Report Of Valdivia Intrique To Lure Lopez From Hemet To SB As City Manager

Reports that San Bernardino is on the brink of hiring Chris Lopez as its city manager are at best premature and based upon speculation that overestimates the pull of Mayor John Valdivia and underestimates the strength of several other candidates for the position, sources within what now suffices as San Bernardino City Hall have told the Sentinel.
Late this week, word came in over the transom that Lopez, who is currently the city manager of Hemet and formerly had extensive experience in San Bernardino, had more than one meeting with Mayor John Valdivia, a sign that some said indicated Lopez was about to jump ship and sign on as the city manager in the county seat.
Currently, Teri Ledoux is serving as San Bernardino city manager. She took on the city manager’s position on a fill-in basis in April 2019, slightly less than four months after Valdivia had acceded to the mayor’s post. What looked at that time to be Ledoux’s temporary promotion was occasioned after Valdivia was able to summon up the bare minimum three votes he needed to create a 3-to-3 deadlock on the city council in a vote to suspend then-City Manager Andrea Travis-Miller. The mayor in San Bernardino is not in most circumstances accorded voting power, but can vote to break a tie. From virtually the day Valdivia was sworn in as mayor on December 19, 2018, he was gunning to cashier Travis-Miller, whom he considered to be closely aligned to his predecessor as mayor, Carey Davis. Valdivia defeated Davis in the November 2018 election.
Valdivia had hopes of being able to fire Travis-Miller with the support of his four then-allies on the city council – newly-elected First Ward Councilman Ted Sanchez and newly-elected Second Ward Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra, Fifth District Councilman Henry Nickel and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Bessine Richard. City restrictions, however, prevented San Bernardino’s city manager from being fired in the immediate aftermath of a municipal election. Furthermore, the reluctance of both Nickel and Richard to act in haste in the early going after an administration turnover kept Travis-Miller in position for what was then the time being. In early April 2019, however, when Richard at last joined with Sanchez and Ibarra in supporting the temporary suspension of Travis-Miller, Valdivia moved at once to break the tie that had resulted when Nickel and Fourth Ward Councilman Fred Shorett and Seventh Ward Councilman Jim Mulvihill opposed protracting Travis-Miller. The moment was pregnant with suspense, as many anticipated that Travis-Miller’s once-loyal second-in-command, Ledoux, whom Travis-Miller had installed into the assistant city manager’s position, would move to support her boss by threatening to walk out with the city’s department heads as a show of confidence in Travis-Miller’s leadership. Valdivia and his then-chief of staff, Bill Essayli, adroitly foreclosed any such manifestation of resistance by elevating Ledoux into the interim city manager’s position to oversee city operations in Travis-Miller’s absence. Ledoux had no previous experience in a top management position and was nearing retirement. In May 2019 a special election was held to fill the vacant Third Ward council post that had come about when Valdivia was obliged to tender his resignation from that position, which he had held since 2012, to accept the mayor’s gavel. Juan Figueroa, Valdivia’s handpicked choice as a replacement, prevailed in that election. With what then appeared to be a solid four or five member ruling coalition on the council in his camp, Valdivia from his position of perceived strength, moved to fire Travis-Miller. The council in a 6-to-2 vote in which Valdivia was permitted to participate, confirmed Travis-Miller’s sacking.
Valdivia recognized that Ledoux’s promotion into the full-fledged city manager’s position would, under the California Public Employees Retirement System’s formula, increase the pension Ledoux was to receive upon her February 2021 retirement from $122,472  to $181,642.50 annually. Shrewdly, Valdivia two months later arranged to have the city council promote Ledoux to city manager, pursuant to an 18-month contract that would keep her in place until December 31, 2020. This, Valdivia calculated, would buy Ledoux’s loyalty, making it far easier for him to dominate the city with the city’s top administrator in his pocket.
Control of the city’s administrative function was an important consideration for Valdivia. In 2016, the city’s voters had adopted a new municipal charter, replacing the 111-year-old one that had been in place since 1905. That 1905 charter created what in municipal parlance is referred to as a strong mayor form of governance. While the mayor had no voting power as the presiding member of the city council under normal circumstances, he or she as the presiding officer wielded the gavel and officiated over the meeting, controlling the ebb and flow of debate, with unfettered freedom to place items for action or discussion before the council. He or she had the power to break a tie-vote, and veto power on any votes that ended either 4-to-3 or 3-to-2, which in practical terms meant that on any issue where the vote was going against the position the mayor held, he or she in fact had two votes. More significantly still under the 1905 charter, the mayor had administrative power equal to his or her political power. The 1905 charter endowed the mayor with the power to hire and fire city employees. This made the mayor, in a sense, a co-regent of the city with the city manager. And if the mayor had differences with the city manager, the mayor could fire him or her.
It was that kind of power that Valdivia yearned for but which, to his chagrin, had been taken away by the 2015 charter revision, which transformed the city from a strong mayor form of government to a council/city manager model in which the council as a panel set city policy which the city manager carried out, such that the administrative and managerial authority once infused in the mayor was attenuated and his or her power of hiring and firing was discontinued. By promoting Ledoux, Valdivia was angling to co-opt her, to essentially turn her into his puppet, and have her surrender back to him the administrative power that the new charter no longer gave him.
Ledoux’s tenure as city manager was understood to be limited from the outset in that her contract ran only to December 2020, which was less than two months shy of her expected retirement date. Accordingly, one of the primary assignments Ledoux had been tasked with was to compile a list of those whom the city council could consider and then hire as her successor.
The Sentinel is informed that one of those on the list was Chris Lopez.
Lopez began with the City of San Bernardino as an environmental projects specialist in the public works department. While in that capacity, Lopez was involved in cooperative efforts between the city and the Wildwood Association Group and the Del Rosa Neighborhood Action Group relating to educating the public with regard to recycling, as well as increasing revenues and reducing expenditures for the city’s integrated waste management division. City management deemed Lopez to have achieved satisfactory results in all of those areas. Concurrent with that, the city achieved success in meeting commercial recycling goals set by the State of California in accordance with a program Lopez put in place using a geographic information system that efficientized routes of the city’s sanitation vehicles, thereby reducing wear and tear on the garbage trucks. Lopez was subsequently entrusted with overseeing and monitoring the public works department’s $47 million annual budget, advising division managers on technical issues related to the department’s divisions’ budgets to streamline department processes.
With the city’s 2012 bankruptcy filing, Lopez was detailed to husbanding the limited financial resources yet available to the public works division, including imposing the fiscal discipline required to continue to completion a park relighting program at Littlefield Shultis Park, seeing to the completion of contract work within landscape maintenance assessment districts, carrying out a cost analysis for disposal of city waste at alternative locations and undertaking a programmatic review of activity of the department to focus on the most essential elements of the department’s function during the initial phase of the city’s bankruptcy.
In 2013, he was brought into the city manager’s office to assist in analysis, where he offered guidance on the streamlining and consolidation of functions within the public works division and facilitating the city’s graffiti removal program.
Within the city manager’s office, he was assigned to the legislative review committee and the Measure Z Citizens Oversight Committee. In 2014, he did a comparison of the city’s function with neighboring cities to determine if the city’s standards limited economic development opportunities and whether there was redundancy or duplication in the city’s regulatory action and processes handled by the State of California.
He also created the infrastructure maintenance plan for the city’s bankruptcy team.
He managed both the bidding process and the accumulation of cost data relating to the outsourcing of the fire department and the provision of animal sheltering services.
After the position of chief of staff to Mayor Carey Davis had been vacated in January 2015 and remained so for some time, the city council approved a redefinition of the chief of staff’s job duties and reduced the salary for the position to the salary range of that of assistant to the city manager. Thereafter recruitment for the position was undertaken and applications accepted. Lopez was one of four applicants ultimately considered for the post. He was deemed most qualified with the conclusion of the competition, and thereafter served as Carey Davis’s chief of staff.
Allen Parker served as San Bernardino’s city manager from February 2013 until December 2015. While neither Lopez nor Parker have used the term, Lopez came to be something of Parker’s protégé. In August 2017, the City of Hemet hired Parker as city manager. Seven months later, Parker brought Lopez to Hemet to serve as assistant city manager. Eleven months after that, when Hemet terminated Parker, Lopez was selected as interim city manager. In October 2019, the Hemet City Council offered, and Lopez accepted, the position as its confirmed city manager.
Having achieved that milestone, Lopez, who possesses a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in geographic information systems and a master’s degree in public administration from Cal Poly Pomona, is now purposed to move up the municipal evolutionary chain from 86,000-population Hemet to 218,000-population San Bernardino.
In recent weeks, Lopez has met with Valdivia, during which the discussions have centered around the terms by which Lopez will make the leap from Hemet to become city manager in San Bernardino. Valdivia is reportedly prepared to look past the consideration that Lopez had served as his rival Davis’s chief of staff, with an understanding that Lopez will enter into an authority-sharing arrangement which will extend Valdivia’s administrative and managerial reach beyond that granted him as mayor under the current charter. An element of the dialogue between Valdivia and Lopez, the Sentinel was informed, consisted of Valdivia’s assertion, and Lopez’s acceptance of that assertion, that Valdivia’s support will be key in bringing a majority of the city council into alignment in supporting Lopez’s hiring.
While there is at least a scintilla of potential that a sufficient balance of votes could be achieved to support Lopez’s hiring, the suggestion that the mayor holds sway over a controlling majority of the city council is at this point, by the most most benign of interpretations, a wishful projection on Valdivia’s part rather than one steeped in reality.
Valdivia was overtaken by scandal earlier this year when he was accused of sexual harassment, ethical and legal improprieties, and misappropriation of funds and personnel by no fewer than five employees within the mayor’s office and one of his appointees to two city commissions. Three of the council members who had once formed his ruling coalition – Sanchez, Ibarra and Nickel – have abandoned him. Attestation to that consists in the consideration that the council has essentially eliminated five of the seven staff positions previously assigned to the mayor’s office. The only sure votes among the council that Valdivia can count upon are those of Figueroa and Richards. Richards at this point is a lame duck, having lost her bid for reelection in March.
The Sentinel is informed that competing with Lopez on the list of potential city manager candidates are over a dozen others with more substantial, deeper and impressive municipal management credentials than Lopez. The Sentinel was told that previous statements made both privately and publicly suggesting that San Bernardino was unable to attract qualified and experienced public management talent to serve as city manager was a gross misconception or deliberate representation. “There is no shortage of talent on the list Teri has put together,” one well-placed city source who has seen the roster of candidates so far told the Sentinel. “Some of them are highly impressive, with fabulous résumés.”
According to that individual, the most challenging aspect of the city council’s task of finding the individual who is to succeed Ledoux consists in the council being able to achieve a consensus.
It is that difficulty in reaching an agreement that perhaps will provide Lopez with an opportunity to land the city manager’s job in San Bernardino, a figure intimately familiar with the city council said.
All seven of the council members and the mayor will have a vote in the selection process, such that the hiring will come down to a “numbers game,” that individual said, with five votes in one candidate’s favor being the key.
Given Lopez’s favorable status with Davis, it is likely that Shorett and Mulvihill, who were closely aligned with Davis, will support him. If those two votes are matched with those of Valdivia, Figueroa and Richard, Lopez would get the nod.
At this point, it is critical that Valdivia’s militating on behalf of Lopez not become obvious with Shorett and Mulvihill, both of whom are at extreme odds with the current mayor. For that reason, Valdivia wants to keep under wraps that his meetings with Lopez have taken place and prevent revelation of there having been any order of an authority-sharing arrangement on the table between them.
That, however, may prove challenging, given the number of people who now know of the one-on-one discussions – said to be two – that have taken place between Valdivia and Lopez so far.
A giveaway is the constant drone of social media.
One such missive posted by an individual using the moniker MsLetyC states “@hemetgov are you aware that your CM Chris Lopez is being stolen from you by the shady @sbcitygov? Has he told you he is considering taking CM position in SB? You guys should keep him!”

Leave a Reply