WVWD Pays Scandal-Plagued Manager $450,000 To Leave

Clarence Mansell, the embattled top administrator of the scandal-plagued West Valley Water District, has departed on belatedly-revealed terms that are immersing the district in even further controversy.
Mansell, who was employed by the district for two years and four months, six months of which he was on paid leave following ten months during which he was a virtual recluse in his district office isolated from the staff he was supposed to be overseeing, in departing has been paid over the course of two-and-one-third years the equivalent of four years’ pay at the generous allotment provided to those at the pinnacle of public administration. With the severance package that was conferred upon him, Mansell qualifies as one of the highest paid public employees in San Bernardino County during the tenure he had at West Valley, despite criticisms leveled at him and the quality of his leadership from virtually every angle, including that coming from four of the board members above him, 16 of 18 department heads below him, a cross section of the public/customers/ratepayers of the district that employed him and certain members of the press who covered the district during his time in place. Charges Mansell leveled at his political masters and those that worked with him created such a contretemps that the prospect of his finding future work in his chosen profession – public water agency management – has been significantly diminished. Moreover, the trauma the district was subjected to during, and as a result of, his time in office sundered what had been a firm bond between two of the once-rising politicians on the board of the water district – Mike Taylor and Kyle Crowther. Taylor and Crowther had been responsible for Mansell’s hiring, and insulated him during the siege of the district that came about while he was general manager.
Prefacing Mansell’s hiring in December 2018 had been the controversy that erupted in the aftermath of the November 7, 2017 election which saw Clifford Young, who had first been elected to the West Valley Water District Board of Directors in 2013, reelected, and the election of Michael Taylor, the one-time police chief of Baldwin Park, who was then one of Clifford Young’s allies. Taylor displaced incumbent Linda Gonzales. Also elected to the board that year in a specially-held contest to choose who would serve out the remaining two years of the uncompleted term of Alan Dyer, who was elected to a four-year term in 2015 and had resigned, was Kyle Crowther, a Fontana School District Police Officer who was allied with Taylor. Crowther beat incumbent Robert Bourland, who was given a temporary appointment to replace Dyer earlier that year.
In a startling across-the-board set of actions that took place in a compressed time-span of less than a week in December 2017, Clifford Young was elevated to board president by his colleagues. Furthermore, the district, at Taylor’s suggestion, hired Baldwin Park City Attorney Robert Tafoya to serve as its general counsel. Additionally, the board by a margin of 4-to-1, with board members Clifford Young, Taylor, Crowther and Greg Young (no blood relation to Clifford Young) prevailing and Don Olinger dissenting, suspended or placed District General Manager Matthew Litchfield, Assistant General Manager Greg Gage, Human Resources Manager Karen Logue and the board’s secretary, Shanae Smith, on administrative leave and terminated Chief Financial Officer Marie Ricci. The board then hired former Loma Linda Mayor Bob Christman to serve as interim general manager. In short order, Litchfield, Smith and Logue were, like Ricci, no longer employed with the district. Gage was reinstated after a brief interim, but in August 2018, having found employment elsewhere, he departed from the district.
Both Youngs, Taylor and Crowther were Republicans. Olinger, a longtime member of the board, was a Democrat.
By late 2018, the relationship between Clifford Young and Michael Taylor, both alpha-type personalities, soured. Taylor, who could rely upon his preexisting cordiality with Crowther, astutely made an alliance with the Democrat Olinger, thereby eventually acceding to the position of board president. In December 2018, the board, led by Taylor, hired Mansell, a knowledgeable water operations manager, with 40 years experience, including work with the Los Angeles County Sanitation District, the cities of Los Angeles, Corona, and Rialto as well as in his role as the chief consultant with Clarence C Mansell Jr and Associates, which specializes in water operations troubleshooting.
Clifford Young was the object of resentment of some current and many past West Valley Water District employees, including Litchfield, Smith Logue and Ricci. With the dawn of 2019, the contentious circumstances in the West Valley Water District worsened, with factions that sided with both Youngs, others that sided with Taylor, Crowther and Olinger, and others that were aligned with neither side going to war with one another. Mansell hewed to the Taylor/Crowther/Olinger side of the divide, and he militated to assist those pursuing claims against the district and Clifford Young. Meanwhile, as the district was sinking into further chaos, Clifford Young and West Valley Water District Chief Financial Officer Naisha Davis and West Valley Water District Assistant Board Secretary Patricia Romero, represented by attorneys Rachel Fiset and Erin Coleman of the law firm Zweibach, Fiset & Coleman, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging West Valley Water District General Counsel Robert Tafoya, Tafoya’s firm, two other law firms and a district consultant had violated the California False Claims Act by coordinating with Taylor, Crowther, Mansell and then-Assistant West Valley General Manager Ricardo Pacheco in diverting money to the lawyers and consultants for work that was not actually performed or which was spurious, and that the lawyers and consultants had then provided Taylor and Crowther with kickbacks.
In the fall of 2019, West Valley Water District Human Resources and Risk Manager Deborah Martinez and her husband, George Martinez, were charged by the California Attorney General’s Office with seven felony counts of filing false tax returns relating to their two businesses, Alliance Distributing and Alliance Building Maintenance, which had been paid more than $5.6 million by the California Department of Transportation from 2012 to 2015. Deborah Martinez was Taylor’s close friend and associate. She had begun with the district as a human resources analyst in August 2016 at a pay rate of $41.76 per hour, prior to Taylor’s tenure on the board. Immediately after Taylor was sworn in in December 2017, she was promoted, following Logue’s suspension, to interim human resources and risk manager, for which she was given a raise to $60.19 per hour, a 44 percent pay increase. In April 2018, Martinez, again at Taylor’s bidding, was made full-fledged human resources and risk manager, at which point her pay jumped to $72.12 per hour, equal to a salary of $150,000 per year.
When the California Attorney General’s Office charged Martinez and her husband on September 23, 2019, both Taylor and Mansell learned of that development the same day. They withheld that information from others at the district, including the board.
In the run-up to the 2019 election, Taylor pumped close to $40,000 from his own campaign fund into an effort to keep Olinger and Crowther in office and have Greg Young, considered to be one of Clifford Young’s allies, voted out of office. Crowther was successful in his reelection effort, but Olinger was not, losing to newcomer Channing Hawkins. Greg Young emerged victorious against the candidate Taylor had supported, Angel Ramirez.
In an effort at fence mending, Taylor in early December 2019 cut a deal with Hawkins to have him elevated, immediately upon his swearing in as a member of the board, to the position of board president, an uncommon move given that the board presidency is normally reserved for a board member who has at least two and usually four or more years of experience on the board. In promoting Hawkins into the board presidency, Taylor stepped over Greg Young, who at that point had four years on the board, and his own long-term ally, Crowther, who had two years experience on the board.
A day after Hawkins was made board president and both Greg Young and Crowther were bypassed, there was a public disclosure of the charges filed against Martinez. Crowther, who had been vice-president of the board at the time, found himself in negative limelight when Martinez was asked why she had been allowed to remain in her assignment with the district after she had been criminally charged nearly three months previously. She said the top leadership of the district – Taylor as board president, Crowther as board vice president and Mansell as district manager – had consented to her remaining in place. Crowther, who had been kept in the dark over the criminal charges, was livid.
Later in December 2019, 16 of West Valley’s department heads – Public Affairs Manager Naseem Faroqi, General Services Manager Jon Stephenson, Acting Human Resources Manager Paul Becker, Operations Manager Joanne Chan, Engineering Services Manager Linda Jadeski, Business Systems Manager Albert Clinger, Accounting Manager Jose Velasquez, Geographic Information Systems Manager Telat Yalcin, Purchasing Supervisor Al Robles, Production Supervisor Joe Schaak, Water Quality Supervisor Anthony Budicin, Customer Service Supervisor Alberto Yulo, Chief Treatment Plant Operator Ernie Montelongo and Chief Treatment Plant Operator Sergio Granda – signed a letter in which they petitioned the board to terminate Mansell. The letter referenced “extreme concerns with regards to the executive management and overall unsatisfactory performance of General Manager Clarence Mansell, Jr.,” alleging a “lack of transparency, communication, honesty, professionalism and respect for employees” as well as favoritism in the hiring process for the district that entailed “flawed… hiring practices” in which “job description vacancies within our departments are molded to fit specific individuals our general manager desires, most of whom have a personal relationship with him. Often, these employees lack the qualifications and experience required to perform basic tasks and begin at an inappropriately high pay step, creating tension among long-term employees of the district.”
Thereafter, Mansell went into virtual exile, rarely venturing from his office. While he was showing up at the district headquarters, he had no contact of any substance with the personnel of the district, and was not performing in the capacity of the district general manager. Shamindra “Rick” Manbahal, who had been hired as the district’s chief financial and administrative officer in August 2019, took on, without fanfare, the role of de facto general manager of the district. Over the first ten months of 2020, Mansell lodged complaints of workplace harassment and mistreatment against the district. In October 2020, he went out on paid leave, and never returned to the district’s headquarters.
At that point, an effort began in earnest to officially separate Mansell from the district. The board retained a consultant and legal counsel with expertise regarding personnel issues.
With a substantial amount of time on his hands, Mansell made a laundry list of claims against the district and its political leadership, most of which the board majority considered to be without substance. The district’s human resources advisors retained to deal with Mansell, however, cautioned the board to use kid gloves in dealing with him, since, they said, if he took the district to court and a jury sympathetic to him was impaneled, the district would be left, in the words of one knowledgeable insider, “out to dry. He [Mansell] was threatening the district that if it didn’t pay, he would mysteriously find himself well enough to return to work. And the district didn’t want him back, because morale had rebounded while he was gone and the prospect, the whole idea, of his coming back scared the bejesus out of staff. There was talk about his pursuing workers’ compensation and medical claims.”
Furthermore, Mansell, who is African-American, was simultaneously threatening to allege racial discrimination was a factor in his no longer being on the job at the district, despite the consideration that both Clifford Young and Channing Hawkins are African-American. There was relative confidence that Mansell would not be able to sell a jury on a racial discrimination claim, but district officials and their advisors were nonetheless concerned that the cost of waging a defense against such a lawsuit would be quite expensive. Mansell was demanding a substantial amount of money, indeed, more than $1 million in the negotiations that were going on between him and the district, which was seeking a way to ease him out the door.
At one point, the Sentinel has learned, Mansell had an injury claim but didn’t file anything officially. He alleged the 16 department heads who had signed the December 2019 letter, a district source told the Sentinel under the condition of confidentiality, “were attacking him because he was black and the board had improperly publicly questioned him in his role as general manager. Staff was much happier with him being gone and looking forward to him being gone permanently. That he would return as manager was unthinkable. There was absolute horror that he would come back. The district had to prevent that from happening. At one point in the negotiations, he was saying he wanted a half of a million [dollars], and he said, ‘That will only settle part of my claims. I’m going to take that money and will come back.’ What was said back to him was, ‘You take this money and be gone.’ That was the district’s position. He was holding staff hostage at that point. Virtually everyone on staff was saying things were better since he was gone and they didn’t want him to come back.”
Things were moving along in the discussions with Mansell, according to the district insider, and it seemed at several points as if something was about to be finalized, but then things would go awry, and Mansell would up his demands. It was at that point, after a series of near settlements had fallen through, that a crucial break between Crowther and Taylor came, when Crowther learned that Taylor was feeding Mansell information about what the district’s negotiating positions and strategy were. At that point, Crowther who had once been Taylor’s closest ally on the board, grew distrustful of Taylor. The district’s human resources consultant was telling the board that the district could not risk allowing Mansell back into district headquarters and that if it did so, it would end up costing the district twice as much as it was already going to have to pay to make a clean break with him. A few days later, Mansell would bring up that he was ready to return to work. Crowther, who was convinced that Mansell had to go, at last surmised that Taylor was sabotaging the negotiations with Mansell, and seeking to assist Mansell with getting the maximum amount of money he could out of the district. Thereafter, the once solid alliance between Crowther and Taylor grew shaky, to the point that Crowther is now a crucial swing vote between the Young and Young board faction and the Taylor and Hawkins faction.
In January 2021, a deal was closed by which it was agreed Mansell would be paid $450,000 and he would leave once and for all, with it clearly agreed he would not return to the district.
“It was pretty much the consensus that he was getting more money than the district should have paid him and that if the district had gotten rid of him a year and a half ago we would have been able to settle for a fraction of what we ended up paying him but that this is the best deal you can get,” the Sentinel was told. “This way he is not going to come back. You don’t want him in the building. He will wreak havoc once again if he was let back in. In the end, Taylor voted for the settlement because it got Mansell as much money as he could get. Cliff Young did not want to give him any money because of the claims Mansell made against him and the district. He [Clifford Young] wanted to get rid of him more than anybody. But, as much as he wanted him gone, he said ‘$450,000 is ridiculous. It’s too much money.’ He voted against it.”
In the end, Mansell was provided the $450,000 severance settlement and the added bonus of medical coverage over the next year, valued at $9,136, on a quietly taken 4-to-1 vote of the board On February 23, with Clifford Young opposed.
The settlement was made without any public scrutiny until the San Bernardino Sun, in an article by writer Joe Nelson published March 24, brought attention to what had occurred.
Manbahal, who was put into the official role of acting manager on November 5, 2020, is now serving as interim manager, pending the recruitment and hiring of someone to move into the general manager role.
Mark Gutglueck

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