Barstow Council Votes To Ban Mayor Courtney From City Hall

Based upon the preliminary findings of an internal investigation, Mayor Paul Anthony Courtney has been temporarily barred from having direct access with anyone at City Hall other than City Manager Willie Hopkins.
By a 4-to-0 vote of the city council during a closed session of the city council Monday night, September 12, a decision to end Courtney’s privileges as an elected official at City Hall was made. His office was sealed off and his key and passcode disabled.
No authorized statement regarding that action has been publicly made, although a written statement was, according to an employee within the city manager’s office, under preparation on Tuesday. That statement has yet to be provided to the press or public. The city attorney is to make a public report of the situation at the next meeting of the city council.More than eight months ago, on December 21, 2021, the Barstow City Council voted to censure Courtney, making an expression of disapproval for what its members said was Courtney’s use of his mayoral status and the city’s name and logo to engage in what was characterized as a political mailing camouflaged as an official handbill aimed at promoting the city but which Courtney’s critics maintained was intended to advance himself politically. He was further charged with overstepping his reach as mayor in effectuating official action.
Information as to what was examined in the most recent investigation of the mayor is being closely guarded by the city.
The agenda for the specially-called meeting did not explicitly state nor offer any indication that action against the mayor was being contemplated.
Listed on the agenda were three items, those being “Conference with legal counsel – initiation of litigation” [and] “Conference with legal counsel – anticipated litigation” [and] “Labor negotiations – (Government Code Section 54957.6) public employees.”
Under the section referencing anticipated litigation, the agenda stated, “A point has been reached where, in the opinion of the city council on the advice of its legal counsel, based on the below described existing facts and circumstances, there is a significant exposure to litigation against the city. Facts and circumstances that might result in litigation but which the city believes are not yet known to potential plaintiffs.”
There is a slight discrepancy with regard to the timing of the actions taken by the city and city council as well as the availability of the information upon which those decisions were based.
In the public comment section of the specially-called meeting Monday night, resident Mike Hernandez importuned the council to make public the findings of what has been represented as a “third-party” investigation of the mayor.
“The taxpayers paid for this, and they have a right to know what’s in it,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez also suggested it was a foregone conclusion that the mayor had engaged in the action his critics accuse him of, in particular threatening or intimidating city staff. He suggested the council had been remiss in protecting city staff and holding Courtney accountable.
This provoked a response from Councilman Tim Silva, made before the council went into its closed session, which suggested the action the council was to take had already been taken or that the outcome of the meeting was known in advance.
Silva said, “We did take action to keep the mayor from talking directly to city employees, all communication to city employees. The council vote, 4-0, is to go through the city manager. That was an action to protect city employees, so to say we did nothing to protect city employees is totally false.”
Councilwoman Barbara Rose doubled down on that assertion, saying, “We have taken multiple actions to protect our city staff employees, our city manager and the general public. We have shown over and over again at multiple meetings what stand we are taking. I wish we didn’t have to go that route, but the mayor has put us in no other position than to take that route, and so we are holding him accountable and [by] a third-party investigation and [with] any other investigations that are coming forward or lawsuits, we will continue to take those very seriously and do our due diligence and protect the city and the stakeholders.”
Also speaking before the council went into closed session Monday night was John Williams.
Addressing Courtney, Williams said, “You’ve put the city in a bad position. You said, ‘A better Barstow.’ What we’re getting is a bad Barstow. With your lawsuits, with your third-party investigation, and maybe another lawsuit if you sue the city, what are you doing? You just can’t stop, can you? We’re here tonight, for you. We’re going to be here for a long time tonight after you leave, because of you. This is the mayor of Barstow doing these things. No wonder we’re in trouble and we’re going to continue being in trouble, and there’s going to continue to be more lawsuits coming. Just step down. Go do your thing. Live your life and save the city of Barstow, because what you’re doing to the town you say you love, you’re destroying that. It is unbelievable where you went with this thing. I’m embarrassed for you. And I’m going to tell you, you’re a good man. You really are. You really do good things, but you just cannot do it. And then you’ve got puppets around you, and you rip that string up and the hand goes flying up in the air. It’s embarrassing. And everyone up there is allowing this to happen. It’s shameful.”
At 5:13 p.m., which was 18 minutes and 13 seconds into the 31 minutes-and-three seconds-long broadcast of the proceedings, the council adjourned into a closed session.
Initially, during the remaining portion of the broadcast, a static image was displayed on the viewing screen, which said, “City council closed session in process.”
The expectation of many was that the council would come out of the closed session, at which point a report of the action taken would be made. At a point 25 minutes 48 seconds into the meeting, however, a static image with the statement “Meeting is adjourned” was visible on the screen.
At 26 minutes and two seconds into the broadcast, a final static image was being displayed, stating “Report out of closed session will occur at the city council meeting on September 19th.”
The Sentinel learned of what had occurred when it was contacted by a city employee on Tuesday morning.
Speaking for himself and other staff members, the employee told the Sentinel, “We’re not surprised that Mayor Courtney treated city staff so badly. Based on his early actions as mayor in which he retaliated against key city officials, resulting in several lawsuits, our distinct impression of him is that he believes his power as mayor is absolute and beyond reproach. That was made apparent during the deliberations regarding his attempt to – with the apparent aid of the finance director – allegedly defraud the city of seven months’ worth of travel expenses. It wasn’t so much the amount of money the mayor wrongly claimed he was owed, but the fact that he blatantly ignored city policy in the way he applied for the reimbursement and the way it was approved.”
He added, with regard to Courtney, “The rules that everyone else must abide by don’t apply to him. Especially, apparently, the rules pertaining to the treatment of city staff who, according to municipal code, come under the direct supervision of the city manager and not the city mayor.”
Courtney told the Sentinel, “In a politically-motivated act intended to intimidate me personally and undermine my ability to fulfill my duties as the elected mayor of Barstow, I was stripped of my office at City Hall, and my ability to communicate with city staff outside of the city manager, chief of police and fire chief. This is a political hit job. I have done nothing wrong and have been deprived of my lawful right to due process. The city refused to provide me notice of the allegations against me, has presented no evidence against me, and has not cited any lawful basis for these unprecedented acts against a duly elected mayor. It is clear that my political opponents will do anything to attempt to remove me rather than do what is best for Barstow. I intend to fight this unlawful action and am committed to serving the people.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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