Electronic Filing In Fontana To Open A Window On Influence Peddling Ongoing There

An incremental inroad against the graft and influence peddling besetting the Acquanetta Warren regime in Fontana was achieved earlier this month, when Fontana’s elected officials were essentially shamed by their recently-hired interim city manager into requiring that they and the candidates who will compete against them for elected office must file the campaign finance disclosure documents required by the Fair Political Practices Commission of all politicians in California electronically.
Previously, before Warren was elected to the post of mayor in 2010, the city clerk’s office in Fontana had an open access policy with regard to public documents, including campaign funding disclosure documents known as Form 460s, allowing the public to see and chart from whom Fontana’s elected officials – primarily the mayor and members of the city council – were receiving campaign donations and in which amounts. Within a relatively short timeframe, the city council in Fontana, led by Warren in her role as mayor, became immersed in a pay-to-play ethos under which business entities seeking city franchises, city contracts for goods or services, or approval for development projects within the city could trade political donations to Warren and other members of the council for votes in favor of granting those franchises, contracts or project approvals. To prevent the public from having easy access to the documentation that would indicate or prove that such quid pro quo arrangements – tantamount to outright bribery – were ongoing, Warren put pressure on the city clerk’s office to discontinue making the 460 forms available on the city’s website.
When those forms were submitted by the elected officials in an electronic format, the city clerk’s office could simply upload them onto the city’s website. To comply with Warren’s demand that the city discontinue making the 460 forms easily available to the public, the Fontana city clerk in 2011 informed council members and council candidates that her office would no longer accept campaign finance disclosure forms that were submitted electronically, and that the forms had to be submitted on paper. Since mounting the disclosure documents on the city’s website required that they first be scanned and converted into electronic form – a personnel-intensive and time-consuming process – the city clerk’s office was thereafter able to justify not having the mayor’s and the city council’s 460 forms available for perusal on the city’s website.
With the change in policy, it was no longer possible for members of the public or journalists or anyone inclined to check up on the motivations of the Fontana mayor or the members of the city council relative to their votes to do so anonymously or remotely from City Hall. To see any such documentation, the individual doing the inquiry was obliged to come into City Hall, identify himself or herself, and make a physical inspection of the documents at the city clerk’s counter, making himself or herself subject to being photographed or seen by the mayor or members of the council, as well as accompanying efforts to dissuade the individual from making an issue over what information had been gleaned or obtained. In response to some requests, claims were made that the paper documentation was not available or the personnel to serve as the intermediary in accessing it was not available, necessitating that the individual seeking it make a return trip at a specified time, again subjecting him or her to being seen or confronted by a member of the city council or the mayor.
On occasion, the city clerk’s office responded to email or telephonic requests, and would scan the documents requested, and provide the documentation in an electronic form as email attachments or post them to a private access page through the city’s internet server, and provide the link to the person making the inquiry. After a set number of days, the link would expire.
In some cases, the city clerk’s office, particularly in cases where the requested information was recognized as having implicated Warren and her council colleagues in out-and-out corruption of the political process, would accede to pressure from Warren and the council and simply ignore the requests.
In recent months, as the degree to which Warren and her council allies Pete Garcia, Phil Cothran Jr. and John Roberts have traded their votes for campaign cash has become more widely recognized, interim City Manager Shannon Yauchzee and City Clerk Tonia Lewis have realized that remaining complicit with Warren and the council in the pay-to-ply ethos that has gripped City Hall for a decade now will potentially harm their reputations. Lewis previously was able to distance herself from the decision to obstruct the public’s access to the 460s filed by the mayor and council members because in Fontana the deputy city clerk, who is appointed by the city manager and not answerable to the city clerk, is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the office, while also serving as the custodian of the official records of the City of Fontana. In Fontana, it is the deputy city clerk rather than the city clerk who manages the citywide records management program.
The two city managers in place previous to Yauchzee, Ken Hunt and Mark Denny, were highly beholden to Warren for their positions, salaries and benefits. They used their authority as city manager to prevent the deputy city clerk from embracing a policy of electronic filing of campaign reports to shield the mayor and council from unwanted scrutiny of their willingness to exchange money provided to them by their campaign donors for votes made in favor of those political backers.
At present, Warren has funds that are at least in excess of $350,000 in her campaign war chest and perhaps more than $500,000. The city clerk’s office is yet refusing to release that information.
Lewis was unavailable this week to say whether the requirement that the mayor and council file their 460 forms electronically will translate into the information contained in them being available, henceforward, on the city’s website.
The resolution for the ordinance amendment adopted by the city council on December 14 states, “The purpose of this ordinance is to require the filing of campaign disclosure statements and statements of economic interest by elected officials, candidates, staff, consultants or committees to be completed electronically. The city council enacts this ordinance in accordance with the authority granted to cities by state law. This ordinance is intended to supplement, and not conflict with, the Political Reform Act.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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