The long-anticipated report of the investigation into Barstow Mayor Paul Courtney’s activities and alleged abuse of authority was released earlier this month, done verbally as a report of discussion that had taken place during a closed session of the council and its attorney at the November 7 city council meeting.
Coming as it did, in a fleeting announcement by City Attorney Matthew Summers without being provided in written form and a day before the November 8 election, the report was largely ignored by the public.
The council had commissioned the report on December 20, 2021, the same night it had voted 4-to-0, with Courtney abstaining, to censure the mayor over accusations that he was harassing city employees.
It has not been definitively clarified as to who performed what was termed by the city an “independent” investigation conducted by a “third-party investigator.” Reportedly, the major parts of the inquiry were handled by Laguna Niguel-based attorney Jeffrey Love, a former investigator with the Irvine Police Department.
After coming out of closed session, Summers reported the investigation team, which he did not specify, interviewed Courtney and 19 others and reached its conclusions, “based on a preponderance of evidence standards.”
According to Summers, the third-party investigator found that Courtney:
“1) Engaged in inappropriate behavior regarding the hiring of a city employee and provided false information to the former interim city manager about the matter;
2) Engaged in intimidating behavior, threatening to terminate the employment of several city employees who he did not favor or who were connected to his political rivals and/or opponents. Of the several city employees who alleged having their jobs threatened by the mayor, the investigator found that only one of the employees did not have their job threatened by the Courtney;
3) Gave inappropriate operational direction to city staff on matters that fall under the authority of the city manager;
4) Attempted to elicit the City of Barstow’s chief of police to arrest and/or issue citations to Courtney’s political rivals and to arrest those who spoke out against him at city council meetings;
5) Revealed confidential and sensitive city council closed session meeting information to others who had no need or right to know the information;
6) Made inappropriate comments concerning city employees;
7) “Used various manipulation tactics on employees to pit one employee against another to engender loyalty to himself;
8) Employed heavy-handed communication techniques with various employees, leaving the employees feeling that their jobs were in danger.”
Summers stated that in response to the findings, the city council had voted in closed session with all members except Courtney in agreement to direct the mayor to “refrain from communicating with any city employees except the city manager, the 911 system, or as allowed by the First Amendment, or other applicable laws.”
Courtney was barred, Summers said, “from City Hall except as his physical presence is legally required by applicable law such as for council meetings.” Summers said Courtney was directed to “not provide any direction to any city employees other than the city manager and then only as part of a city council majority vote in a lawful meeting,” and to “not retaliate against any individual who he knows or who he may reasonably anticipate made a complaint, was a witness or otherwise participated in this investigation, nor to attempt to influence any individual who he knows or who he may reasonably anticipate made a complaint, was a witness or other person who otherwise participated in this investigation.”
Summers said the report was sent to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office’s Public Integrity Unit.
Courtney says his activity has been aboveboard and he is being attacked because of his political differences with Councilwoman Barbara Rose and Councilman Tim Silva.