginning at least two years ago, representatives with Amazon began confidential discussions with Upland city officials relating to what was referred to as a “warehouse” or “warehouse/distribution facility” to be developed on the 50-acre site north of Foothill Boulevard and east of Central Avenue owned by the Bongiovanni Family Trust. As is routinely the case with Amazon projects, there was an understanding that no direct or public acknowledgment or confirmation of Amazon’s involvement was to be made, although in situations where there was potential that the prospect of an Amazon operation would be positively received, there was no hesitancy in hinting at who was behind the proposal. To effectuate this cover, Amazon utilized El Segundo-based Bridge Development Partners as its cut-out to serve as the project proponent.
In June 2019, during a so-called workshop involving city officials and Bridge Development Partners, the project was previewed as a proposal for a three-building warehouse complex involving 977,000 square feet under roof. Over the next several months, as objections to the scope of the proposal manifested, the tentative site plan was modified several times until in October, a revamped conception of the project was presented, one that was reduced to a single structure of 276,250 square foot. When the environmental review documentation for the project was posted on December 16, it came in the form of a negative mitigated declaration as opposed to a full-blown environmental impact report. In that documentation, the project was shown as a 201,096-square-foot distribution center to be located north of Foothill and south of Cable Airport. After feedback from the public was accepted in conjunction with the processing of the negative mitigated declaration, which some residents said was marred by the city’s failure to post all of the public input and commentary submitted to it, the planning commission met on February 12 to consider the project. As it turned out, Commissioner Alexander Novikov was absent that evening. Five votes/determinations/findings with regard to the project were slated for that night. On one, a determination of whether the project as proposed constitutes a use compatible with the city’s zoning codes and general plan as set out in the airport land use compatibility plan, the planning commission was joined by Airport Land Use Committee members Ronald Campbell and Howard Bunte. Together, the commission members including Chairwoman Robin Aspinall, Carolyn Anderson, Gary Schwary, Linden Brouse and Yvette Walker, along with Campbell and Bunte voted unanimously to enter a finding that the project as proposed constitutes a use compatible with the city’s zoning codes and general plan.
The commission then moved on to the critical issue of the project’s environmental certification. With Commissioner Yvette Walker dissenting, the panel voted 4-to-1 to ratify the mitigated negative declaration for the project, making what was essentially a finding that any untoward environmental impacts would be offset by the conditions of approval imposed on the project. The panel voted 3-to-2, with Schwary and Walker in opposition, to recommend approval of the development agreement, by which Bridge Development agreed to provide the city with $16 million to make up for the project not involving the collection of sales tax and to offset the city’s infrastructure costs to accommodate the development, including repair to streets worn down by the trucks and vans that will operate out of the facility. The planning commission then voted 4-to-1 to approve a lot line adjustment for the project, with Walker dissenting. With regard to the action the commission was to take that would be the most crucial to the project, the acceptance of its site plan, the panel’s discussion led to the formulation of a tortuously worded motion, one which called not for the acceptance of the site plan but rather the rejection of it. Commissioner Schwary, who for a decade previously was the commission’s chairman, endeavored to make clear before the vote that a “yes” vote meant voting down the site plan and that a “no” vote was one cast to approve the site plan. When the votes were registered, the tally was 3-to-2 in favor of the motion, with Walker, Schwary and Brouse prevailing and Chairwoman Aspinall and Commissioner Anderson dissenting. In this way, the commission’s proceedings were recorded as having denied the site plan. Subsequent to the meeting, however, Brouse claimed he had misunderstood the motion, believing that by voting “yes” he was voting to approve the site plan. He indicated he wanted to rescind his vote.
The commission’s vote as it was recorded complicated the Bridge/Amazon agenda. It was similarly problematic for those members of city staff – in particular City Manager Rosemary Hoerning, Community Development Director Robert Dalquest and the city’s contract planner, Mike Poland, who perceive the $16 million infusion of funding into the city’s operations that Bridge is offering as something too good for the city to pass up.
This week, the planning commission was again scheduled to meet. What appeared to be the most striking item on the agenda was a proposal for a restaurant with an outdoor dancing and entertainment area that was to include a hookah, through which, presumably, cannabis and tobacco smoke could be inhaled. That issue looked to be the one that would garner the major attention of the public. The agenda also featured what appeared to be a more routine item that seemed to call for simply confirming the planning commission’s February 12 vote with regard to the Amazon distribution center.
The relevant section of that item read:
“Adoption of a resolution with findings in support of the planning commission’s recommendation to the city council regarding Site Plan No. 19-09 and Design Review No. 19-17 for the Bridge Point Upland Project.
On February 12, 2020, the Planning Commission voted to recommend that the city council deny Site Plan No. 19-09 and Design Review No. 19-17 for the Bridge Point Upland Project located at the northeast corner of Foothill Boulevard and Central Avenue. In order to finalize this recommendation, the planning commission must adopt written findings. Staff has accordingly prepared the attached draft resolution including proposed findings based on the commissioners’ comments for the planning commission’s consideration and action.
A. Resolution to recommend that the city council deny Site Plan Review No. 19-09 and Design Review No. 19-17.”
When the planning commission, in this case including Commissioner Alexander Novikov, on Wednesday evening took up the item, rather than adopting a resolution with findings in support of the planning commission’s February 12 vote, the commission took the item as license to revisit the vote entirely. The vote was retaken, this time with Novikov participating. Not only did Brouse change his vote from denying the site plan to approving the site plan, so did Schwary, who stated he had reviewed the site plan and was now comfortable enough with it to support it. Thus, the site plan passed, this time 4-to-2, with Aspinall, Anderson, Schwary and Brouse voting to accept it, and Walker and Novikov dissenting.
A considerable number of Upland residents are opposed to the project on the grounds that it will generate a significant degree of traffic, negatively impact the city’s roads and other infrastructure, involve diesel trucks and vans of multiple sorts that will generate a substantial degree of air pollution, entail internet-based sales which will generate for the city no sales tax revenue, and will monopolize as a logistics-based operation property along the Foothill Corridor better utilized for commercial and service-provision businesses. Many of those residents weighed in against the project at the February 12 planning commission meeting as well as at other public meetings in Upland at which the project was a topic. Virtually all of them were caught unawares by the commission’s action.
While Brouse’s suggestion that he wanted to change his February 12 vote was no secret, there was no indication provided to the public that the February 26 planning commission meeting would provide him with a forum to actually do so. The Sentinel twice reported, in its February 14 and February 21 editions, that Linden Brouse had given indication he was confused with regard to the wording of the motion to deny the site plan that he voted upon with his colleagues at the February 12 meeting. In this way, that a movement toward making the rescission of the February 12 site plan denial vote was not wholly unanticipated. Nevertheless, the item on the February 26 planning commission agenda pertaining to the February 12 site plan denial vote did not use the term “reconsideration.” Accordingly, the rescission of the February 12 vote and the way the commission went about doing so precipitated a firestorm in Upland on Thursday morning as word spread over the grapevine among the city’s residents about what had occurred the previous night. Numerous residents who contacted the Sentinel indicated they objected to what the commission had done, and not merely because they disagreed with the substance of the vote but because of the lack of clarity as to the action that was going to be taken, precluding them from registering an objection beforehand. Repeatedly referenced was that there was nothing in the language of the agenda item to suggest a vote to rescind the February 12 vote was to take place. Some asserted that this constituted a breach of the Brown Act, California’s open public meeting law which requires that all action to be taken by a public body must be clearly noticed to the public 72 hours in advance of any such vote. There was no clear conveyance of what the commission was to do ahead of time, several residents suggested.
Residents offered more than a few uncharitable descriptions of what occurred on Wednesday evening. Duplicitous was among the most polite of those descriptions. Some residents used stronger language than that.
Residents also expressed dismay that a do-over of the commission’s vote was allowed to take place. One resident expressed skepticism about Brouse’s claim that he had misunderstood the motion he was voting upon on February 12, suggesting that he was rather caving into pressure exerted upon him after the fact by city officials and Bridge/Amazon advocates. She pointed out that Schwary, a far stronger personality than Brouse, appeared to have likewise buckled under the strain.
Another theme emerged in the questioning of the commission’s Wednesday night action, that being whether a vote that has been officially recorded – as the February action by the commission was – can be altered. On February 12, Schwary painstakingly clarified what the motion was – a denial of the site plan- before the vote occurred. With evident deliberation, he at that point cast his vote to deny the site plan. By his action and statements beforehand, Schwary clarified what was being voted on prior to the vote, precluding himself from being able to stake a claim that his vote was cast in confusion, as is Brouse’s contention. Allowing Schwary to now reverse his vote creates a circumstance, it is now being argued, in which every vote the commission will take from here on in, or has ever taken, is subject to similar equivocation.
The Sentinel was caught flatfooted by the Wednesday evening action, having not anticipated a rescission of the February 12 commission vote was to take place. By the time the Sentinel was able to fully determine what had occurred and assimilate its meaning, it was mid-afternoon on Thursday. It was not until 4:16 pm that an email of inquiry was dashed off to Hoerning, asking if she knew in advance that the rescission vote was to occur, if she believed the agenda made adequate disclosure beforehand of the action the planning commission took, whether she believes the city will be able to withstand a legal challenge if some individuals with standing undertake to contest what occurred, and whether the city’s administration intends to allow the planning commission’s action from Wednesday night to stand.
In the email, the Sentinel asked if the city’s records reflected that there was a precedence for the rescission of a commission vote such as had occurred on Wednesday night, and invited Hoerning to provide a justification of the rescission vote.
Upland municipal operations are conducted from 8 am until 6 pm Monday through Thursday. When Hoerning did not respond by the close of the business day on Thursday, hope was extended that she would do so on her weekday off today. She had not done so by press time.
A year after a qui tam lawsuit was quietly filed under seal alleging the top echelon of management, two of its elected officials, the general counsel, contract attorneys and consultants at the West Valley District conspired to enrich themselves through the provision of bribes and kickbacks, the Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge hearing the matter says his analysis of what has been presented to the court thus far does not make for a convincing case nor supply the details to back up the plaintiffs’ claims. He has given them a limited window during which they must marshal that evidence, such that as of today they have two weeks to establish sufficient evidence exists to substantiate their allegations or the case will be permanently dismissed.
West Valley Board Member Clifford Young joined with the district’s former chief financial officer, Naisha Davis, and then-assistant board secretary Patricia Romero in launching the relatively rare qui tam action last year.
A writ of qui tam is a private individual’s petition or a petition by a set of individuals, who is or are claiming to be of assistance in a possible criminal prosecution, for a court order against those the petitioner or petitioners alleges or allege have engaged in prohibited and illegal acts.
For a governmental district with the relatively limited charter of providing water to some 82,000 customers, households or businesses in Bloomington, Colton, Fontana and Rialto, as well as unincorporated areas in San Bernardino County and Jurupa Valley in Riverside County, the West Valley Water District has been a hotbed of contention, controversy and political rivalry in recent years, a situation that escalated when Butch Araiza, who had been the district’s general manager for three decades, retired in 2015. From that time forward, Dr. Clifford Young had ventured forth to fill the vacuum at the district Araiza’s departure had created. Young, one of the county’s leading African-American Republicans, served an abbreviated stint as a member of the San Bernardino Board of Supervisors in 2004. He rekindled his political career in 2013 by being elected to the West Valley Water District Board. He has had mixed results in seeking to capture sway over the district. Despite his Republican affiliation and demographics in the largely blue-collar district that overwhelmingly favor the Democratic Party in terms of voter registration numbers, Dr. Young was able to capture what appeared to be iron-clad control of the district when he succeeded, in 2017, in achieving reelection and getting two fellow Republicans elected to the board, Dr. Mike Taylor, Young’s neighbor and the former chief of police in the City of Baldwin Park, and Kyle Crowther, an officer with the Fontana School District Police Department, the former to a four-year term and the latter to a two-year term to fill out the last two years of former Board Member Alan Dyer’s term following Dyer’s 2017 resignation. Dr. Young, Dr. Taylor and Crowther combined with a fourth Republican, Greg Young [no blood relation to Dr. Clifford Young], to form a 4-to-1 ruling coalition of Republicans on the board, with the only Democrat at that time being longtime board member Don Olinger.
One of the first moves by the newly established board immediately upon Taylor and Crowther being sworn into office in December 2017 was to hire Robert Tafoya, the city attorney with Baldwin Park and with whom Dr. Taylor had a previous strong working relationship, to serve as the West Valley Water District’s general counsel. Soon thereafter, the board moved to effectuate a major makeover at the senior level of the district’s staff, placing District General Manager Matthew Litchfield and Assistant General Manager Greg Gage on administrative leave, outright terminating Chief Financial Officer Marie Ricci and terminating or suspending Human Resources Manager Karen Logue and Board Secretary Shanae Smith. In short order, Litchfield, Smith and Logue were, like Ricci, no longer employed with the district. Gage was reinstated after a brief interim. Former Loma Linda Mayor Bob Christman, who had once served as the district’s chief financial officer and was previously employed at California State University San Bernardino where Dr. Young was a professor and administrator, was tapped to serve as the district’s interim general manager. While Christman was in place, the district in March 2018 hired Baldwin Park City Councilman Ricardo Pacheco as its “assistant general manager of external affairs.”
Also in March 2018, the board rejected claims filed against the district by Litchfield, Smith, Logue and Ricci alleging harassment and wrongful termination. Subsequently, Logue and Litchfield filed unjustifiable termination suits against the district.
The district employed a veritable who’s who of Southern California law firms over the ensuing timeframe in dealing with not only litigation and procedural actions relating to access to water availability that involved numerous other regional water purveyors, but claims and litigation the district became embroiled in with former employees. In addition to its general counsel, Tafoya & Garcia, the district at one time or another throughout 2018 was represented by the Kaufman Law Firm; Varner & Brandt; Larson O’Brien; Ziprick & Cramer; Albright, Yee & Schmidt; and Gresham, Savage, Nolan & Tilden.
In June 2018, with Olinger and Crowther absent, the board hired Clarence Mansell, a journeyman water operations manager who had previously worked for the Los Angeles County Sanitation District as a wastewater treatment plant operator as well in water-related positions with the cities of Los Angeles, Corona and Rialto in their respective water divisions, to serve as interim general manager to replace Christman.
In August 2018, Gage, having found employment elsewhere, departed from the district.
In October 2018, the board reorganized, appointing Michael Taylor board president and making Crowther vice president. Unrecognized by the general public at that time was that the reorganization represented a radical shift in the dynamics controlling the district, as Taylor and Crowther had formed an alliance with the Democrat Olinger to form a new ruling alliance, deposing Dr. Clifford Young as president and shunting Greg Young to the side.
For much of the public, there were issues roiling below the surface that went completely unremarked. The elevation of Mansell from interim general manager to full-fledged general manager rankled Young and Young, but was not apparent to outsiders. At the January 17, 2019 meeting of the board, the first overt hint of dissension among the board members was reflected on an item relating to a contract to renovate the customer service foyer at district headquarters. Both Cliff Young and Greg Young wanted to reject the awarding of a $567,000 contract to Caltec Corporation, which had been the low bidder on the project. Ultimately, both Young and Young, who asserted the pricing on the work was too high, were unable to convince their colleagues to hold off on the action, as they were defeated in a 3-to-2 vote.
The following month, at the February 7, 2019 board meeting when the panel split 3-to-2 with Young and Young dissenting to approve the district’s December 2018 purchase order report, it had grown clear that there was a rift on the board. There followed a 3-to-2 split over a $43,395.64 payment to the Tafoya and Garcia law firm for services rendered in October 2018, again with Young and Young at odds with their colleagues. That was followed by a 3-to-1 vote, with Greg Young in opposition and Dr. Young abstaining, to ratify a $32,679.10 payment to Tafoya & Garcia for services rendered in November 2018.
Thereafter, both Youngs and Dr. Taylor locked horns on an item calling for the district to send a formal request to the state controller’s office to conduct a full financial audit of all of the West Valley Water District’s fiscal dealings over the previous two years, including all contracts and contractors used by legal counsel. Taylor suggested that instead of having the state auditor go over the district’s books, the district have the district’s previous auditing firm carry out the examination. When Greg Young insisted on the board voting on the original motion to seek the state audit, that motion failed 2-to-3. Taylor then motioned to have the district’s contract auditor carry out the audit to cover the period from the end of the last audit completed to the then-current date. That passed 3-to-0, with Young and Young abstaining.
On February 19, 2019, Clifford Young, West Valley Water District Chief Financial Officer Naisha Davis and West Valley Water District Assistant Board Secretary Patricia Romero as plaintiffs, represented by attorneys Rachel Fiset and Erin Coleman of the law firm Zweibach, Fiset & Coleman, had filed, under seal, a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, referred to as a qui tam action, which alleged West Valley Water District General Counsel Robert Tafoya and his law firm, Tafoya & Garcia; West Valley Water District Special Counsel Clifton Albright and his law firm, Albright, Yee & Schmit; West Valley Water District Special Counsel Martin Kaufman and his law firm; and West Valley Water District consultant Robert Katherman, as defendants, had violated the California False Claims Act. In the suit, Michael Taylor, Assistant West Valley General Manager Ricardo Pacheco, West Valley Water District Board Vice President Kyle Crowther and West Valley Water District General Manager Clarence Mansell were identified as co-conspirators.
A writ of qui tam is a petition for a court order against those the petitioner or petitioners alleges or allege have engaged in prohibited acts. The petitioner in a qui tam action can receive all or part of any penalty imposed on those adjudged guilty. The name qui tam is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur, meaning “[he] who sues in this matter for the king as well as for himself.” In the simplest terms, a qui tam suit is one seeking to advance the public interest against an individual or individuals alleged to be violating the public trust.
The qui tam suit filed by Young, Davis and Romero embodied a paradox presenting an uncommon dilemma and conundrum for the district and its board members in that the suit named the district as a plaintiff despite the consideration that the district board never voted to file the suit and, in fact, three of the board’s members at the time – Taylor, Crowther and Olinger – were adamantly opposed to the prosecution of the suit, disagreed with the upshot of the suit, and had not empowered the law firm Zweibach, Fiset & Coleman, nor Rachel Fiset nor Erin Coleman to act on the district’s behalf. In the time since Olinger has left the district board and been replaced by Channing Hawkins, the majority opposition to the qui tam action has not changed. Indeed, Hawkins, with the consent of Taylor and Crowther, has had the district retain the services of Rodney Sean Diggs, an attorney at the law firm Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt and one of Hawkins’ fellow graduates of Howard University School of Law, to augment Maribel Medina and the law firm of Leal Trejo in representing the district in contesting the qui tam action.
The qui tam lawsuit alleges that Taylor, who was chief of the Baldwin Park Police Department from 2013 to 2016, had been terminated by the Baldwin Park City Council but was subsequently re-hired to a one-year contract to again serve as Baldwin Park police chief on December 1, 2017, 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 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 the “assistant general manager of external affairs.” He was later moved without board approval to the newly created position of “assistant general manager,” earning a salary of $192,000 per year, the suit alleges. Since his hiring, Pacheco and the California Education Coalition political action committee he controls have donated a total of $8,000 to Taylor’s campaign and $1,000 to West Valley Water District Board Vice President Kyle Crowther’s campaign, according to the lawsuit.
According to the suit, 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 Mansell was hired by a 3-to-2 board vote without a recruitment effort.
The lawsuit alleges that in 2017 and 2018, Tafoya provided Taylor with travel and accommodations in Mexico and Las Vegas, paid for Taylor, Crowther and Cliff Young to travel to Arizona, twice paid for Crowther’s airfare to Florida and made contributions to Crowther’s and Taylor’s campaign war chests or otherwise assisted them in their campaigns. Tafoya further militated or lobbied on behalf 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, the suit alleges. According to the suit, Taylor, Tafoya, Pacheco, Crowther, Mansell, 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.”
Maribel S. Medina, representing the West Valley Water District as a real party in interest in the lawsuit, on July 9, 2019 filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, accompanied by a memorandum of points and authorities, a declaration and exhibits.
In general, Medina’s overarching suggestion was that Dr. Clifford Young, who was subject to complaints by Litchfield, Gonzalez, Ricci, Logue, Smith and ultimately Mansell of improperly seeking to extend his authority beyond the limitations of his statutory power as a single vote on the water district’s five-member board of directors by making direct orders to staff, had grown discomfited by his inability to quash the internal district investigations those complaints triggered. The investigations into those accusations were carried out, in large measure, by the Kaufman Law Firm. In this way, the suit implies the qui tam action is a reprisal by Young and those he is affiliated with against Mansell and the district’s political leadership – i.e., the board – for allowing Litchfield’s, Gonzalez’s, Ricci’s, Logue’s and Smith’s accusations to persist without being controverted by official district action.
According to Medina, the suit, filed under the auspices of the California False Claims Act, fails to meet the legal requirements of such an action and exists rather as a politically-angled hit piece that lodges spurious allegations of corruption against the members of the board who, over the roughly one year period after the 2017 election, had evolved toward resisting Dr. Clifford Young’s improper overreach in dominating and micromanaging the district utilizing his status by asserting authority outside his legitimate role and capacity as an elected member of the board. The qui tam lawsuit neither establishes that the defendants and their named co-conspirators acted in collusion or in secret, according to Medina, nor does it delineate any information or true or false accusations that were not publicly known previously. “The allegations in the complaint consist of sensationalized facts taken directly from negative news media articles,” the motion to dismiss states. “The purpose of the California False Claims Act is to expose undetected fraud, in order to guard the public. By [the] relators’ own admission, this case has nothing to do with fraud, let alone any interest in protecting the district’s financial interest. [T]he Relators declare repeatedly in their various motions that this lawsuit was brought ‘to expose corruption at the district,’ and ‘expose a scheme of kickbacks and bribes.’ Consequently, as a California False Claims Act claim, the complaint is facially and fatally flawed.”
As used by Medina, “relator” is a term meaning plaintiff in a California False Claims Act case, as someone who has related a set of facts upon which the lawsuit is based.
“The fact is, this lawsuit has nothing to do with exposing fraud,” according to Medina. “It is the proverbial wolf dressed in sheep clothing. This lawsuit was brought in an attempt to interfere with ongoing investigations of harassment, bullying and misappropriation of public monies by relator Dr. Young, who has been represented by relators’ legal counsel Rachel Fiset in the ongoing investigations. This lawsuit is frivolous, vexatious and brought solely for the purpose of harassment.”
According to Medina, the allegations that money paid to the Kaufman Law Firm was misdirected are provably untrue. She said that members of the water district staff had accused Young of “grossly abusing his power and misappropriating public funds for his own personal benefit.” In January 2018, the Kaufman Law Firm was retained by the district to investigate allegations against Young that he “harassed, bullied and abused former General Manager Matthew Litchfield,” according to Medina. “Mr. Litchfield further alleged that relator Dr. Young gave him a list of people to hire and terminate under threat of retaliation. On or about the latter part of 2018, the district again retained the Kaufman Law Firm to investigate various complaints made by district employees against relator Dr. Young by alleged co-conspirators current General Manager Clarence C. Mansell and Deborah Martinez.”
Medina also took issue with the suit having been filed under seal, with the sole notice to the district consisting of it having been served upon Olinger, who at that time was in his late 80s and who was instructed to keep the matter under wraps, resulting in those sued not being informed of the suit and therefore not in a position to refute its accusations. “Although, statutorily the district must have been provided a copy of the complaint and material evidence 15 days after the Attorney General receives it, the district was not,” according to Medina. “The district became aware of the qui tam lawsuit only after the seal was lifted, when the named defendants were served with the complaint.”
The suit by Young, Davis and Romero inaccurately portrays the provision of gifts and political donations as being secretly conducted, according to Medina. “Relators also assert that the political contributions made by the named defendants to the members of the board of directors is evidence of this scheme of kickbacks and bribes,” according to Medina’s motion. Making reference to campaign disclosure statements filed by Taylor and Crowther that were cited as exhibits in the qui tam suit, Medina noted that disclosure of the donations were made and that Dr. Young was himself a political contributor to Taylor’s campaign.
“Not only is this not fraud, but the California Supreme Court has held, “[p]olitical contribution involves exercise of fundamental freedom protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1 of the California Constitution,” according to Medina.
According to Medina, the billings made by Tafoya and his firm, Albright, Yee & Schmit, the Kaufman Law Firm and Robert Katherman to the district were legitimate invoices for services that were actually rendered. In this way, the central premise of the legal action Young, Davis and Romero have filed is invalid, Medina insists, as no false claim was ever made by Tafoya, nor by Albright, Yee & Schmit, nor by the Kaufman Law Firm; nor by Robert Katherman.
According to Medina, the plaintiffs do not have the facts to back up the accusations the case is based upon, but rather intend to use the case as the basis to seek the facts they allege. The case is based not on documentation but assertion, Medina maintains. “[T]he relators fail to identify a single false claim. Instead, by [the] relators’ own admission, ‘Qui tam plaintiffs filed this action in order to shed light on the board’s corruption and misappropriation of public funds.’”
The plaintiffs were obliged to plead the case with specificity, according to Medina, meaning they had to lay out exactly what false claims the defendants had made. They were unable to do so, Medina said, because no false or fraudulent billing had taken place. “Relators do not even come close to meeting the ‘who, what, when, where and how,’” according to Medina. “In the 77 paragraphs of the complaint, relators do not identify a single false claim for reimbursement, let alone specify who did what. In fact, Relators do not even distinguish between the role of the named defendants or the named co-conspirators, which alone is a fatal flaw.”
Medina further asserted that elements of the suit had been submitted by Romero to California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, which upon looking at the accusations had decided not to proceed with any action against the defendants.
In her pleading, Medina argued that “under such circumstances,” the qui tam action should be dismissed.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David S. Cunningham III, in a ruling entered February 10, dismissed the claim as filed, indicating the case was long on accusation and short on proof. He said Young, Davis, Romero, Fiset and Coleman had proven neither that the lawyers and consultants had not provided work or services for which they were paid nor that they were overpaid, and that the plaintiffs had not shown that the costs of the services rendered were inflated. The allegations in the case did not lay out specific amounts for each false claim nor the dates they were made, Cunningham said. Mere allegations that something was stolen did not establish fraud, the judge said. Cunningham did, however, give the plaintiffs 30 days to amend the suit.
This week, Fiset told the Sentinel, “We think we have made the case for false claims and have built it around the fact that kickbacks and bribes arose from the relationship between the defendants and mainly board member Taylor but also board member Crowther, to some extent. We understand the judge has questions about those details. We will add that to the complaint and will file it again.”
Fiset said that misrepresentations were made with regard to the payments to the defendants and that “a claim based on fraud is a false claim. Bribes being provided constitutes fraud.”
Asked why Taylor and Crowther were not named in the suit, Fiset said that as individuals who did not submit invoices to the district, “They cannot be named, but they are co-conspirators. They are not named as defendants, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t commit the acts we are alleging. We are suing the violators who took the money from the district.”
Fiset said the payments to the defendants were “approved under false circumstances. I believe if the majority of the board had known the contracts were based upon fraudulent invoices and claims being presented to the district by the defendants while bribes were being offered and received, they would not have voted in favor of those contracts and the contracts would not have been approved. It is the ratepayers who are losing from the corruption.”
Fiset admitted the plaintiffs were in a bind because the information to prove the allegations is in large measure in the possession of the district, which is withholding the release of documentation.
“We have asked for details relating to those contracts as well as information with regard to gifts, donations and like inducements provided to board members Taylor and Crowther by Robert Tafoya, his law firm or its agents,” Fiset said. “We have made those requests under the Public Records Act. They have refused to answer. It has been months. They will not provide the information they are required to under the law. There are other cases pending against the district. Other law firms have made requests. They have not answered those requests. The district absolutely does not want this information made public.”
The clock is ticking against her and the plaintiffs, Fiset acknowledged. “I believe we have until March 13,” she said. “We are working on all manner of acquiring that information. The district is stonewalling on providing us that information. They are doing that so details relating to corruption and fraud do not come out. They are doing their best to keep the public from knowing what they are doing. We are doing our best to get to that information. There is a push and pull. We are working as feverishly as we can without them abiding by their obligation to openly provide information about their operations.”
Fiset noted that the plaintiffs are at a double disadvantage in that whenever an issue relating to the suit has come before the district’s board of directors, Clifford Young has not participated in how the district has responded, while Taylor and Crowther have continued to vote in accordance with their own best interest, which she said is contrary to the public interest.
“With regard to all issues pertaining to the suit, Dr. Young as a plaintiff has recused himself in the vote while Taylor and Crowther, as named co-conspirators in the suit, have not. We are experiencing difficulty because they are voting. This is a conflict of interest violation.”
She said that is compounded by the consideration that Tafoya, who is a named defendant, is yet serving in the capacity of the district’s legal advisor, such that the board is getting its legal advice from him. That advice is tainted by his conflict, and the advice he is providing is calculated to protect his own personal interest and that of his firm as opposed to the interest of the district’s residents and ratepayers, Fiset said. “Robert Tafoya is advising them in this case,” she said. “He should not be involved in telling them what should be done in this case or telling them how to vote. This entire case grew out of conflicts of interest. That is why we filed the qui tam action. That is why Leal Trejo filed the motion to dismiss the case. They are working hard to stop the case and stop the flow of information. Dr. Young has not been voting on issues relating to the case. [Current Board President] Channing Hawkins has said that he recognizes that this is a big problem for the district and that perhaps he will work toward doing what is right and facilitating some sort of information flow, but I have yet to see the information. There is a ton of corruption in the district. That is clear as day.”
Fiset dismissed accusations that she and Coleman are taking a shotgun approach to the matter and are being inexact in their legal pleadings.
“Our lawsuit is somewhat narrow under the False Claims Act,” she said. “What the judge is looking for is very specific. I think we’ve met our burden. There is so much corruption. We have to narrow our corruption field to show specific issues. We have investigators at our disposal. We have whistleblowers, and they know quite a bit. We are open to whatever they have been saying. They have an understanding of what is happening, the pillaging that is going on. But there are people who know things and are afraid to speak. We need to find a more neutral ear. Someone is needed to expose what the district is doing through documentation. There is general fraud and we are looking at it more objectively.”
Tafoya told the Sentinel the lawsuit is angled toward destroying his name as well as his reputation and that of his law firm.
Medina told the Sentinel, “The False Claims Act has the laudable goal of protecting taxpayer dollars. Judge Cunningham thoroughly analyzed the facts and the law in this case, a lawsuit filed nearly a year ago, and concluded that the lawsuit failed to identify a single false claim. In granting the West Valley Water District’s motion to dismiss, the court agreed with the district that continuing to litigate a qui tam action that has no merit is a waste of limited government resources.”
Damon Alexander says he is running for city council in San Bernardino’s Seventh Ward “to halt the dysfunction and to provide leadership where there is currently a vacuum in City Hall. The council is so busy fighting each other, no one is concerned about taking care of the city and its residents. I am a servant-leader, with my only agenda being to focus on making my city better, respectable and safer for all.”
The challenges facing the city are substantial, Alexander said. “The issues in my city are numerous, beginning with the city council,” he said. “Leadership starts at the top. Let us begin with the lawsuits. That we have encountered lawsuits over petty revenge tactics that have cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars is not only disheartening, it is a threat to our city’s viability. The council collectively has not seen fit to settle what suits we can reasonably bring to a close, so we can stop the bleeding. We have the former city manager suing us, we have two former mayor employees suing us, we have the cannabis industry suing us, etc., etc., and all this could have been avoided with simple leadership.”
Alexander continued, “We have other issues like the deteriorating road conditions of the city, again which cost the city money when residents’ vehicles are damaged and the residents sue the city. The poor road conditions are also a public safety issue. When drivers are avoiding potholes they could possibly, or in fact have, hit other vehicles. There is the added chance that drivers could even hit pedestrians when avoiding those potholes. Let’s repair the streets.”
Alexander vowed, “The homeless crisis is problem that I will address immediately, and it only requires leadership.” His formula was simple, he said. “Call all the city, county and state officials, the churches, and non-profits together and sit them down at the table and focus all those resources, target all that energy, with a unified plan with benchmarks and achievable goals,” he said. “I would also ask Dignity Health to sponsor a mobile health vehicle to go throughout the city, dealing with the homeless population to help slow the spread of diseases. The incentive for them is that will ease the overcrowding of their emergency room and that will save Dignity Health money when the homeless are treated early. ‘A pound of prevention is worth a ton of cure.’”
A dose of common sense is in order, Alexander said.
“The solutions are complex to say the least, but some issues are 101,” he said. “Treat your city staff with dignity, and deal with them in a professional manner. Stop trying to get over on one another and stepping on each other. If you are elected or hired to work for the City of San Bernardino, then do the job you were hired to do. If not, you’re fired.”
Alexander said he was committed to the constituency he is asking to elect him.
“I will be responsive to the citizens I represent and to the city as a whole,” he said. “I will hold a monthly meeting to keep the citizens that I represent informed no matter how few show up. I will be the leader, speaking to all and not just in election season. I have an open door policy. I will listen to people, because in the end it is our community to make better or worse.”
The city’s financial challenges can be overcome, he said.
“As our revenues decline, we need to be open and innovative on bringing in new streams of income for the city,” he said, by facilitating entrepreneurship. “We need to be a YES city. YES, to unorthodox projects and ideas that turn project concepts into reality. The answer is YES.”
Furthermore, Alexander said, “We must promote our city’s rich history and culture, and stop letting others define who and what we are, and we must do this aggressively. The arts and culture cannot be forgotten in the midst of all of our issues. Remember, it is the arts that make a city’s reputation. Route 66 here we come-again.”
Alexander said, “I have heard wonderful stories throughout my days canvassing, and we need to share them. Our history is long and beautiful. Let’s share it with the rest of the world, our sister cities, and southern California.” He listed out a litany of entities to prove his point that “Our city is not all bad. We have great events/clubs/organization like the SB Airfest, SB Turkey Trot 5K/10K, SB Symphony, the National Orange Show, the regional swim team at Arrowhead Country Club, wonderful non-profits: Young Visionary, Time for Change, 100BMIE, the 66ers, Assistance League, Kiwanis, Rotary, San Manuel Stadium, Masons, Social Lites, Inc. and others. We have the SB International Airport which is growing every day. Let’s stay on the good side of hope,” he said. “In the Marines, we learned not leave any of our fellow Marines behind! Work together, we struggle together and we achieve together! That is what I will bring to the council, the honor, integrity and pride of being a San Bernardino resident. Be that change!”
Alexander serves as the president of the North End Neighborhood Association, as a commissioner on the City of San Bernardino Public Safety Commission, and as a member of the City of San Bernardino Veteran’s Committee.
A retired federal agent who was employed with the Department of Justice, Alexander has a bachelor of science degree in political science from the University of La Verne, a masters of public administration degree from from National University and a master’s degree in Theology from Sacramento Theological Seminary & Bible College. He is a graduate from Harvard’s Leadership Institute. With his wife, Felicia, he has five children.
“It is with deep sadness that we report the death of retired Sheriff Floyd Tidwell,” current Sheriff John McMahon said. “He leaves behind an incredible legacy and will be greatly missed.”
A larger-than-life icon who chewed tobacco, wrestled steers and collared criminals, Tidwell, as must all mortal men, reached the end of his trail on Tuesday, February 25, at 2:25 p.m. at St. Bernadine Medical Center in San Bernardino.
His father was Alla Power Tidwell, a rancher. His mother was Cora Tidwell, who went by “Peggy.” He graduated from Big Bear High School with the Class of 1948.
As a young man in Big Bear, where he was born and raised, Tidwell was a product of his environment, and he embraced a vigorous lifestyle that entailed fully exploiting his uncommon physical strength.
He was a horseman, and competed in rodeos, as a roper and riding bulls. He developed an exercise regimen very early on, reportedly working out using weights virtually every day of his life until he was well into his eighties, at which point he was slowed by age, a shattered hip and femur, dual hip replacements and dual knee replacements.
Tidwell began with the department under Jim Stocker in 1950 as “extra help.” It was during the tenure of Eugene Mueller as San Bernardino County sheriff that he was hired as a deputy upon the recommendation of Kendall Stone, who would later go on to become the undersheriff. As an adolescent and young adult, Tidwell had cowboyed with Stone. The bulk of Tidell’s experience working in the field and on the streets as as cop came during the final year of Mueller’s term as sheriff and during the first five years of Bland’s time as sheriff.
It was around 1960 that Bland recognized Tidwell’s talent and potential in a supervisorial role. Though Tidwell’s physical strength was an asset in the role of a street deputy, Bland considered his leadership and organizational skills to be more valuable. In one fell swoop, Bland promoted Tidwell, then yet a deputy, to sergeant, a role he remained in for roughly a year in 1960. In 1961, he was promoted to sheriff’s captain. Tidwell thus held the distinction of never having been a detective nor a lieutenant. Eventually, Bland would augment his skills yet further, obtaining a degree from Redlands University in public and business administration, through coursework and a degree pathway that involved a so-called “life degree” based in part upon his professional experience, including his administrative function within the sheriff’s department, a combination of skills, knowledge and applied learning that was articulated into a degree
While in the role of captain, Tidwell moved his family to Rialto, where in 1961, 1962 and into 1963 he was engaged in overseeing the sheriff’s department’s establishment of its Glen Helen facilities, its rehabilitation center as well as training grounds.
In 1963, Tidwell was promoted to the position of inspector, an assignment equivalent to that of deputy chief in today’s command hierarchy, one in which he oversaw a specific geographical area within the county’s 20,105-square mile confines, in Tidwell’s case, the largest subdivision in the county, the High Desert. It was at that point that the Tidwell family moved to Apple Valley.
Inspector was a largely administrative office, although Tidwell did in that capacity act in the role of a traditional inspector overseeing the more important investigations the department was involved in as the lead investigator among a team of detectives.
In 1968, Tidwell moved to a ranch up then-rustic Reche Canyon in Colton at the extreme south end of the county near the wild frontier with Riverside County.
Under Bland, who was the longest serving sheriff in the department’s now 167-year history, Tidwell rose to the top echelon of the sheriff’s department as the third in command by the early 1980s. For a time, it appeared that Bland’s heir apparent was Undersheriff Floyd Jones. In 1982, Bland, then 69, stepped down, intending to hand off the reins to Jones. But Jones had a heart condition, and instead, the political machine which had sustained Bland in office since 1955 following his 1954 electoral victory over Mueller, swung in behind Tidwell, as Bland’s second choice.
With the backing of the Bland Political Machine and the support of the virtual entirety of the county’s political establishment, Tidwell handily defeated his opposition in the 1982 race, then-Sheriff’s Captain Chuck Callahan.
At the time of his retirement, Bland was, despite his status at the head of the department, less handsomely remunerated than those at the senior level of the agency he headed. A sergeant with seniority made more money than Bland did. Thus, by running successfully for sheriff, Tidwell had agreed to take a substantial pay cut to move into his new position. The county board of supervisors remedied this by creating the position of county public safety officer, which at that time entailed a stipend of more than $40,000. The board then conferred upon Tidwell the county public safety officer title and position, boosting his total salary to slightly more than that provided to the undersheriff, the department’s highest paid position.
Around the time he acceded to the position of sheriff, Tidwell moved to a home he constructed in Oak Hills, near the top of the Cajon Pass, just south of Hesperia. He was assisted in the construction of that home by Gary Penrod, one of his protégés in the department, who also had a contractor’s license. Tidwell would remain in that house, with only occasional vacation or temporary recreational departures back to the cabin in Big Bear he grew up in and which he had inherited from his father.
As sheriff, Tidwell continued the trend of modernization that had begun under Bland. The sheriff’s aviation division expanded substantially under his watch, eventually involving both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters that, if ranked among or against the military air fleets of the world’s nations, would have been the 106th largest.
Shortly after Tidwell became sheriff, the department leapt forward in terms of computerization, upgrading the department’s sophistication in this regard from the first generation data processing machines in use at the time Bland was sheriff to ones involving much more flexible and creative uses of software becoming available in that era, initially in the mainframes located within the department’s stations. Subsequently, with the availability of stand alone and miniaturized units, during the final years of Tidwell’s tenure as sheriff, the department began outfitting its patrol units with mobile data terminals as well as 800 MHz radios.
Convinced from his experience that a relatively small percentage of the population was responsible for an overwhelming percentage of the major crime that law enforcement was tasked to deal with, Tidwell created the departments career criminal division.
It was Tidwell who coined the department’s motto, “Dedicated to your safety.”
A crime that occurred relatively early in his term as sheriff came to define him and his department. Sometime in the evening of June 4, 1983, Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and 11-year-old Christopher Hughes, a friend of 8-year Joshua Ryen, were slain in the Ryen’s Chino Hills home in combined hatchet, knife and icepick attacks. Joshua, whose throat was slashed and had suffered axe wounds to his head and stab wounds to his back, survived the attack. The victims were found the following morning by Hughes’ father, who had come to retrieve his son after having allowed him to spend the night at his friend’s house.
Douglas Ryen had 37 knife and hatchet wounds and a severed finger. Peggy Ryen had 17 hatchet wounds to the face and head and four 4 knife wounds in the chest. Jessica Ryen had 46 wounds from a hatchet, knife, and ice pick. Christopher Hughes sustained 26 stab wounds and numerous skull fractures and a severed finger.
It was relatively quickly determined that Kevin Cooper, then 25, who had been imprisoned under the alias of David Trautman, had escaped from the Chino Institution For Men on June 2. Trautman/Cooper had spent two days and a night in a home on the property adjoining that of the Ryens’, a house which was temporarily unoccupied as the tenant there, a schoolteacher, was vacationing. Phone records demonstrated that Cooper had made calls from that home’s phone to two women acquaintances, one in Pennsylvania, where he had previously been incarcerated, and one in the Los Angeles area. Cigarette butts that consisted of the partially-burnt rolling papers and tobacco issued to prisoners at the Chino Institute For Men were found in the house, as were Cooper’s fingerprints. Cooper subsequently verified in his testimony that he had holed up in the school teacher’s residence after covering the roughly four miles of ground between the prison and the then-rural area of Chino Hills where the Ryen home was located. Ultimately, Cooper fled southward to Baja California, and then, in a Mexican port, met an American couple, accompanying them onto their houseboat as they traveled the coast. Some seven weeks after the murders, after the houseboat had sailed northward and was docked near Santa Cruz Island, Cooper was accused of raping a woman on a nearby boat. When the rape victim went to the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department to report that crime, she saw Cooper’s wanted poster. His arrest was effectuated shortly thereafter by Santa Barbara County sheriff’s personnel working in conjunction with the coast guard. Cooper was put on trial in a San Diego County courtroom and was prosecuted for murder directly by District Attorney Dennis Kottmeier, who was one of Tidwell’s political associates. Cooper was convicted, and in the years since, multiple efforts to reverse Cooper’s conviction have ensued. A common theme in the appeals is the degree to which Cooper’s attorneys contended the investigation into the murders was botched, with over 60 individuals including sheriff’s department deputies, higher ranking officers, evidence technicians and 14 detectives traipsing over the murder scene in the days following the discovery of the bodies, and evidence from the investigation not having been adequately preserved or lost. Cooper’s conviction, nonetheless, has not been overturned, and he remains on Death Row in San Quentin.
In 1987, the F-4 Phantom in which California National Guard Captain Dean Paul Martin, the son of entertainer Dean Martin, and Martin’s weapons officer, Captain Ramon Ortiz, were flying clipped the side of 11,503 foot elevation Mount San Gorgonio during a storm and in poor visibility brought on by atmospheric conditions, and then tumbled out of control to crash into the wilderness below. The San Gorgonio Search and Rescue Team, based out of the sheriff’s department’s Yucaipa station scoured the area, finding the plane and the two men, who had perished in the crash.
In 1990, Tidwell, then-60, chose to not seek reelection. He endorsed his undersheriff, Dick Williams, and then used the political machine that Bland had created and handed off to him to ensure Williams was elected sheriff. The current manifestation of the Bland Political Machine yet exists, having been instrumental in the subsequent elections of sheriffs Gary Penrod, Rodd Hopps and the current sheriff, John McMahon.
Tidwell was designated sheriff emeritus by the county board of supervisors upon his retirement.
Two of Tidwell’s sons, Jeff and Daniel “Boone,” were hired as deputies with the department. Jeff reached the rank of sergeant before retiring. Boone achieved the post of detective.
According to Boone Tidwell, who currently owns a bail bond and bounty hunting concern in Wyoming, his father took an interest in mentoring all of the department’s sworn personnel.
“He guided every deputy’s career while he was sheriff,” Boone Tidwell said. “He was fully engaged with his department from a personnel standpoint. He knew who the good managers were and he promoted them, or kept them in place, as was appropriate. He was accorded a lot of respect by the people who worked for him.”
Sometime after retiring, Sheriff Emeritus Tidwell had revived the Sheriff’s Rodeo event that had been discontinued after Dick Williams, whose orientation was more toward dress suits than cowboy boots and chaps, let that tradition die out.
“He was the one that ramrodded the reestablishment of the rodeo through,” Boone Tidwell said.
Floyd Tidwell had a life beyond the sheriff’s department. He had retained the Big Bear cabin built by his father near Metcalf Bay and in which he had grown up. Tidwell later arranged to have the cabin moved to the east end of the lake. He operated the Shield F Ranch, a cattling concern located on a huge expanse of land between Lucerne Valley and Johnson Valley near the Ord Mountains. “That was were he was absolutely most at home, on horseback dealing with cows and steers,” said Boone Tidwell.
“I was probably one of the few cowboys in my family,” said Boone Tidwell. “I spent more time with my father on horseback than anyone. He loved that aspect of life. He enjoyed burro racing more than anyone I ever knew. If he was on horseback he was happy. He raised cattle. When he was young, he won his share of rodeo prizes. He was a skilled roper, although I won’t lie to you, I was a better roper than he was.”
There were other elements to Floyd Tidwell’s life that did not quite fit in the mold of a cowboy or a sheriff.
He was an advocate for blood donations, pushing his deputies to take part in blood drives, and allowing photos of himself donating blood to be used in campaigns to urge others to do the same.
He had uncommonly elegant handwriting. So impressive was his penmanship that in another age he would have been employable as a scribe, scrivener or calligrapher, without question.
With his wife, Janet née Carroll, who attended Big Bear High in the class behind him and who was for a short time in the late 1940s a professional singer with the Bob Morris Band and the High Lows, Tidwell had five children: two daughters, Teresa and Robin; and three sons, Steve, Jeff and Daniel.
Teresa and Steve predeceased their father, Carrie in car collision in 1977 and Steve when he slipped on ice and hit his head in the dead of winter in 2012. Mrs. Tidwell died in 2007.
Three further current or former San Bernardino city employees or officials have gone public with accusations against Mayor John Valdivia as of late this week, bringing to a total of five those who have gone on the record to say he grossly mistreated those who worked for him and engaged in further misdeeds, including the misuse of city funds, facilities and personnel, failing to report money and gifts he had received and the reception of what appear to bribes. The three individuals who came forth this week are purposed to join with Mirna Cisneros and Karen Cervantes, who resigned last month and then earlier this month filed claims against Valdivia and the city, in taking legal action. A sixth city employee, one believed to yet be in place at City Hall, has also made contact with the same attorney representing the other five.
Of the three who spoke out this week in full public display in front of currently shuttered City Hall, which is awaiting seismic retrofitting, one is a member of both the Arts and Historical Preservation Commission and the San Bernardino Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission and another is yet serving in the role of Valdivia’s field representative.
Alissa Payne, Donald Smith and Jackie Aboud stepped out from the shadows to join with Cisneros and Cervantes in attesting to grotesque elements of Valdivia’s persona, revelations that come a little more than 14 months after Valdivia acceded to the mayoralty in the nearly 220,000-population county seat following his victory over then-incumbent Mayor Carey Davis in the November 2018 election. When 2019 began, Valdivia, a Hispanic Republican with the backing of the county’s Republican establishment, appeared to be an irresistible political force, as he was drawing to himself substantial support not just from the city’s largely Latino and predominantly Democratic population but business owners and conservative GOP stalwarts, as well. Among those who signed on to assist him in office were Cervantes and Smith, who were active in Republican political efforts in 2018. Both were enthusiastic about working in Valdivia’s administration, and saw doing so as an opportunity to fulfill their professional and philosophical goals. As it would turn out, Valdivia’s self-centered and abrasive style, his ego-driven ambition that had more than a political focus, together with his vulgarisms, short temper and angry tirades dulled their enthusiasm for assisting him in his mission of governance.
Cisneros and Cervantes said that the mayor had subjected them to unwanted sexual advances, innuendo and crude remarks, sought to press them into compromising circumstances, insisted that they perform tasks outside their job assignments, and either sought to involve them in or acknowledged to them his skirting of the law pertaining to the use of public funds as well as his violation of the reporting requirements imposed on public officials relating to the reception of donations, money or services. Cisneros said that Valdivia had pressured her to work on political campaigns while she was serving in her capacity as a city employee, suggesting that she should use the vacation time she had accrued to work on the current campaigns of two of the candidates Valdivia is endorsing, Juan Figueroa and Bessine Richard.
Attorney Tristan Pelayes said his office has been retained by six current or one-time city employees, including Cisneros, Cervantes, Aboud, Smith and Payne, with regard to Valdivia’s treatment of them. The evidence mounting against the mayor is overwhelming, Pelayes said.
“Over the last few weeks, over a dozen additional individuals have come forward as both witnesses and victims,” Pelayes said. “This includes elected officials, community members, campaign workers, and both current and former employees. Through this, a distinct pattern has become evident, a predatory pattern by Mayor John Valdivia of seeking out young women, people who are vulnerable, experiencing hardships, or just starting their careers in government. This pattern consists of sexually inappropriate behavior, manipulation through bullying and verbal abuse, and quid pro quos by promising promotions and career advancement opportunities. His abuse extends beyond just young females. He mistreated his male staff members as well. One of the most disheartening things that have come about in this case is the lack of action and cooperation by the city. We have proof through written documents as well as victim and witness statements that the city council, [the] human resources [department], and several others in the administrative office both knew of and witnessed the mayor’s behavior, yet they failed to protect these victims. The only ‘action’ – if you’d call it that – ever taken was letters warning him about his hostile behavior and the inappropriateness of him having Mirna Cisneros accompany him on trips. No formal investigation ever took place until my clients retained legal counsel and went public.”
Pelayes said he and his firm had importuned the city to “hire an independent investigator and ensure a fair and impartial investigation.” The city instead has selected its own investigator, he said, and is pursuing what he implied is a whitewash.
Pelayes added, “We have received additional information regarding his illegal campaign activities and quid pro quos with businesses and developers who contributed to his campaign. Due to the nature of those allegations, we are cooperating with law enforcement to investigate.”
As Pelayes was conducting the press conference, which was attended by multiple media outlets including print journalists and no fewer than three Los Angeles area television film crews, a crowd of more than a dozen Valdivia supporters chanted, “Hell, no! The man won’t go,” a pointed response to recent statements emanating from multiple corners in the community calling upon the mayor to resign.
In her remarks to the crowd, Jackie Aboud said, “I worked for the City of San Bernardino as a field rep for the mayor for 10 months. While working for the mayor, I was subjected to verbal and mental abuse, which included screaming, being threatened with termination, belittling in front of others and constant bullying. He took joy in mistreating others, even talked about how much he loved firing people, and would call other employees names in front of me – making fun of them, based on their age, race, and even veteran status. He told me I needed to spend time with him after hours and invest in a friendship with him if I wanted to reach my career goals. He also told me that my job was not to serve the community but to serve him and meet his personal needs.”
Aboud continued, “I was regularly ordered to work additional hours while not being paid, and reprimanded if I didn’t. The mayor doesn’t care about the community, only certain areas that supported him during his election. I was ordered to not help, support, or partner with parts of the community that didn’t support him in the election, like the 4th and 7th Ward. I began to share my concerns with an HR [human resources] employee starting in July of 2019; I was never contacted and nothing was done. I was cautioned about coming forward because he was an elected official and they couldn’t do anything to control him.”
Aboud said, “On January 6, 2020, I was fired without being provided with a reason. I fully believe I was terminated in retaliation because I didn’t respond to his personal demands the way he wanted me to. When I was terminated I again told HR about my concerns related to his conduct toward Mirna, him creating a hostile work environment, and how he would misuse city funds. After graduating from college, it was my dream to work in local government; I have a true passion for serving this community and I thought I could make a difference in a city that so desperately needs it. The mayor turned my dreams into a nightmare.”
Don Smith said, “I am currently employed by the City of San Bernardino as a field rep for the mayor. Prior to my employment, I worked for the mayor on his last campaign. Over the last year and a half, I have been mentally and verbally abused and used by the mayor. He would constantly yell, tell me I was not high functioning and always told me my job was on the line if I didn’t do what he wanted. Even though I was not on call, he would call me and tell me to immediately report to work on days/times I wasn’t scheduled. I would show up to work my regular part-time shift, then would be told to work 10-12 hours running errands – not being allowed to take breaks. Anytime I questioned him, he again would tell me that I needed to do what I was told because he gave me the opportunity.”
According to Smith, Valdivia “ordered me to work extra hours, while not getting paid, promising me a promotion opportunity. He had me run personal errands like getting his car serviced while on the clock for the city. He offered to pay me for side work, then would never pay me fully after I completed the work. He routinely threatened my job as a means to bully me.”
Smith recounted that “When my grandma passed away, I had to take time off. When I returned to work, the mayor was upset and told me, ‘I don’t give a blank if someone in your family dies. I need you to be at work.’”
According to Smith, “The mayor truly believes he is above the law and as a matter of fact, he told me one time ‘We are the law’ when I questioned him about the legal parameters of his actions.”
Smith said, “Coming forward with this information has been difficult as I am struggling as a part-time employee who desperately needs to work and is scared of what the mayor will do, but I cannot let him continue on his path of destruction and victimization. I took this job and endured the abuse because I wanted so badly to help the community and make a difference; I owe it to the people of San Bernardino to help hold him accountable.”
Alissa Payne said, “In October of 2019, I was appointed as a commissioner for the City of San Bernardino for two commissions. I was subjected to inappropriate conduct and manipulation by the mayor. He went as far as offering to provide me an apartment, would tell me how to vote and what to say or do at the commission meetings, asked me to meet him alone in the evening after hours, and promised – guaranteed – me a seat on the city dais as the 2nd Ward council member.”
Payne said Valdivia made inappropriate sexist comments about Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra and homophobic slurs about a current city council candidate she did not specify.
Payne recounted that Valdvia “invited me to attend a dinner event as his personal guest where he was persistently trying to get me intoxicated, which I declined, and put his arm around me several times, touching my lower back and making me extremely uncomfortable, which eventually led to him pulling me in for an unwanted hug.”
“The mayor was preying on me,” Payne said, and “council members were not only aware but enabled his behavior. Coincidentally, after I didn’t give in to the mayor’s demands and started to become distant with him, my apartment and one of my events for the homeless was reported to code enforcement. I am being retaliated against. I have worked very hard to be a contributing member of my community. I volunteer as much as I can, even hosting and planning my own events out of my own pocket. When city council members and the mayor began to show their support, I felt like I was achieving something, that my hard work was paying off. The more I was around these people, the more I began to realize the truth, and it hurt. The mayor didn’t recognize me because of my hard work and dedication, but because he was preying on me. The mayor wants power and his way at all costs. The mayor knew of my situation as a single mom and preyed on me, used me.”