By Mark Gutglueck
The Upland City Council will be voting shortly to hire Michael Blay, the former assistant city manager in Hesperia, as the ultimate replacement for City Manager Rosemary Hoerning, according to information provided to the Sentinel.
City officials, however, have neither confirmed that Blay has risen to the top of dozens of candidates considered for the post by the city council, nor that he is one of two finalists for the post, nor that he had even applied for the city manager’s job.
The now five-month long ongoing recruitment of a new city manager in Upland has been conducted very quietly, so quietly that the city did not disclose it had hired the executive search firm of Ralph Andersen & Associates to invite applications and screen those applicants before making further recommendations to acting City Manager Steven Parker, Human Resources Director Theresa Doyle and the city council.
It is a general practice among cities to restrict information about applicants for city manager/city administrator posts or even department directorships, as those applicants often or even in a majority of cases hold positions with other cities, and the applicants may not want their current employer to know they are about to bug out for greener pastures or a more prestigious position or a higher salary elsewhere. This sort of promiscuity is winked at and tolerated among municipalities as there is a code, apparently, within the municipal culture that holds it is okay for one city to poach another city’s top employees. Still, in most recruitment efforts there may be several or dozens or even scores of applicants for a position such as city manager, and only one of those candidates in the end will be selected. A city manager who applies for a job elsewhere can find himself or herself in a bad position wherein he or she will lose the trust of the council he or she must work with if those council members know the city manager is not 100 percent loyal to the city that employs him or her and is contemplating leaving.
Such may or may not have been the case with Blay, who was decommissioned from his position in Hesperia by the city manager there, Niles Bentsen, around the time that the city manager’s position in Upland was rendered vacant. Upland city officials have not disclosed when Blay applied for position, and it is not known if Bentsen learned that Blay was entertaining a jump to Upland prior to Blay’s departure from Hesperia.
Bentsen and Blay had become close after both were hired by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in the late 1980s within one year of one another and as they were advancing through that agency’s ranks in the 1990s and the first decade of the Third Millennium.
Blay, who had been hired by Sheriff Floyd Tidwell as a deputy in 1989, reached the rank of sergeant, but in 2009, in the aftermath of an internal affairs investigation ongoing while Rod Hoops was sheriff, found himself after 20 years and three months with the department faced with the likelihood that he would be terminated. At the age of 44, he elected to take a medical retirement.
Meanwhile, Bentsen continued to ascend professionally, reaching the level of captain, whereupon he was assigned to serve as the commander of the Hesperia sheriff’s station. Blay, in contrast, languished in retirement for more than five years, drawing a $55,748.70 yearly pension based upon his 20 years with the sheriff’s department, augmented by a meager paycheck from a low-intensity security job with a shipping company, while holding 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
In December 2015, Hesperia’s city council as it was then composed chose Bentsen to replace Mike Podegracz, who was retiring as city manager. Bentsen assumed the Hesperia city manager’s post in January 2016. Two months later, Bentsen plucked his friend Blay from exile to serve as the City of Hesperia’s director of development services.
Upon his hiring in Hesperia, Blay, who had no municipal training or experience to speak of, was provided with a $143,156 annual salary, another $8,081 in additional pay and $26,635 in benefits for a total annual compensation of $177,872. Less than two years later, Bentsen convinced the city council to allow him to promote Blay to assistant city manager, upping his 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.
If, as reported, Blay has been chosen as the City of Gracious Living’s senior administrator, the Upland City Council’s selection of him comes across as a curious one.
Over the last three decades, Upland has been plagued with instability in the position of city manager. It was not always so. From the city’s inception as an incorporated municipality in 1906 until 1943, Upland’s mayor, advised by the city engineer, managed the city. Beginning in 1943, the city’s longtime city engineer, Richard Manley, began serving in the unofficial capacity of city manager. Upon obtaining at the age of 57 his master’s degree in public administration by attending night classes at the University of Southern California, Manley in 1947 assumed the officially recognized post of actual city manager, remaining in the position until his retirement in 1955. He was subsequently elected to represent Upland and the remainder of San Bernardino County’s Second District on the board of supervisors from 1958 to 1962. Elwin “Pinky” Alder, a licensed pilot and civil draftsman, succeeded Manley, remaining as city manager until 1974. Lee Travers, who was formerly a naval officer, succeeded Alder. Travers remained as city manager for fifteen years. Thus, over the course of 47 years, Upland employed three city managers.
Thereafter, over the next 31 years, Upland has had a succession of 13 city managers: Ray Silver, Mike Matlock in an interim capacity, Kevin Northcraft, Martin Thouvenell in an interim role, G. Michael Milhiser, Robin Quincey, Stephen Dunn, Martin Lomeli, Rod Butler, Martin Thouvenell once more in the role of interim manager over a span of 17 months, Bill Manis, Martin Thouvenell a third intermittent time, Jeannette Vagnozzi, Rosemary Hoerning and now Steven Parker.
For two decades, Upland has been dogged with numerous operational, land use, financial and legal challenges, including the federal indictment and conviction of a former mayor, John Pomierski; the filing of public corruption charges against and conviction of Pomierski’s handpicked city manager, Quncey; and 58 currently unresolved lawsuits the city is involved in. Many of these issues have been attributed to the pattern of discontinuity in management the city has been unable to overcome.
In a significant number of cases, past Upland city councils rushed into hiring city managers in a state of exuberance and confidence with regard to each hiree’s talent, skills and suitability for the position, conferring upon each a substantial salary and benefit package, together with a generous severance guarantee, only to learn later that the individual hired did not fit the bill as had been expected. In every case, the city council made those firings without citing cause for doing so, such that the agreed-upon severances for departing city managers were always paid, an amount which over the years totals more than $2 million. In spite of that, in the case of Vagnozzi, the immediate predecessor to Hoerning who was provided with her guaranteed severance of $155,500 when she was let go in 2019, is suing the city.
Over the last 31 years, Upland city managers have an average tenure in office of two years and one month, making it the least managerially stable of San Bernardino County’s 24 municipalities over the last three decades.
Accordingly, or so it seemed, the current council appeared determined to step off the treadmill of dysfunction and transitory infatuations of the past, with members of the city council offering assurances that this time they were committed to latch onto an individual with a spectrum of talents and facilities, whose make-up would involve paradoxical but necessary elements to ensure his or her success and benefit the city. Wanted and needed was someone capable of overseeing the myriad of civic operations and provisions of municipal services on a day-to-day basis in the here-and-now but who also had the ability to think long term and had a clear, workable, insightful and acceptable vision of the city’s future. The ideal candidate the city was desperately seeking necessarily had to have the desire to, orientation toward, training for and experience in public administration, a proven capability in the arena of municipal operations, yet not be so long in the tooth that he or she was at the end of his or her career such that the city would be left in the lurch after only a few years. Called for was someone with leadership ability, intelligence in the ways of handling low, middle and high intensity challenges, articulate so that the city’s intentions, goals and actions were understood by all, who was principled in setting and meeting standards, who would be flexible enough to adopt to changing circumstance and retreat early and wisely from an imperative that turned out to be unrealistic or unreachable, personable in coordinating and networking with the political masters above him or her as well as Upland’s citizens and the managerial echelon in place at City Hall, yet tough, resolute and rigid enough to ride herd on the city employees who were being paid to ensure that the services residents rightly deserve in exchange for their tax dollars are delivered efficiently.
Some members of the city council thought that Steven Parker, the assistant city manager under Hoerning who had been promoted to the position of interim city manager upon her leaving, might embody the skillset the city was after. Parker, a certified pubic accountant by training and a finance officer in his previous public agency and municipal assignments with the Yorba Linda Water District and the cities of Stanton, San Bernardino and West Covina, was detailed primarily to Upland’s financial affairs by Hoerning, who was a civil engineer by training and had worked in the public works departments of Ontario, Long Beach and Upland before she had acceded to the posts of public works director/city engineer with Redlands and Upland, having promoted from the latter posting into the role of city manager in May 2019. Parker, who is yet young enough to remain as city manager for another 15 years if he were hired into that position, turned down the offer, based on his his belief that the time demands and stress of serving as city manager would impinge on his family commitments, as he and his wife are raising children.
Unable to easily fill the gap created by Hoerning’s forced departure with Parker, the city council set about finding a replacement formalistically, by using a professional executive recruitment firm. Nevertheless, in doing so, the city council did so under a shroud of secrecy.
Upland contracted with Ralph Andersen & Associates to carry out what is now being acknowledged was “a confidential recruitment.” Ralph Andersen & Associates bills itself as “a premier public sector executive job search firm, specializing in government recruiting and human resources consulting.”
According to the company, its “team-oriented [and] 360 [degree] perspective ensures that a complete understanding of the organization’s mission and culture will be achieved. We begin every search by working closely with your leadership, stakeholders, staff, and, when appropriate, your community to develop a complete picture of the desired candidate.”
In the case of Upland, involving the community was not deemed appropriate. So stealthily, in fact, did the city, Parker, the city council and Ralph Andersen & Associates act together that Upland residents were not informed the company had been retained. 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, confidential or otherwise, of a candidate for Upland city manager. City officials have been unwilling or unable to produce the contract with Ralph Andersen & Associates. There is 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.
The Sentinel contacted Ralph Andersen & Associates in Rocklin, California directly at (916) 630-4900. The woman reached at that number by the Sentinel confirmed that Ralph Andersen & Associates had conducted an executive recruitment effort to find a suitable candidate for Upland city manager, and that the acceptance period for applications for that slot had closed in July. She said she had not been involved with the Upland recruitment, but said she would have the member of the Ralph Andersen & Associates team who did contact the Sentinel.
The Sentinel has been informed that the Upland city manager recruitment effort was headed by Heather Renschler, the chief executive officer with Ralph Andersen & Associates, whose stock-in-trade is confidential headhunting, along with Fred Wilson, a Ralph Andersen associate who was formerly the city manager of San Bernardino and Huntington Beach. The Sentinel wrote a letter delivered to Wilson via email, seeking detail with regard to the recruitment process and the criteria utilized to reduce the field of applicants to a group of finalists who were then evaluated by the city council.
By press time, the Sentinel had not heard back from anyone with Ralph Andersen & Associates.
Upland city officials did not disguise that they were undertaking a recruitment of a new city manager, as they disclosed they were carrying out a “nationwide search,” in early June, after word emanated from certain circles at City Hall that Parker was not interested in assuming the position. Nevertheless, on those occasions when a reference to the recruitment effort was made, there was no mention of Ralph Andersen & Associates. Rather, Parker and others spoke about the city council being assisted by the city’s “consultant” in reference to the recruitment effort and evaluation process.
Application for the Upland city manager position consisted of providing Ralph Andersen & Associates with a résumé and a cover letter.
Without fanfare, by late July, an evaluation of the applicants was being undertaken. The city has not disclosed how many applicants for the position there were. Assurances were made to the public that those seeking the job were numerous and included several “high-caliber” candidates. Virtually nothing is known about what criteria was used in winnowing the field of candidates or how many rounds of reduction there were. The first week of August, those deemed by Ralph Andersen & Associates to be the least qualified candidates or unsuited for Upland were removed from the field. By August 10, after telephonic contacts with the remaining candidates were made, what was either the second or third stage of the reduction process took place, and several more of the applicants received an email in which they were thanked for submitting an application and informed that “after careful consideration and detailed consideration of [their] qualifications,” a decision had been made to have “a select few” of the applicants participate in an interview by the city council, and that “unfortunately” the recipient of the email was not among them.
The city scheduled a special meeting on Tuesday, August 24 at 9 a.m., at which, the meeting’s agenda stated, there was to be a “closed session public employee appointment” relating to the title of “city manager.”
In fact, the meeting was conducted remotely by electronic means. The residents who were present at City Hall were given a glimpse of the meeting, which was initially displayed on the video screens in the council chamber, but they were unable to hear the proceedings, as the audio was shut off. Just as residents who had turned up for the meeting were about to request that the volume be increased, a city employee shut the video off. The closed session produced no appointment, but consisted rather of interviews with the applicants for the city manager position who had not yet been eliminated from the field. The city has not disclosed how many candidates were interviewed.
The minutes of the meeting, which were compiled by City Clerk Keri Johnson, who was present in some fashion at the remotely held proceedings, did not reflect that the interviews had taken place.
“At 9:09 a.m., Mayor Velto announced the city council would recess to closed session pursuant to Government Code Section 54957, title: city manager,” the minutes read. “The city council reconvened in open session at 3:29 p.m. The mayor stated that the council took no reportable action. Mayor Velto adjourned the meeting at 3:30 p.m.”
City officials maintained a public silence about the city manager recruitment until the next city council meeting, which was held on September 13. At that meeting, the agenda once again called for a “closed session public employee appointment” relating to “title: city manager.”
When the council emerged from that closed door discussion, however, there was no report of an appointment having been made. After the meeting, it was disclosed that the council had reduced the field to two candidates.
At this point, more than a month has elapsed with no official final decision on who is to assume the helm of the 77,754 population city.
Nevertheless, this week, on October 12, the Sentinel received a report from a reputable source that Mike Blay, who served for three years as Hesperia’s assistant city manager until he left that post in April and for two years prior to that was Hesperia’s director of development services, is to become Upland’s city manager.
The Sentinel immediately followed up with an effort to learn from city officials whether Blay has, in fact, been chosen. Pointedly, city officials contacted by the Sentinel – Mayor Bill Velto, Councilwoman Janice Elliott, Councilman Carlos Garcia, acting City Manager Steven Parker, City Clerk Keri Johnson, and Human Resources Manager Theresa Doyle – did not or were unwilling to confirm the report of Blay’s imminent hiring. Neither Renschler nor Wilson of Ralph Andersen & Associates would go on record with regard to whether Blay had outdistanced the competition. The Sentinel’s efforts to get a statement from city officials or Ralph Andersen & Associates to the effect that Blay was or was not one of the two finalists or the choice to succeed Hoerning and Parker as city manager fell short.
“The city continues to proceed with its city manager recruitment process,” Mayor Velto told the Sentinel. “Because this process by its nature must be confidential, the city has no comment at this time. The city anticipates making a public announcement about retention of a new city manager at the appropriate time.”
In response to the Sentinel’s question as to whether Blay had been hired by Upland as the new city manager, Parker said, “Thank you for reaching out, but anything discussed in closed session on Monday evening must remain confidential.”
If, indeed, Blay has been settled upon as Upland city manager, his choice is an unexpected one given the circumstances.
At the age of 56, his longevity in the position is not likely to exceed five years or six years, which would defeat the goal of instilling continuity within a key component of Upland’s governmental structure by having a manager who remains in place for a decade or longer.
Moreover, the sum total of Blay’s municipal administrative experience consists of his three years as assistant city manager in Hesperia. HIs experience as a municipal employee runs to those three years and the two years he filled the role as development services director. Blay’s educational credentials, while extending to business and business management/administration, do not include study in municipal management. His hiring in Hesperia was based upon his close friendship with Hesperia City Manager Nils Bentsen, who similarly had no actual training in nor experience in municipal management.
Throughout its 33-year history, Hesperia has developed a reputation as being victimized by a dysfunctional governmental structure, one that has perpetuated a substantial infrastructure deficit, as the city’s political leadership and staff management since Hesperia’s 1988 incorporation has pursued in the name of economic development allowing the building industry to flourish without a match in off-site improvements and infrastructure equal to the burden the growth in the community has wrought. Seventy-two-square mile Hesperia has a reputation of being marred by seriously dilapidating roads and streets, many of which lack curbs, gutters and sidewalks, as well as inadequate drainage and flood control.
Two of Hesperia’s previous city managers, Robert Rizzo and Robb Quincey, were in place while what was essentially unbridled development was taking place in the city. That intensified growth occurred while the developers who profited from that growth were engaged in making substantial monetary contributions to the city’s elected leadership, which was widely perceived as graft and bribery.
In the case of Rizzo, he left the city in 1992, just as revelations about his having served as a distributor of political payoffs originating with development interests to two of the city’s council members and one of its planning members reverberated around the community. Those revelations had the effect of bringing to a halt an effort by ARC Rancho Las Flores to develop a massive 9,100-home subdivision at the city’s extreme south near the mouth of Summit Valley, which as planned involved overburdening of the city’s transportation infrastructure. Following Rizzo’s departure from Hesperia, he resurfaced in the City of Bell in Los Angeles County where 20 years later he was indicted and convicted on public corruption charges.
Likewise, Quincey moved on from Hesperia to become city manager in Upland, where he was forced to leave in 2011 after acts of wrongdoing surfaced there and he was charged in 2012 by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office with felony corruption charges including unlawful misappropriation of public money, gaining personal benefit from an official contract, and giving false testimony under oath. He was ultimately convicted on a perjury charge in a plea deal.
With Bentsen in place as Hesperia’s city manager and Blay as development services director, the Hesperia City Council approved the Tapestry project, which was a revival of the Rancho Las Flores project in 2017, uprated to 15,663 homes. Like its Rancho Las Flores predecessor as planned for under Rizzo, the Tapestry project entailed a similar overburdening of the city’s infrastructure, primarily its roads.
No evidence has emerged to suggest that Bentsen and Blay were on the take and actively militating for the developmental interests and land speculators promoting the Tapestry Project as Rizzo was with the Rancho Las Flores Project. Nevertheless, both came in for heavy criticism for allowing the city, under their watch, to engage in land use decisions that will overburden the city’s existing and future infrastructure and erode Hesperians’ quality of life.
Another derogatory registered against Hesperia that came during Bentsen’s and Blay’s shared managerial tenure in the city was the U.S. Justice Department’s lodging of a discrimination suit in December 2019 that took the city council and city administrators and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department to task for the Hesperia Crime Free Rental Housing Ordinance drafted in the main by Bentsen while he was the commander of the Hesperia sheriff’s station in 2015, passed by the city council in November 2015 and implemented by the city in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, while Bentsen was city manager and Blay was both development services director and assistant city manager.
According to prosecutors with the Civil Rights Section in the Civil Division of the United States Attorney’s Office and the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the City of Hesperia and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department misused the ordinance, which was in effect in its original form between January 1, 2016 and its amendment on July 18, 2017 and in a revamped form thereafter, to unfairly banish from the city African-American and Latino renters in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
The Crime Free Rental Housing Ordinance required all rental property owners to evict tenants upon notice by the sheriff’s department that the tenants had engaged in any alleged criminal activity on or near their property. The federal lawsuit alleged that the sheriff’s department exercised its substantial discretion in enforcement to target African-American and Latino renters and areas of Hesperia inhabited in the main by racial and ethnic minorities. The U.S. Attorney’s Office maintained in its suit that although the ordinance purported to target “criminal activity,” the sheriff’s department notified landlords to begin evictions of entire families – including children – for conduct involving one tenant or even non-tenants, evictions of victims of domestic violence, and evictions based on mere allegations and without evidence of criminal activity.
The federal lawsuit alleged that the city, with substantial support from the sheriff’s department, enacted the ordinance with the intent of addressing what one city council member called a “demographical problem” – the city’s increasing African-American and Latino population. The city’s records show the ordinance resulted in the evictions of numerous African-American and Latino renters.
The lawsuit has yet to be resolved, and the situation is marred by the consideration that the city now finds itself without legal representation in the face of the federal government’s legal onslaught against it. Throughout the first 19 months after the suit was filed, the sheriff’s department was represented by Hesperia City Attorney Eric Dunn and his law firm, Aleshire & Wynder. In July, the sheriff’s department sought and obtained different legal representation after Aleshire & Wynder asserted it had determined a conflict exists between the sheriff’s department and the city in the defense to be presented at trial, which is scheduled to commence on March 22, 2022. The sheriff’s department’s new law firm, Lynberg & Watkins, filed a motion with the federal court, which has been granted, seeking to remove Aleshire & Wynder as the city’s counsel, such that the city is now scrambling to find a new legal team by October 26, a date mandated by the court.
Blay’s slender résumé as a municipal employee/administrator/manager does not include any substantial experience in finance or budgeting or public works.
Aside from those considerations, the circumstances of Blay’s departure from both the sheriff’s department in 2009 and Hesperia earlier this year are, for some, an area of concern.
It is known that prior to Blay leaving the department in 2009, the sheriff’s professional standards division, otherwise known as internal affairs, had opened an investigation of him and what has been characterized as his failure to adhere to department protocol in certain circumstances. Blay, a department source told the Sentinel, “has never wanted to follow the rules.”
While he was a patrol sergeant in Victorville in 2005, 2006 and 2007, Blay had failed to properly supervise Deputy Matt Linderman, who was ultimately forced to resign and then prosecuted for having used his position of authority and the threat of arrest while on patrol and interacting with the public to stalk, harass and make sexual demands of women he encountered. Ultimately Linderman 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 11 women, identified only as Christina, Sheila, Cassie, Jill, Carrie, Christina D. Jenifer, Jaime, Dana, Jessica and Andrea. Linderman was sentenced to a 20-year prison term. He 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.
An internal sheriff’s department investigation into the matter was begun, at which time 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 Bentsen, who was then a lieutenant. The investigation determined that Blay knew about Linderman’s activity through complaints and observation, and that he had failed to take action to stop it, in part because Blay had inappropriate verbal exchanges with women he encountered in the field himself. Blay was then demoted out of SWAT while he was brought up on charges before a discipline board relating to failure to provide proper supervision and making misrepresentations up the chain of command. The discipline board came back with a recommendation for termination. Before that was acted upon by the department, Blay made a claim of injuring his shoulder and went out on medical leave, and never came back to duty, retiring thereafter.
Blay was 44 at the time, six years below the age of what is normally the minimum retirement age and 18 years short of mandatory retirement age. He had at that point achieved the rank of sergeant, such that before he was felled by the fallout from the Linderman case there was a prospect of his acceding to the rank of lieutenant and perhaps captain in parallel with several of his contemporaries and colleagues in the department such as Bentsen, given his educational level, which included a master’s degree.
Blay’s parting with Hesperia earlier this year is equally problematic. His hiring as development services director in 2016 and his promotion to assistant city manager in 2018 were largely or wholly dependent upon his connection with Bentsen, who was characterized by a former member of the department as Blay’s “best friend.”
Hesperia, which had traditionally prohibited any cannabis-related commercial activity, in 2017 moved to allow companies delivering marijuana or cannabis-related products to operate within the city. Blay, as development services director and then as assistant city manager, was entrusted by Bentsen with regulating commercial marijuana and cannabis activity within the city. Bentsen and others became concerned that Blay was uneven in the enforcement of the rules and regulations relating to those businesses, as Blay appeared to be or actually was closer to some of the marijuana entrepreneurs than he was to others. Bentsen removed cannabis regulation as one of Blay’s duties, giving that assignment to another city employee.
Early this year Bentson learned that Blay had been having an affair with one of his municipal underlings. In February, the Sentinel is told, there was a shouting match between Bentsen and Blay over the matter that was audible throughout several office suites at City Hall. By April, Bentsen was no longer employed by Hesperia. One source told the Sentinel that Bentsen had fired Blay. There was no confirmation of that. Another told the Sentinel that Blay did not leave the assistant city manager’s post of his own volition and that, essentially, he was forced to do so.
The Sentinel’s efforts to get from Bentsen or Hesperia Mayor Cameron Gregg an explanation of the events surrounding Blay’s departure were unsuccessful.
In June, according to the social and professional networking service Linked-In, Blay landed a position as the regional director of corporate security for Stanley Black & Decker, Incorporated. Efforts to locate Blay at any of several Stanley Black & Decker corporate offices and outlets in Southern and Northern California were unsuccessful, and the Sentinel was unable to get his version of events by press time.
There was indication that Blay’s application for the Upland city manager’s post had found positive traction based upon his prior association through the sheriff’s department with Darren Goodman, Upland’s police chief. Generationally and in other respects, Blay is at one with Goodman and Bentsen. Bentsen joined the sheriff’s department in 1988, Blay in 1989 and Goodman in 1991. All are college educated; Blay has bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Goodman has a bachelor’s degree along with a master’s degrees in public administration from the University of Southern California and a doctorate from USC’s Rossier School of Education, and Bentsen has an associate’s degree in administration of justice from Victor Valley College. All three were climbing the promotional ladder in the sheriff’s department simultaneously in the 1990s and 2000s.
Goodman was serving as the sheriff’s station commander in Chino Hills when in 2018 he was lured to Upland to serve as police chief.
Chino Hills and Hesperia, like 12 other of San Bernardino County’s 24 cities and incorporated towns – Rancho Cucamonga, Grand Terrace, Loma Linda, Highland, Apple Valley, Victorville, Adelanto, Big Bear, Yucaipa, Yucca Valley, Twentynine Palms and Needles – contract with the sheriff’s department for law enforcement services. The sheriff’s department functions as those cities’ and towns’ police departments, and the sheriff station commanders are those departments’ police chiefs.
In 2020, Upland City Manager Rosemary Hoerning and then-Mayor Debbie Stone suspended Goodman and placed him on administrative leave, based upon a complaint lodged against him by the department’s executive secretary, whom Goodman had demoted. 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 Velto, a member of the city council at the time who had not supported Goodman’s suspension.
Because of the inhospitality shown toward Goodman by Stone and Hoerning, there is concern among residents and some members of the city council that Goodman, who was a finalist among candidates considered for placement as the City of Riverside’s police chief in late 2019 and January 2020, might jump ship if an opening as police chief with another mid-size or larger municipal police department presents itself.
Within certain quarters in Upland, installing Blay, Goodman’s one-time colleague at the sheriff’s department, as city manager is perceived as a means of achieving the imperative of ensuring that Goodman remains in Upland.