By Mark Gutglueck
The City of Upland this week gave official indication that Michael Blay, the former assistant city manager in Hesperia, will become the City of Gracious Living’s city manager for what is anticipated to be the next three years.
Blay’s selection comes after an uncommonly secretive executive recruitment effort, one which was marred by the withholding of information pertaining not only to Blay but others competing with him for the position. Those from whom the information was withheld included members of the public as well as at least two of the members of the city council, the body that ultimately signed off on Blay’s hiring and which is scheduled on Monday, October 25 to make that hiring official with its vote on an item to be considered at that evening’s regularly scheduled city council meeting.
In the last two weeks, after word leaked out that the council was moving toward offering Blay a contract, an examination of Blay’s work history, including his five years in Hesperia and the twenty years he served in the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department turned up that he narrowly avoided being fired from the sheriff’s department, having escaped that fate only by taking, at the age of 44, a disability retirement, and that he was earlier this year forced to leave Hesperia in lieu of being ignominiously terminated by the city manager there.
In both cases, the Sentinel has learned, a major factor in the move toward firing Blay consisted of his inappropriate interactions with women in the workplace, which led to further complications in his ability to carry out his function as a supervisor of lower ranking personnel. Blay’s departure from Hesperia was further entangled with indications of his involvement in graft, wherein he was provided with gratuities by businesses and/or the owners of businesses it was his role as either assistant city manager and/or development services director to regulate.
On Monday, October 25, the Upland City Council is scheduled to vote on ratifying a three-year contract with Blay that confers upon him an annual salary of $251,407.01 and benefits of roughly $85,000 for a total annual compensation of approximately $336, 407.
The march toward installing Blay as Upland’s top administrator began earlier this year when, for reasons that have not been officially disclosed, the city council grew dissatisfied with the performance of City Manager Rosemary Hoerning. Hoerning was put on administrative leave on March 31, 2021, at which point the city council elevated Assistant City Manager Steven Parker to the position of acting city manager. On April 26, the city council working with Parker and City Attorney Steven Deitsch came to an accommodation with Hoerning, agreeing that neither side would bad mouth one another or pursue any legal claims against the other, and that the city would confer on Hoerning a $235,903 severance payout.
Informed sources in and outside City Hall have told the Sentinel that a primary factor in the city council’s decision to be rid of Hoerning related to action taken last year by Hoerning under the guidance of then-Mayor Debbie Stone.
Hoerning as city manager possessed authority over the entirety of city staff, including all of the city’s department heads, including the police chief. Despite her senior status to Police Chief Darren Goodman, Hoerning was paid less in her role as city manager than was Goodman paid for his work, a circumstance that had come about because of a combination of factors. A majority of the council put a high premium on Goodman and his guidance of the police department. It was known that Goodman had expressed an interest in jumping ship to Riverside, a larger city than Upland which is also the county seat in Riverside County with a police department nearly four times the size of Upland’s, and that there was a possibility he might be recruited elsewhere. The city council in early 2020 had upped Goodman’s salary and benefit package to $383,315.90 on the low end and to as much as $423,000 on the high end, depending on add-ons he might earn over the course of a given year. In March 2020, when the city council had finalized the city’s contract with Hoerning to serve as city manager, her salary and benefits had been set at $230,000.04 and 113,026.70 respectively, for a total annual compensation of $343,026.74.
In June 2020, Hoerning was in receipt of a complaint lodged against Goodman by the police department’s executive secretary, whom he had demoted. Hoerning during a specially-called closed session of the city council sought clearance to suspend Goodman on the basis of the accusations against him in the complaint as a first step toward potentially terminating him. The council, however, balked at taking that action, whereupon Hoerning, with the lone assent of then-Mayor Debbie Stone, placed Goodman on administrative leave. A firestorm of protest ensued, as a spontaneous showing of support for Goodman manifested from a cross section of Upland residents. Goodman was reinstated as police chief in short order, and later that year, Stone was voted out of office and replaced with Councilman Bill Velto, a member of the city council at the time who had opposed Goodman’s suspension.
Hoerning’s relationship with Goodman never recovered. Exacerbating the situation was that in November 2020, in the municipal election in which Velto displaced Stone, two others who think highly of Goodman were elected to the city council, Shannan Maust in the First District and Carlos Garcia in the Third District. Lingering in some minds was the concern that with Hoerning remaining in place, the likelihood that Goodman would bolt was increased. By the turn of spring 2021, additional issues of contention or dissonance had developed between the council and Hoerning, leading ultimately to her departure.
If there was any thought among some members of the council that the city might turn to Assistant City Manager Steve Parker and prevail upon him to move up into the city manager’s position on more than a temporary basis, Parker soon put the kibosh on that. First off, he was mindful that in recent decades in Upland the longevity of city managers has been severely limited. While he may not have articulated that realization out loud, he did let the council and others know that he would not be a replacement for Hoerning because with the young children he and his wife are raising and his dedication to his family, he was unwilling to sacrifice the time that would be demanded of him to serve as city manager on anything more than the stopgap basis he had just taken on, after which he intended to go back to the less time-and-stress-intensive assignment of assistant city manager, in which he, presumably, would have far greater job security than if he took the city manager’s job.
Indeed, as some of the members of the council and many more members of the Upland population had come to perceive, it was the inveterate lack of stability and continuity in Upland’s city management that was at the root of many of its problems. From 1943, when the city manager’s position was first defined and unofficially created, until 1989, Upland had three city managers; those three in place over the course of 46 years had an average tenure of over 15 years in the role. Thereafter, from 1989 until the present, 13 individuals – eleven men and two women – served in the role of city manager or interim city manager. One of those, former Upland Police Chief Martin Thouvenell, on three separate occasions filled the role of interim city manager. Thus, over the last three decades, city managers have lasted in their capacities at the head of municipal operations just over two years on average.
It appeared that a collective will on the part of the council to take the opportunity to at last address the issue of managerial discontinuity in Upland had formed, and that this time the city would get it right by doing an exhaustive search to find and hire a city manager capable of overseeing the myriad of civic operations and provisions of municipal services on a day-to-day basis in the here-and-now and who also had the ability to think long term and had a clear, workable, insightful and acceptable vision of the city’s future. The council seemed set on finding a good man or good woman with the desire to, orientation toward, training for and experience in public administration, someone with a proven capability in the arena of municipal operations, yet an individual not so advanced in age he or she was at the end of his or her career, such that the city would not be left rudderless after only a few years.
The city council resolved to find that individual, without much fanfare. While city officials let it be known that a search for a new city manager was under way, little more than that was disclosed, and virtually nothing about the recruitment and selection process was revealed. So secretive, in fact, was the council about how it was to go about bringing in a new municipal staff leader, that it appears to have violated the Brown Act, California’s open public meeting law, in hiring the consulting firm that assisted it in the recruitment. The city retained the executive headhunting outfit Ralph Andersen & Associates to conduct a comprehensive search for city manager stealthily, doing so without any disclosure of the retention of the company or open public vote of the council on the contract.
The Sentinel did an exhaustive search of the Upland City Council’s agendas from March, the month during which Hoerning was placed on paid administrative leave, April, the month in which the city council and Hoerning forged a separation agreement, May, June and July, at which point the acceptance of applications for the city manager position closed. There was no mention whatsoever in those agendas of the city entering into a contractual agreement with Ralph Andersen & Associates for the recruitment of candidates for Upland city manager. City officials have been unwilling or unable to produce the contract with Ralph Andersen & Associates. There is an indication that internally at City Hall the city’s relationship with Ralph Andersen & Associates was hidden from key employees. No one in the city clerk’s office could identify when an item relating to the city contracting with Ralph Andersen & Associates had been brought before the city council. To complete a more thorough search of the city clerk’s records relating to a contractual relationship with Ralph Andersen & Associates, the city clerk’s office instructed the Sentinel to submit a formal public records request for that information. The Sentinel did so, but had not received a response by press time. Most tellingly, Theresa Doyle, Upland’s human resource manager who would logically be within the loop in relationship to the city’s hiring of a city manager, was unable to identify the date the city entered into a contract with Ralph Andersen & Associates to undertake the city manager recruitment, whether such a contract existed, whether the contract was for a standard recruitment or confidential recruitment or whether it was possible for the city council to enter into a contract with Ralph Andersen & Associates in an arrangement through the city attorney or acting city manager that would bypass her and her office.
In his public utterances with regard to the city’s effort to find a city manager over the last several months, Parker did not refer to Ralph Andersen & Associates by name but rather as “the city’s consultant.”
When the Sentinel made inquiries with Parker and members of the city council about the city manager recruitment effort, it was provided both public and private assurances that the city was intent on casting as wide of a net as possible to ensure that a field of highly qualified candidates would apply, ensuring that ultimately Upland would land a “top drawer” city manager who would be the best fit for the city and its residents, and who would end the city’s three-decade long tradition of lurching from one short-lived manager to the next. Confidentiality was required, the Sentinel was told, because the city had already attracted and yet hoped to attract more applicants who were employed with cities elsewhere whose positions with their current employers would be put in jeopardy if their applications in Upland became known. Patience with the process and the secrecy surrounding it, the Sentinel was promised, would redound to the city’s benefit once a new city manager is in place.
In July, the application deadline for the Upland city manager’s post elapsed. The city has not disclosed how may applications it received.
The Sentinel has learned that Fred Wilson, a Ralph Andersen associate who was formerly the city manager of San Bernardino and Huntington Beach, and Heather Renschler, the chief executive officer with Ralph Andersen & Associates, whose stock-in-trade is confidential headhunting, were assigned to manage the recruitment drive for Hoerning’s ultimate replacement as Upland city manager. By the first week of August, the Sentinel has learned, Wilson and Renschler had begun to winnow the field of applicants for the Upland job, with Wilson doing much of the heavy lifting, examining and evaluating résumés, conducting telephone interviews, eliminating applicants from the list of those to eventually be considered by the city council and writing up recommendations/reports with regard to those who advanced to the next stage.
On Tuesday, August 24, the city council held a specially scheduled meeting, one that was conducted electronically and remotely, with a closed session during which a first round of finalists for the position were interviewed sandwiched between a brief open public introduction to the meeting and an open public conclusion of the meeting, at which point it was announced that no reportable action had been taken.
On September 13, the city council met at its regularly scheduled first meeting of the month. Thereafter, it was disclosed that the field of candidates for the city manager appointment had been reduced to two.
The city council maintained its silence on the city manager recruitment effort over the next several weeks. On October 12, the Sentinel learned that a decision to hire Blay as city manager had been arrived at. Immediate inquiries to confirm Blay’s appointment were initiated with city officials. No official confirmation was forthcoming.
The Sentinel sought to augment its knowledge of Blay’s history with further research. The Sentinel’s findings include:
* Blay obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Cal Poly University Pomona in 1988. More than two decades later, in 2009, he achieved his master’s degree in business administration from Mississippi State University.
* In 1989, Blay was hired by then-San Bernardino County Sheriff Floyd Tidwell as a deputy.
* Based on both his educational level and his ability, Blay advanced through the ranks at the sheriff’s office throughout the 1990s and early 2000s at a faster-than-average rate than most of the department’s personnel, achieving by 2005 the rank of sergeant.
* In 2005, Blay was given an assignment overseeing the traffic patrol division in Victorville.
* In 2007, Matt Linderman, who had been supervised by Blay while he was a patrol deputy in Victorville, was charged with sexual battery on a woman who was “unlawfully restrained”; two counts of soliciting lewd conduct in a public place; soliciting oral copulation from a woman he threatened to arrest; and four counts of soliciting bribes. Subsequently those charges were augmented with further ones relating to his conduct as a patrol deputy in Victorville in 2005, 2006 and 2007, as more and more victims came forward. Ultimately Linderman was charged with crimes against 11 women he had encountered in the field while he was in uniform and under the supervision of Blay. Linderman in 2011 was convicted by a jury of sexual battery by restraint, oral copulation under the color of authority, 11 counts of soliciting a bribe and two counts of solicitation to engage in lewd conduct involving the 11 women. He was sentenced to a 20-year prison term. Linderman subsequently appealed his convictions. The appeals court reversed one of the solicitation to engage in lewd conduct convictions, finding it was barred by the statute of limitations, but upheld the remainder of the case against him.
* In the meantime, Blay had been promoted from the patrol supervision role into a more prestigious position in the department’s special weapons and tactics [SWAT] detail, which at that time was supervised by Lieutenant Nils Bentsen.
* After the prosecution of Linderman was under way, an internal sheriff’s department investigation into the matter was begun, at which time, Blay was removed from the SWAT detail and sent back to a patrol station pending the outcome of the investigation. The investigation determined that Blay knew about Linderman’s activity through complaints and observation. A contributing factor to Blay’s failure to act, investigators found, was that Blay had inappropriate verbal exchanges and interaction with women he encountered in the field himself, including what were taken by some women as unwanted sexual advances, which inhibited him from deterring Linderman in his known behavior before the situation grew beyond control.
* Blay was brought up on multiple charges before a discipline board relating to his failure to provide proper supervision of the deputies in his unit and making misrepresentations up the chain of command. After the presentation of what was characterized as “overwhelming evidence,” it was determined that his own indiscretions were a contributing factor into Blay not taking action on Linderman. Blay’s discipline hearing concluded with a recommendation of termination.
* Before that recommendation was acted upon by the department, Blay, who was working patrol at the time, made a disability claim relating to having hurt his shoulder and went out on medical leave, and never came back to duty, retiring thereafter. At that point, he was 44, six years younger than minimum retirement age.
* Blay languished after leaving the sheriff’s department, obtaining a security and loss control job with a shipping company that paid roughly one quarter of what he was making as a police sergeant, eventually augmenting that with a part-time position as an adjunct professor at Victor Valley College, teaching in the field of the administration of justice, for which his highest single year’s compensation in pay and benefits totaled $19,382.59.
* Nils Bentsen, the lieutenant in the SWAT division who had commanded that unit when Blay was briefly there in 2008 and who had been one of Blay’s closest friends from shortly after both were hired as deputies by Sheriff Tidwell in the late 1980s, had continued his promotional rise in the department, and was given the assignment of captain of the Hesperia Sheriff’s Station, in which assignment he was the de facto Hesperia police chief, as Hesperia contracted with the sheriff’s department for the provision of law enforcement service. In December 2015, the Hesperia City Council, impressed by Bentsen’s performance as police chief, poached him from the sheriff’s department, hiring him to serve as city manager upon the retirement of Hesperia’s previous city manager, Mike Podegracz. Bentsen moved into the city manager’s post in January 2016.
* In March 2016, Bentsen hired Blay, who was drawing a $55,748.70 yearly pension based upon his 20 years with the sheriff’s department, to serve as Hesperia’s development services director. Blay had no previous municipal or public administration experience. Despite that, he was hired into the development services director post, which paid him a $143,156 annual salary, another $8,081 in additional pay and $26,635 in benefits for a total annual compensation of $177,872.
* In 2017, Blay as development services director played a major role in overseeing the city’s consideration and the city council’s ultimate approval of the massive 15,663-dwelling unit Tapestry subdivision at the extreme south end of Hesperia near the mouth of Summit Valley. The Tapestry project was built on the same property as, and was a revival of, the 9,100-home Rancho Las Flores project that had been proposed for construction roughly a year after the city’s 1988 incorporation. The Rancho Las Flores project was derailed in 1992 after revelations that then-City Manager Robert Rizzo was routing money from developmental interests involved in the Rancho Las Flores undertaking to then-councilmen M. Val Shearer and Percy Baker and then-Planning Commissioner Donna Roland. The allegations of graft together with the consideration that a development of that size would overwhelm the city’s ability to provide adequate accompanying infrastructure resulted in the abandonment of the plan to urbanize the rustic property long known as Las Flores Ranch. A quarter century later, the project had been reconstituted and expanded by more than 160 percent when it came before the city for approval in 2017. Despite similar concerns relating to overbuilding and the city’s inability to provide adequate infrastructure, in particular roads and flood control, Blay, who had no previous experience or expertise with regard to land use and development issues before being hired in Hesperia, recommended approval of the project, and the city council voted 4-to-1 to ratify the development agreement for it. That action revived long dormant accusations of graft pervading Hesperia City Hall.
* Hesperia, which had traditionally prohibited any cannabis-related commercial activity within its city limits, in 2017 moved to allow companies delivering marijuana or cannabis-related products to operate within the city. Blay, as development services director, had a hand in this liberalization of the city’s policy. Bentsen entrusted Blay with the city’s regulatory activity pertaining to the commercial marijuana and cannabis activity within the city, including the entrepreneurships meeting all licensing, permitting and operational protocols specified in the city’s ordinances and the inspection regime for such.
* In 2018, Bentsen convinced the city council to allow him to promote Blay to assistant city manager, upping Blay’s annual salary to $179,807 with another $9,081 in add-ons, $31,023 in benefits and a $10,282.86 contribution toward Blay’s pension plan for a total yearly compensation of $230,193.86.
* The responsibility for regulating commercial cannabis-related operations in the City of Hesperia and enforcing the city’s ordinances relating to the marijuana/cannabis industry remained with Blay when he transitioned from development services director to assistant city manager.
* City employees working under Blay and eventually Bentsen became concerned that Blay was uneven in the enforcement of the rules and regulations relating to the marijuana/cannabis product distribution businesses, as Blay appeared to be or actually was closer to some of the marijuana purveyors than he was to others, being lax with regard to a handful of the businesses while strictly regulating the rest. Reports drifted in that Blay had developed a substance abuse problem, which involved him getting free cannabis-laced edibles from some of the cannabis companies he was charged with regulating. When reports of that reached Bentsen, the Sentinel is told, he put Blay on temporary administrative leave, but did not fire him. Bentsen removed cannabis regulation authority from Blay, giving that duty to another city employee before reinstating Blay.
* Subsequently, Bentsen was made aware of specifics that made him question Blay’s work ethic, and learned that his assistant was socializing or fraternizing with city employees both during and after work hours to excess, and that assignments Blay was given were not being completed expeditiously or were inordinately delayed. Moreover, the Sentinel was informed, “He was often gone from work for long periods of time with no explanation. Important projects were not getting done on time because Mike was often absent.”
* Early this year Bentson, who is described by those who worked with him at the sheriff’s department as “a straight arrow” and “a boy scout,” found out Blay had been having an affair with more than one of the women who work for the city. There followed a shouting match between the two at City Hall that was overheard by multiple employees. A few months later, Blay had departed the city. His discharge papers were creatively worded, the Sentinel was told, to disguise that Blay had been forced to leave as the city’s second highest ranking administrator.
At some point as Upland’s recruitment for a city manager progressed either late in the spring or early in the summer, a tilt in favor of Blay developed. Whereas city officials early on and well into the recruitment drive insisted that the city was looking for a highly qualified and seasoned municipal management professional, there is evidence suggesting that efforts to bypass or eliminate applicants who had far more substantial résumés than Blay’s slender curriculum vitae were made, and that it occurred relatively early in the process of winnowing the field of competitors.
The Sentinel has spoken with one such candidate, who requested anonymity because of his/her current employment with another Southern California city. That applicant’s résumé, by any and all reasonably applicable objective standards, is superior in depth, breadth and length of experience when compared to the résumé Blay had earlier this year provided to the social and professional networking service Linked-In. What is more, that applicant is younger than Blay, and would therefore be very likely able to remain in the post of city manager for a longer time, ensuring the continuity of management that is, at least by some, so valued. Significantly, that applicant was eliminated from the running prior to the city council’s interviewing session with the remaining applicants that took place on August 24.
“I’m okay with it,” the rejected candidate said. “If those are the standards they apply, I probably would not have been any good to them. It’s probably a blessing in disguise.”
The Sentinel was provided with information to the effect that Councilwoman Janice Elliott became aware prior to the August 24 interview session that at least one candidate with far more impressive municipal credentials on paper than what Blay possessed had been purged from the roster of remaining candidates for the city manager’s job. It is not known what inquiry Elliott made with regard to that circumstance.
An individual who had access to the list of applicants and their curricula vitarum a few weeks prior to the application deadline at that time told the Sentinel, without spelling out specifics, that there were numerous applicants with highly impressive work histories within the municipal management field who had applied for the Upland city manager’s post, and that those individuals possessed a professional gravitas that far exceeded the experience and skillset which it is now recognized Blay brings to the table. It is not known how many of those were interviewed on August 24 and how many were rejected prior to that.
Earlier this week, after it was publicly confirmed by the city clerk’s office through its posting of the agenda for next week’s city council meeting that Blay has been selected as Upland’s next city manager, Blay removed his résumé from the LinkedIn website, such that those who lost out in the Upland city manager sweepstakes cannot compare their résumés with his.
Of relevance is the withholding of information about several of the city manager candidates, Blay among them, from some of the members of the city council.
There is evidence to suggest that even before the application deadline for the Upland post elapsed there was an effort to tilt the selection process in favor of Blay, and that information that had come to Ralph Andersen & Associates and the current city management suite pertaining to several of the candidates including Blay was selectively dealt with, such that not all members of the city council received that information in its entirety unaltered and unredacted. It appears that information relating to Blay’s departures from the sheriff’s department and the City of Hesperia was withheld from both Councilman Rudy Zuniga and Councilwoman Shannan Maust. It is less clear how much of that information Councilwoman Janice Elliott and Councilman Carlos Garcia were provided. Both Mayor Bill Velto and acting City Manager Steven Parker knew about the issues pertaining to Blay having been forced into leaving the positions he held with the department and the city. Because of the confidentiality restrictions surrounding the recruitment process, it is not publicly known what format or means of conveyance Fred Wilson of Arthur Andersen & Associates used to pass the raw information pertaining to each of the applicants on to the city, and whether his reports on each of the candidates containing his research, analysis and evaluation went directly to the council or indirectly through Parker. Wilson did not respond to either of two emails sent to him inquiring into what he had learned about Blay and the issues pertaining to his exits from the sheriff’s department and the City of Hesperia and whether or not that information was provided to the city council.
Neither did Upland Human Resources Director Theresa Doyle respond to inquiries with regard to what information obtained by her department pertaining to the candidates for the city manager’s job had been made available to the city council.
Had city officials been truly interested in churning up potentially derogatory information with regard to any and all of the candidates they were evaluating, they could have requested that Police Chief Goodman utilize agency-to-agency privilege to request from the police departments or sheriff’s departments that serve or served as the law enforcement agencies in the jurisdictions that employed the city manager position candidates for information in their files pertaining to those applicants. It is not clear whether that request was made of Goodman or whether he complied with it.
Goodman was employed by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department from 1991, when he was hired as a deputy under then-Sheriff Dick Williams, until 2018, by which time he had promoted to captain and was the commander of the Chino Hills Sheriff Station, at which point he was hired by Upland as police chief. Thus, Goodman had been Blay’s colleague for 18 years – from 1991 until 2009 – while they were both rising through the sheriff’s department ranks. Goodman may or may not have known about the circumstances under which Blay was on the verge of being drummed out of the department before he elected to take a disability retirement. There were and are a number of sheriff’s employees and former employees who knew of the issues surrounding the Linderman case and Blay’s connection to it.
Nevertheless, it is possible that Goodman, who was stationed elsewhere in 20,105-square mile San Bernardino County at the time, was not privy to what had befallen Blay.
Indeed, there are suggestions that Blay’s having been able to beat out several other applicants for the job who had far more impressive city management credentials than he does can be attributed to Goodman and Blay being members of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department fraternity, and Goodman having put a good word in for him with the Upland City Council. An individual close to Velto related to the Sentinel the mayor’s determination to pair Blay and Goodman as a “one-two punch” in running the city.
Mayor Velto and the other four members of the city council are acutely aware of the unpleasant go-round Goodman had with Hoerning, and installing someone with whom Goodman has long been familiar and has a preexisting comfort level would seem to be a way of ensuring that Goodman remains in the role of Upland police chief and is not tempted to stray to greener pastures elsewhere.
That would explain why so many seemingly more qualified candidates for the job were overlooked and why Velto and Parker, the architects of Blay’s selection, were militating so hard on Blay’s behalf, and kept the details with regard to the faux pas he involved himself in during his closing days with both the sheriff’s department and the City of Hesperia under wraps.
Even as word was spreading throughout Upland last week that Blay was to be the city’s next city manager, city officials declined to make any confirmation of his selection. Nevertheless, residents rapidly made inquiries into who Blay was and his professional history. Though he started out for most of those residents as an unknown quantity, details of his work history, including elements of it that Parker, Velto, Wilson, Doyle, Renschler and Wilson had kept totally hidden from Maust and Zuniga and had only revealed in part to Elliott and Garcia, were uncovered and being discussed openly among Upland residents verbally and on social media by last weekend. In that dialogue, points of concern about Blay manifested.
Perhaps foremost of those concerns were the repeated hints of graft that attended Blay’s tenure in Hesperia. Large numbers of Hesperia and High Desert residents have inhaled the air of public corruption that hangs over the 2017 expansion of the already massive Rancho Las Flores proposal into the even larger Tapestry undertaking that found approval under Blay’s watch as development services director. That chapter of Hesperia’s history played out against a backdrop of pay-for-play politics involving several members of the Hesperia City Council and the echoes of the bribery-tainted first go-round of the project that ended with the cashiering of Hesperia’s first city manager.
Velto’s and Parker’s calculation that a natural informational firewall existed between Hesperia and Upland proved to be wrong.
Moreover, the accusations of petty graft against Blay involving his trading of lenient treatment of/regulation enforcement against some commercial cannabis enterprises in Hesperia in return for free merchandise did nothing to allay the suspicions of those who had disquiet concerning Blay over the Tapestry situation. In Upland, conflicts of interest and bribery on the part of city officials are an especially sensitive issue, as former Mayor John Pomierski a decade ago was convicted following his federal indictment on a bribetaking charge, and Pomierski’s handpicked city manager, Robb Quincey, was charged with public corruption and ultimately convicted on perjury stemming from the charges against him.
Additionally, whether bribery was or was not a factor in the approval of the Tapestry project, the manner in which Blay facilitated the expansion of residential units and the intensification of density at that massive subdivision has given pause to those in Upland who consequently believe that he will be incapable of pushing back against pressure the city is under by the State of California to construct a total of 6,456 dwellings within the city by 2029 to meet the California Department of Housing and Community Development’s expectations expressed in what is called that agency’s Regional Housing Need Allocation. A cross section of Upland residents feel that if the city complies with that mandate, the intensification of density and the burden on infrastructure in the City of Gracious living will significantly impact their quality of life and that of their fellow and sister residents. Other governmental jurisdictions in Southern California have initiated action to contest the imposition of the Regional Housing Need Allocation on their communities. Some Upland residents have suggested Blay’s performance in Hesperia as development services director and assistant city manager indicates he will not be inclined to support an effort by Upland to stand up to the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
Other Upland residents have expressed misgivings over Blay’s history with women in the workplace, including his failure to protect civilians preyed upon by a deputy he oversaw when he was with the sheriff’s department and his personal entanglements with women employed with the City of Hesperia when he was in a position of authority there.
Others find troubling that Blay, who spent more than twenty years in the sheriff’s department during an era in which marijuana possession, use and trafficking was illegal and he therefore was directly, indirectly, tangentially or as a supervisor of deputies involved in the arrests, incarceration, the eventual imprisonment and in general the interruption of the lives of thousands of marijuana offenders, has now incorporated cannabis use into his own lifestyle.
The Sentinel was unable to make contact with Blay through any of several West Coast offices for Stanley Black & Decker, the company with which he landed a job as the regional head of corporate security after he was let go from the assistant city manager’s post in Hesperia. The Sentinel’s request of the City of Upland to ask Blay to contact the Sentinel did not produce any results.
By Mark Gutglueck