The race to represent the Second Ward on the San Bernardino City Council over the next four years is a dead heat, one so close that there is a chance it will not be decided this summer but will require a run-off in November.
The issue of who will occupy the Second Ward position carries with it significance as to the makeup and complexion of government in the county seat going forward. It has further poignancy with regard to whether the city’s police department and its officers will remain as a potent, respected and feared political force in the city of 222,101.
A consequence of the race as it was carried out this year may be that whatever moral authority the police department once possessed has been squandered, a development which some of the department’s members have acknowledged and most others at this juncture do not want to address.Competing head-to-in the race are incumbent Sandra Ibarra, a community activist who was first elected to the city council in 2018, and Terry Elliott, a church pastor and an essential political newcomer who was selected by elements within the community as an alternate to Ibarra.
Ibarra was elected in 2018 with the endorsement of the San Bernardino Police Officers Association.
According to members of the union, as the 2018 election season progressed, it became clear that John Valdivia, then the city’s Third District councilman, would prevail in that year’s mayoral election, and the city would be led at least for the next four years by a coalition of council members he headed. After the June 2018 primary, in which then-incumbent Second Ward Councilman Benito Barrios, who was loosely aligned with Valdivia, was eliminated from the running, Valdivia threw his support to Ibarra. This prompted the San Bernardino Police Officers Association to endorse Ibarra, its calculation being that establishing a rapport with what was to become a council majority would benefit the association during its negotiations with the city over officer salaries and fringe benefits.
Relations between Ibarra and the union remained cordial, but soured in the wake of the protest-turned riot-turned-lootings that occurred on May 31/June 1, 2020 following the Minneapolis Police Department’s murder of George Floyd.
A significant portion of the Highland Avenue Commercial Corridor in San Bernardino lies within the Second Ward. The businesses on Highland Avenue were as hard-hit by that social maelstrom as any others in the 62.45-square mile city. Merchants there expressed dismay at the destruction of their stores and the loss of merchandise they experienced while members of the police department, who were present that evening nearby en masse, did not physically engage with or obstruct the looters. Ibarra publicly referenced those businesses’ owners’ distress.
Ibarra stated she did not think the San Bernardino Police Department’s response was aggressive enough in protecting property and businesses that were under siege. She suggested that there were institutional problems with the department that preexisted the May 31/June 1, 2020 riots that had become apparent with that event. Those included, she said, a department that was top heavy and overweighted with brass, one that had too many upper management positions and too few uniformed officers on the streets. She questioned whether the sergeants, lieutenants and captains in the department were “helping the people who work and live in the city.”
The department, from its top echelon to the officers on the streets, took that as an affront, with members of the department maintaining they had done the best they could under the circumstances. The police department’s defenders expressed the view that if the police had been more confrontational and applied any degree of force, given the social and situational atmospherics, injuries and death may have ensued, creating an even greater contretemps than what the city already had to deal with.
In an open letter, the San Bernardino Police Officers Association blasted Ibarra, saying she had “blatantly attacked the integrity of the men and women of the San Bernardino Police Department,” asserting “Ms. Ibarra’s claim that the San Bernardino Police Department was ineffective is… false.”
Members of the department and the police officers association were intent on seeing Ibarra removed from the council, and looked forward to the 2022 election during which they committed to supporting whoever might emerge as her opponent. To their chagrin, however, no competitor from within the Second Ward organically surfaced to challenge her. Just prior to the opening of the filing period for this year’s city council race, Elliott, previously a resident of the city’s Seventh Ward, established a bootlegged domicile in the Second Ward that did not have rental permits with either the city or the county. Members of the police department, it was reported, had encouraged Elliott to make the residency transition to allow him to challenge Ibarra in this year’s contest. That encouragement, according to one report, included financial assistance to Elliott in making that residency accommodation.
When the campaign season began in earnest earlier this year, the San Bernardino Police Officers Association endorsed Elliott.
In conferring the endorsement on Elliott, the police officers association purposefully neglected to carry out a background investigation on him, bypassing an official or even unofficial production of a report with regard to several specifics about what at least some of the association’s members already knew, which was that he has an extensive criminal record and has been challenged both in court and elsewhere over his financial exploitation of members of the churches he has led.
In 1984, Elliott was convicted in Los Angeles County on four of the 13 felony counts he had been charged with in November 1983 relating to forgery and check fraud, and was thereafter given a three-year prison sentence. He was given an early good-conduct release in April 1985 after serving one year at the California Institution for Men in Chino.
Subsequent to his release, young Elliott felt a calling from God and embarked on his life’s work as a man of the cloth, becoming, in time, the pastor of the Good Samaritan Baptist Church in Los Angeles. On April 21, 1994, he was charged with felony grand theft after he embezzled money from the church. He entered a guilty plea to those charges on June 10, 1994. That conviction and accusations that he had conned some of his church’s congregants out of money complicated his status as a preacher in Los Angeles County.
Elliott relocated to San Bernardino, where in 1998, following the death of the Reverend Henry Campbell, he stepped in to become the pastor of a church, known as The Ship, which had been established by Campbell in 1962.
In 1999, Elliott, together with James Marshall, founded the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, located at 1895 Del Rosa Avenue in San Bernardino, as a California nonprofit corporation. Elliott was shown as the pastor and president and Marshall was designated as the chairman and head deacon in the church’s charter.
Elliott entered into untoward and unethical financial relationships with some of his church’s congregants. One of those involved Tina Satterwhite, who in 2004 found herself in a state of crisis when her son was killed in a shooting and her bout of depression over the matter led her into a further downward spiral in which she lost her job. That created a circumstance in which she was no longer able to make her mortgage payments. Foreclosure proceedings were about to be initiated against her. At that point, Satterwhite confided in Elliott, who informed her that members of her own family were on the verge of seeking a conservatorship over her.
Elliott convinced Satterwhite to sell her house before it was foreclosed upon and to then turn the net $107,147.89 proceeds from the sale over to him for safekeeping in a trust account he said he would open for her and which he claimed the members of her family who were seeking to take over her affairs by means of the conservatorship would not have access to. In fact, no such trust account for Satterwhite was established and instead the money was put into the “Mount Zion Community Redevelopment Corporation account” to which Elliott had unfettered access. Elliott then withdrew more than $75,000 from the account for his own personal use. Ultimately, her money gone, Satterwhite was unable to pay her rent and was evicted, ultimately rendered homeless.
A local lawyer, Michael Scafiddi, took up Satterwhite’s cause, and he was able to convince San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge John Pacheco that after subtracting a roughly $12,000 tithe that Satterwhite had made to the church and $19,783 in disbursements that Elliott had made to Satterwhite over time from the $107,147.89 proceeds from the sale of the house deposited into the church’s “redevelopment” account, that Satterwhite was owed the difference. In March 2010, Judge Pacheco entered a $75,166.21 judgment in favor of Satterwhite against Elliott and Mt. Zion plus interest of $3,994.46 and another $1,225 in attorney’s fees and costs, for a judgment total of $80,385.67.
When Scafiddi attempted to collect the judgment for Satterwhite, however, Elliott, who had by that point declared bankruptcy on behalf of Mount Zion, used those proceedings to duck out of paying Satterwhite the money owed her. Using his attorney, Greta Sedeal Curtis, who was also the attorney representing Mount Zion Church in the bankruptcy, Elliot engaged in ploy after ploy, including changing the name of the Mount Zion Church and its tax status, to evade the payment demands. As a consequence of her efforts on behalf of Elliott and the church during the bankruptcy proceedings, Curtis was ultimately disbarred and can no longer practice as an attorney in California.
Upon Scafiddi and Satterwhite finally moving beyond the roadblocks strewn in their way by Curtis, they managed to bring the matter involving Satterwhite and Elliott before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge William V. Altenberger, who on June 11, 2014 rendered a decision and order relating to the final extinguishment of the bankruptcy Elliott had filed on behalf of Mt. Zion Church.
In his ultimate finding, Judge Altenberger characterized Elliott, essentially, as a conman.
“Based upon the debtor’s [Elliott’s] representation that he would hold the funds in trust for her, Satterwhite endorsed the check for the net proceeds from the sale of her house over to the church and gave it to the debtor. Instead of creating a trust for Satterwhite, the debtor deposited the check into the Mount Zion Community Redevelopment Corporation account, and never created a trust account for the benefit of Satterwhite.”
Judge Altenberger stated that Elliot “was at times evasive and uninformed about what had occurred, indicating that other officials of the church knew what had occurred. Additionally, this court observes that Satterwhite was a person of limited financial means. It is simply not credible that a person of limited financial means would sell her home and give away all of the net proceeds, even to a church.”
Judge Altenberger continued, “The evidence presented by Satterwhite establishes that the debtor deceived Satterwhite into turning over the net proceeds from the sale of her house by telling her that he would open a trust account in her name and hold the funds in that trust solely for her benefit and that he knew at the time he made these representations that they were false and deceptive. The debtor’s intent to deceive may be inferred from the surrounding circumstances. Accordingly, this court concludes that the debtor obtained the funds from Satterwhite by false pretenses, a false representation or actual fraud. Satterwhite is entitled to judgment against the debtor in the amount of $75,166.21.”
To this date, one day short of eight years after Judge Altenberger’s ruling, Elliott has yet to pay any of the money he owes Satterwhite. He continually ghosts the process servers who have sought to serve subpoenas upon him.
According to a member of the San Bernardino Police Officers Association, members of the department and members of the association were aware of the multiple derogatories in Elliott’s past, including his criminal convictions, but they were so desperate to find an alternate candidate to Ibarra that they purposefully bypassed carrying out a background check on him that upon open scrutiny by the association’s members would have resulted in the association withholding its endorsement of him. Instead, the union substituted the consideration that Elliott had already been vetted by the department to take on a role as a department chaplain years ago. The failure of the department to have carried out a full background investigation of Elliott is an issue that is likely to become problematic for both the department and its chaplain program in the near future, the officer said.
According to the officer, the association’s first priority in making its endorsements is stacking the city council with members who will not oppose the association’s proposals during the collective bargaining process, to thus ensure that officers receive wage and salary increases coupled with the continuation of benefits. In the past, the officer said, the association has endorsed city council candidates with personal, legal, and situational blemishes which have rendered them vulnerable to public exposure and have left them inclined to support the association in getting for its members adequate remuneration. While the officer said that blackmail is perhaps too strong of a word to use in describing how the association desires to have council members amenable to persuasion, the goal was to have council members who equate a well-paid constabulary with a commitment to public safety.
In this way, Elliott’s checkered past as well as personal financial shortcomings on the part of another candidate in this year’s city council competition, Teresa Parra Craig, who was running against incumbent Fred Shorett in the city’s Fourth Ward, are seen by the association’s members not as demerits but rather features that would allow both Eliott and Parra Craig to be relied upon when the association and the police department need their support. The San Bernardino Police Officers Association this year endorsed Parra Craig over Shorett.
In a similar fashion, the association collectively was in favor of the reelection of Mayor John Valdivia in this year’s race because of a host of personal vulnerabilities in his makeup, including excessive womanizing, his willingness to receive under-the-table payments from entities doing business with the city, his questionable use of city resources, personnel and facilities as well as his participation in backroom deals that he would prefer to keep out of the limelight. The negative publicity which has attended much of Valdivia’s action, however, made it difficult if not impossible to publicly endorse the incumbent mayor, the officer said, so the association chose instead to make no endorsement under the assumption that Valdivia, who had more than $300,000 in his campaign war chest when the election season began, would achieve reelection. As it turned out, that calculation did not hold, as Valdivia finished third in the seven-person race for mayor, meaning he will not qualify for the mayoral run-off in November.
Another calculation the association and its leadership made in endorsing both Elliott and Parra Craig was that the derogatory information relating to their criminal or civil court or personal financial entanglements would not reach the public before the election. While Parra Craig in essence succeeded in keeping some troubling elements relating to her personal finances from becoming public fodder, Elliott did not escape exacting scrutiny of his financial, civil and criminal misadventures. Both the Sentinel and the San Bernardino Sun in May ran exposés detailing his criminal and civil tribulations and his reputation for financially exploiting members of his congregation.
Faced with a wide cross section of the public having learned about the criminal record of a candidate it had endorsed in the Second Ward council race, the San Bernardino Police Officers Association doubled down, insisting in the weeks leading up to the election that it would not rescind its endorsement of Elliott.
“The SBPOA has not changed its position regarding Elliott’s endorsement,” Tamrin Olden, the association’s spokesperson said.
Moreover, Olden insisted there was no substance to the suggestion that the union was seeking to place Elliott on the city council because his personality flaws, criminal convictions and history of scandal involving theft from a church where he was the pastor and from a member of his own congregation left him vulnerable to exposure and would allow the police union to control his votes, and exploit that particularly when it came to approving union contracts and raises for the department’s officers.
“To make a statement claiming that our endorsement process, specifically our current council endorsements, is dictated by some alternate agenda is simply incorrect and unfair to both the political action committee and association members,” she said.
Just as the police association had supported Ibarra in 2018 and by this year was standing in opposition to her reelection, Valdivia, who in 2018 endorsed her and helped her to victory in that year’s November run-off, this year was actively militating against her. Valdivia’s campaign consultant, Chris Jones, assisted Elliott in his campaign.
Elliott’s campaign fund through May 27 had taken in $27,493.00 and had utilized most of that money in directly supporting his electoral effort.
Elliott’s campaign was further boosted through the efforts of an independent expenditure committee calling itself the Committee for Ethical Government to Support Elliott and Oppose Ibarra for City Council 2022, which by May 27 had collected $22,100 and had spent $19,607.82 for mailers attacking Ibarra.
Ibarra, who ran a grassroots campaign, had spent $1,352.99 since the beginning of the year, primarily on signs and her filing fee for her candidacy.
In the teeth of Elliott’s aggressive and comparatively well-funded campaign, Ibarra found herself outgunned, as Elliott’s signs were located virtually everywhere within the Second Ward, as well as in the visual spread near the vital road choke points surrounding the district.
The only advantages that had accrued to Ibarra as the Tuesday June 7 election day approached was her incumbency, fair name recognition and her performance in office over the previous three-and-a-half years. Shortly after the polls closed on Tuesday night, the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters released its first results, consisting of the mail ballots that had come in up to that point.
Of the ward’s 13,263 voters, 670 had sent in mail ballots early enough to arrive before the polls had closed on election day, June 7. Elliott was off to a slim nine-vote lead, as he claimed 336 votes or 50.15 percent to Ibarra’s 327 votes or 48.81 percent. Another seven votes or 1.04 percent in the form of write-ins went to Alissa Payne.
At 10 p.m. on election night, no further mail-in ballots had come in, but the polling results from ten of Ward Two’s 17 precincts had been counted. Those additions reflected an amazingly minuscule voter turnout, with a mere 58 votes having been registered at the ten precincts. Ibarra logged 30 of those and Elliott claimed 26. Two were what the registrar of voters’ office called “unresolved write-in” votes. Elliot led by five votes, 362-to-357. Whereas previously he had claimed a majority of the votes cast, Elliott’s total had dipped below 50 percent, which made for a crucial distinction. To win the race outright under San Bernardino’s charter, a candidate must capture a majority vote, that is 50 percent and at least one more vote. But with Elliott’s tally of 362 votes and Ibarra’s total of 357 plus what were at that point nine write-in votes, Elliott’s percentage of the vote had dropped to 49.73, while Ibarra was at 49.04 percent.
Two hours later, at midnight, one further precinct reported, making 11 out of 17. A total of 65 votes were cast at that precinct, which was more than the number of votes at the 10 previously counted precincts combined. Ibarra received 28 of those votes while Elliott scored 36. There was a single unresolved write-in vote in the precinct’s ballot box. At that point, Elliott had recaptured a majority of the vote counted that far, a total of 398 out of 793 votes cast, equal to 50.19 percent. Ibarra had registered 385 votes or 48.55 percent.
Two hours later, as of 2 a.m. on June 8, no further precincts had reported but three more votes for Elliott were recorded. It is not clear whence those votes came. The additional votes boosted his total to 401 of 796 votes cast, or 50.38 percent. Ibarra remained static with 385 votes, though her percentage dipped to 48.37.
At 4 a.m., the results from the final six precincts were tallied and reported, showing that just one vote had been cast at the half dozen precincts, that single vote being for Ibarra. That pushed her combined number of 327 mail ballot votes and 59 polling place votes to 386 total votes or 48.43 percent, while Elliott held a majority of the 797 votes cast with 401 or 50.31 percent.
That afternoon at 4 p.m. on June 8, the registrar posted an update of the tally, consisting of the incoming mail ballots received and counted that morning and afternoon. Ibarra received 20 more mail-in votes and Elliott 14. Thus, Elliott remained in front, with 415 of the 831 votes cast and Ibarra trailing by nine with 406 votes. At that point, Elliott could no longer claim to have a majority of the vote needed to win the election outright, as his vote ratio stood at 49.94 percent to Ibarra’s 48.86 percent.
The following day, 24 hours later at 4 p.m. on Thursday June 9, another updated posting was made. Ibarra picked up 25 more votes from incoming mail-in ballots, pushing her vote total to 431. Elliott picked up 13 votes, which meant that he had suffered a deficit relative to Ibarra of 12, which dropped him into second place by three votes. At that point, Ibarra was ahead, 431 votes to 428. Two of the write-in votes received at the polls were declared to have been for Payne, giving her a total of nine votes. The other write-in vote that had been cast at one of the precincts was disregarded. Neither Ibarra nor Elliott could claim outright victory, as neither had a majority of the vote, with Ibarra favored by 49.65 percent of those voting and Elliott supported by 49.31 percent.
At 4 p.m. today, Friday June 10, the mail-in votes that had come in since the previous day – 90 for Ibarra, 90 for Elliott and two write-ins for Payne – were counted. Thus, at present and pending a potential change based upon any further mail-in votes that could yet straggle in, Ibarra is the winner in a photo finish, with 521 or 49.62 percent of the 1,050 total votes cast so far in the Second Ward, with Elliott nipping at her heels with 518 votes or 49.33 percent.
According to the post office, it is not likely that a significant number of ballots posted at or prior to 5 p.m. on Tuesday June 7 will arrive at their destination at any point after tomorrow’s mail delivery, meaning the unofficial election outcome should be known by the next posting of results, which is scheduled for Monday June 13 at 4 p.m. Unless Elliott picks up at least 15 more votes than Ibarra in the remaining counts or unless Ibarra picks up at least 11 more votes over Elliott in the remaining counts such that the difference between the two becomes greater than the number of write-in votes for Payne and any other unresolved write-in candidates so one or the other is able to lay claim to more than 50 percent of the votes cast, the two appear to be headed for a run-off in November.
The race to represent the Second Ward on the San Bernardino City Council over the next four years is a dead heat, one so close that there is a chance it will not be decided this summer but will require a run-off in November.