Three More SB City Employees/Officials Denounce Mayor Valdivia’s Conduct

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.”
Mark Gutglueck

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