Grand Terrace Gives Milhiser His Sixth City Manager Assignment

As had Adelanto and Fontana before it, the City of Grand Terrace this week turned to G. Michael Milhiser to fill the gap as its city manager in the aftermath of the departure of its previous top municipal administrator.
With the hiring, Mike Milhiser, already the most traveled city manager ever among San Bernardino County cities, can boast having held the top spot on the staffs of one-fourth of the county’s 24 municipalities.
For 14 years and four months, from March 1978 until June of 1992, Milhiser was Montclair’s city administrator. For two years and seven months, from June 1992 until December 1994, Milhiser was city manager in Ontario, where his father, Charles L. Milhiser, Sr., was city treasurer. Milhiser was hired as city manager in Upland in June 1996 and remained there for eight years and ten months, until March of 2005, at which point he was forced to resign by Mayor John Pomierski.
Milhiser subsequently, from June 2005 until July 2007, served as the interim executive director of the Tri-City Mental Health Center in Pomona. For nine years and eight months, from July 2007 until February 2017, Milhiser was the chief administrative officer with the Morongo Band of Mission Indians near Banning.
Beginning in February 2017, he served a five-month stint as Adelanto’s interim city manager, departing when that city promoted its development director, Gabriel Elliott, to become city manager. But within three months, then-Adelanto Mayor Rich Kerr grew disenchanted with Elliott after he opened up back channel communications with the FBI in which he fingered Kerr and his council colleagues, John Woodard and Jermaine Wright, as being recipients of bribe money from multiple marijuana-related business applicants. In January, 2018, Milhiser was brought back to Adelanto to serve again as interim city manager. In May 2018, he was succeeded in Adelanto by interim City Manager Brad Letner.
In July 2019, Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren, with the support of her council colleagues John Roberts, Jesse Armendarez and Phil Cothran, Jr., tapped Milhiser to serve as interim city manager in the aftermath of the departure of Ken Hunt as Fontana city manager. Milhiser remained in that position until January 2020, at which point he was succeeded by Mark Denny.
Milhiser, 74, lives in Montclair and is a board member with the Monte Vista Water District. His wife, Laurie, was considered as an appointee to the Montclair City Council two years ago. His brother, James, is currently the treasurer in the City of Ontario.
Milhiser attended Chaffey College and obtained a bachelor of arts degree in public administration from Chapman University in 1969. He then earned a master of arts degree in public administration from Claremont Graduate University.
A retiree who is pulling a $209,389.32 per year pension from the California Public Employee Retirement System based upon his work with Ontario, Upland and Montclair, Milhiser under the rules governing retirees can work only 960 hours per year under contract for a public agency.
Thus, at 40 hours per week, Milhiser will be able to remain in Grand Terrace no later than January 12, 2022, given his start date of July 28. At present, the city is seeking to recruit a city manager to replace former City Manager G. Harold Duffey, who resigned June 22, effective July 20, to take on the position of public works director in Oakland.
Steven Weiss, Grand Terrace’s planning and development director, served as acting city manager from last Friday until early Wednesday morning.

Milhiser is respected in many circles and has proven qualifications, skill and experience in managing municipal operations. Nevertheless, he has not been immune to controversy or criticism.
During his last four years and four months as city manager in Upland, John Pomierski was that city’s mayor. Shortly after coming into office, Pomierski began taking bribes and kickbacks from individuals and companies with project applications as well as contract and franchise bids for work with the city. Those close to City Hall and observant onlookers knew the score. Pomierski sought to include city employees in the graft, providing them with raises and benefit increases to induce them to allow his depredations to continue uninterrupted. There is evidence to suggest that Milhiser, in his function as city manager inadvertently and very likely early in Pomierski’s time as mayor, was enabling Pomierski in his running of a corrupt municipal regime in Upland. At some point no later than December 2004, it became clear to Milhiser that Pomierski was violating the public trust in his elected role, and that the mayor was bending staff to his will in order to get it to cut corners for those who were doing business with the city and paying him off. When Milhiser signaled that he was no longer willing to go along with Pomierski’s machinations, Pomierski forced Milhiser into resigning as city manager, replacing him with Robb Quincey. Pomierski arranged to provide Milhiser with a $200,000 severance package when he departed in March 2005, which effectively bought Milhiser’s silence. Ultimately, in 2011 Pomierski was indicted by a federal grand jury on political corruption charges, convicted in 2012 and sentenced to two years in federal prison.
During Milhiser’s tenure in Adelanto, the three members of the controlling majority on the city council who had hired Milhiser to run the city in 2017 were taking money from applicants for cannabis-related business operations in the city in exchange for providing those entities with permits. Between Milhiser’s two stints as interim city manager there, Councilman Jermaine Wright was arrested by the FBI for receiving a bribe from an undercover FBI agent posing as an applicant for a marijuana-related business license in exchange for Wright’s assurance that the business would not be subjected to city code enforcement action that would shut it down. Unlike Gabriel Elliott, the city manager between his two runs as Adelanto city manager, Milhiser maintained an amicable and cooperative relationship with Wright and Mayor Rich Kerr and Councilman John Woodard, as they approved multiple marijuana-related business applications in their city while receiving substantial amounts of money provided to them by those business operators in the form of political donations and cash provided to Kerr’s wife, Misty, in envelopes during her attendance of city council meetings.
Ken Hunt, the city manager in Fontana whom Milhiser replaced when he assumed the interim city manager role in July 2019, had been highly thought of by the city council, which in 2011 rewarded him by making him San Bernardino County’s highest paid city manager. By 2016, Hunt’s pay was boosted even further, such that he was the third highest paid city manager in California. 
In 2018, he was the second highest paid city manager in California. When Hunt’s level of remuneration was challenged, Mayor Acquanetta Warren and three of her colleagues on the council were insistent that Hunt’s performance level was such that his pay was justified, and they indicated that they were hopeful of keeping him in place until 2026, which was five years beyond the duration of his contract which was set to elapse in 2021. Nevertheless, in 2019, Warren forced Hunt to resign after he became aware of bribes she was accepting. To buy Hunt’s silence, Warren conferred upon him a $1.1 million severance package, and brought in Milhiser to replace Hunt. There have been suggestions that Milhiser, based on his experience in Upland with Pomierski, had an understanding of what was transpiring between Warren and Hunt.
Even as Milhiser was hired by the Grand Terrace City Council to serve as interim city manager and was being welcomed into the city, there were questions about the arrangement.
Under the contract he has with Grand Terrace, Milhiser is to make $18,000 a month, with no benefits. Over the last decade, Grand Terrace’s municipal operations have been slashed to the bone. At present, the city, which is San Bernardino County’s third smallest in terms of population at 12,640 and the smallest in terms of land area at 3.5 square miles, employs six people, including the city manager – five full time and one part-time employees. When Milhiser was hired to replace Hunt as city manager in Fontana, that 43.07 square mile city had 214,547 residents within its city limits, making it San Bernardino County’s second largest city population-wise. Fontana at that point had over 1,200 employees, and to oversee them, Milhiser was with a straight $148 an hour, with no other benefits beyond the provision of a vehicle. That $148 per hour translated into $25,456 per month.
While Milhiser’s hiring by Grand Terrace passed on a 4-to-1 vote of the council, Councilman Bill Hussey, reflecting the attitude that paying Milhiser $4,186.04 per week to ride herd on five-and-a-half employees was not justifiable, cast the dissenting vote.
At Tuesday night’s meeting at which the vote to hire Milhiser took place, Milhiser said he was “excited” at the prospect of his new job, and the “opportunity for me to continue in the profession I’ve always loved, which is that of city management and working with elected officials [and] working with the community. I really appreciate the mayor and council’s confidence in me to serve in this capacity. I will do everything I can to continue what I consider great momentum the City of Grand Terrace has in development and taking care of their residents.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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