Having Condemned Cronyism To Get Into Office, Hawkins Now Hiring His Own Associates

Fresh from having gotten out from under what was perhaps the most controversial of a string or highly questionable hirings widely criticized or perceived as political patronage, the West Valley Water District this week entered into yet another arrangement by which an individual was given work, this time by means of a contract, to supply a service which seemingly bears no relationship to the district’s underlying function.
As a relatively obscure governmental entity with the 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 functioned for the better part of its then-63-year existence in relative obscurity until the 2015 retirement of longtime general manager Butch Araiza. Araiza then vied unsuccessfully in the 2015 board election, after which the district descended into a state of instability which featured firings and recriminations, infighting and power struggles at the managerial and political levels that have been chaotic and bitter with only brief respite.
In the midst of those power struggles and at least partially as a result of them, the opposing factions on the board, which did not fully manifest until 2018, have sought to install their respective political allies into positions of authority within the district’s staff to assist them in their successive stabs for control.
The district’s employment of personnel focused on politics who were inadequate to the task of water service operations created further dysfunction within the district, exacerbating an already deteriorating situation.
Shortly after his 2017 election to the board, Michael Taylor, who was previously the police chief of Baldwin Park and would shortly thereafter be rehired to that assignment, with the support of the majority of the board with whom he was then on good terms, wangled the hirings of Robert Tafoya, the city attorney for Baldwin Park, as the district’s general counsel; the hiring of Baldwin Park City Councilman Richard Pacheco as assistant general manager with the district; and the hiring of Clarence Mansell, a journeyman water operations professional who had previous experience in Rialto and elsewhere in Southern California and with whom Taylor was acquainted, as the district’s general manager. Subsequently, when the district had divided into two warring camps led by Taylor on one side and Director Clifford Young on the other, the district hired Jeremiah Brosowske to serve as yet another assistant general manager. Brosowske boasted a résumé as a political operative, having worked on numerous political campaigns and then having acceded to the position of executive director of the San Bernardino County Central Committee, thereafter garnering first an appointment, and then election, to the Hesperia City Council. Brosowske, however, had no experience, no training, held no certificates or licenses, and possessed no expertise in water operations or public agency administration or management.
While both Mansell and Tafoya filled roles in which they had to function visibly, there was virtually no dispute that Pacheco and Brosowske had been given sinecures.
A sinecure is defined as a position requiring little or no work but giving the holder status or financial benefit.
Both Pacheco and Brosowske had each been provided with contracts to serve in their respective assistant general manager positions at an annual salary of $189,592 along with benefits and add-ons valued at over $62,000 per year.
Upon their initial hirings, both Pacheco and Brosowske had been given the official title of assistant manager for external affairs, which essentially related to overseeing the district’s communications function. Pacheco was moved into a so-called “operational” assistant manager’s post to make way for Brosowske.
Pacheco rarely showed up at the West Valley District Office, located at 855 W. Base Line Road in Rialto.
Many considered the external affairs management position to be absolutely superfluous, as Mansell, in his general manager capacity, is authorized to make official statements on behalf of the district, and the district already had in place a public affairs manager, Naseem Farooqi, as well as a crew of customer service representatives.
With the advent of the 2019 election season, the public was given a demonstration of how it was that Brosowske’s hiring was a patently political one. He was put to work supporting the reelection candidacies of board members Don Olinger and Kyle Crowther, both of whom had hewed to the Taylor side of the political divide in the district, and he also worked to oppose the reelection of Greg Young, who had sided with Clifford Young in the district power struggle. Vying against Olinger was a relative newcomer on the Rialto political scene, Channing Hawkins, who was presenting himself as a reform candidate intent on eliminating the untoward political machinations and cronyism that were overriding the district’s function, and Hawkins vowed a return to a focus on simply delivering quality water at an affordable rate to the district’s customers.
Meanwhile, Taylor was working assiduously to prevent Hawkins from being able to sell himself to the voters, and he expended $22,620.48 from his own campaign fund to support Olinger throughout the campaign.
Ultimately in November, Young and Crowther achieved reelection. Hawkins ousted Olinger, which seemed to presage a dynamic political shift on the board in which Taylor would no longer be in ascendancy and Clifford Young, who is no blood relation to Greg Young, would likely move into a position of relative primacy. Just two days after the November 5 election, even before Hawkins had been sworn in as the district board’s newest member, Pacheco departed, taking with him nine months of salary as a severance, equal to $142,194, pursuant to a separation agreement worked out for him by Tafoya. The assumption was that shortly after Hawkins came onto the board, the reforms he had been calling for during the election would be actuated, and that the political patronage in the district would come to an end and all, or virtually all, of the remaining individuals associated with Taylor who had been provided with sinecures at the district or were otherwise put into positions of authority there because of connections with him – Mansell, Tafoya and Brosowske – would no longer be employed at West Valley.
In an adroit political move, however, Taylor succeeded in offering Hawkins an olive branch, arranging to nominate him to serve as board president almost immediately after his December 5 swearing in, a move that succeeded. Hawkins’ ascendancy to the position of board president ameliorated his attitude toward Taylor, while dimming, at least somewhat, Hawkins’ reform fervor, leaving, for the time being, Mansell, Tafoya and Brosowske in place.
Nevertheless, Hawkins, less than two weeks after he was in office, quietly and without involving the other board members, directed Mansell to retain the public relations firm of ChamberlaynePR, owned by Charles Chamberlayne, to undertake certain communications services for the district. The initial installment of that contract, as awarded by Mansell using his authority to enter into contracts or make expenditures of $25,000 or less without board approval, committed to paying ChamberlaynePR $23,000 before the board revisited the matter to determine if the contract should be extended.
Charles Chamberlayne had been one of Hawkins acquaintances while both were attending Howard University in Washington, D.C. in the early 2000s. Chamberlayne had also assisted Hawkins in his campaign.
An assignment Chamberlayne was tasked with was to coordinate the district’s communications, an assignment that took on greater meaning a few months later when the district was obliged to make a cogent response to the coronavirus crisis. Hawkins had also arranged to have Charles Chamberlayne make an assessment of the district’s communication function, what was referred to as its “external affairs.” Of concern was that despite the degree redundancy in terms of the district’s communications functions, no clear message was reaching the public.
On April 16 at the West Valley Water District board meeting, Chamberlayne returned his evaluation, which was highly critical of both Mansell and Brosowske.
Chamberlayne’s report noted that “The West Valley Water District is in constant disarray, shrouded in a mass of unflattering news reports, seemingly dysfunctional communications resources and abysmal media responses.” While conceding that some of the district’s difficulty stemmed from “unnecessary prior political infighting and mismanagement from organization leadership,” Chamberlayne stated that “We find grave issues extending from problematic leadership on the part of the general manager [Mansell] and assistant general manager [Brosowske].”
Of Browsowske in particular, Chamberlayne said he “seems to lack many of the necessary skills and experience to run the department.” Brosowske, Chamberlayne opined, was short on “management and public affairs/relations, advocacy, writing and editing skills and experience,” which Chamberlayne said “contributes to overall sub par communications performances and execution.”
Before the board had been briefed on the external affairs report, read it or fully digested it, Brosowske, seeing what was coming, submitted a separation agreement, which the board, in a 4-to-1 vote with Director Greg Young abstaining, accepted. Under the terms of that agreement, Brosowske was provided with a severance package of $154,884.80, which included nine months salary and a $5,000 tuition reimbursement for classes he was taking with regard to water operations to bring him up to speed on issues the district dealt with. Thus, for the slightly more than eleven months he was with the district, Brosowske, who had been deemed inadequate to the position he held, received $389,542.72 in total compensation.
While some credited Hawkins with having been able coordinate Brosowske’s departure, albeit at some expense, he thereafter offset at least some of the good will he had accrued by arranging to have the district extend a contract to Chamberlayne’s firm, ChaberlaynePR to provide further consulting services to the district beyond which it had already provided.
After the initial $23,000 retainer paid to ChamberlaynePR in December, the board approved another $25,000 for ChamberlaynePR on April 2.
This week, the board considered, and then approved, a $150,000 consulting agreement with ChamberlaynePR for what was described as “issues management and crisis communications.”
While district officials sought to defend the outlay as one that had been committed to after bids were sought for the work, the consultancy arrangement drew fire on multiple score. The bidding consisted of a “request for qualifications” having been posted on the website planetbids.com on April 24 with a May 4 submission deadline. That summoned two responses, one from ChamberlaynePR for a minimum of $90,000 and another for $502,800 from Mercury Public Affairs, LLC of Los Angeles. The board accepted making a $150,000 commitment with ChamberlaynePR to provide its trademark public relations service.
Some have questioned what need the district would have to engage in public relations if it simply carried out the business it is chartered to do, and delivered water to its customers.
The district has now approved three payments totaling $198,000 to ChamberlaynePR in less than five months, essentially to provide communications services that many consider to be redundant or unnecessary. Simultaneously, given Charles Chamberlayne’s prior and ongoing relationship with Hawkins, including promoting Hawkins’ campaign for the board last fall, there is a growing perception that the widespread cronyism Hawkins made an issue of when he was running for office has not been eradicated but is persisting with different players aligned now with him rather than Taylor.
The San Bernardino Sun, the daily newspaper with the largest circulation within the jurisdictional confines of the West Valley Water District, was referenced in Chamberlayne’s report delivered to the board on April 16 as having engaged in an “unrelenting cycle of unfavorable media inquiries and reports.”
Ironically, providing ChamberlaynePR with the contract last night appears to have created the precise type of controversy and negative perception the firm was hired to head off. In an article bearing today’s May 8 dateline authored by Joe Nelson, the Sun reported on the action by the West Valley Water Board Thursday night providing the $150,000 contract to ChamberlaynePR. The article at one point stated, “Hawkins has come under fire recently for allegedly perpetuating a longstanding pattern of rampant cronyism at the district.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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