Williams Loses Reelection Bid In CVFD & Election Effort For IEUA Board Berth

Whether Winn Williams is a conscientious public servant who has been unfairly persecuted by his fellow elected officeholders or is an egocentric blowhard with a contrary attitude who has consistently prevented his colleagues from ensuring that the public interest is properly attended to, people won’t have him to kick around for at least another two years.
Williams, a former firefighter and an incumbent Chino Valley Fire District board member, in November vied for reelection to that post and also ran for a board position on the Inland Empire Utilities Agency.
He came up short in both contests.
Williams over five decades has singularized himself within the Chino Valley in association with the Chino Valley Fire District in both positive and negative ways. In 1974, at the age of 26, Williams became the youngest fire captain in the 124-year history of the district and its forerunners. Williams also holds the somewhat dubious distinction of being censured by his Chino Valley Fire District board colleagues not once but three times within a single year.
Williams’ history with the district is long and storied.
In 1969, at the age of 21, he was hired as a firefighter with the district. Five years later he reached the fire captain rank milestone. At that point, he seemed destined for an impressive career as firefighting professional.
Things moved off course, however, in 2000, when Williams suffered a back injury while on the job during a training exercise. In November 2001, at which time the Chino Valley Independent Fire District held its elections in odd-numbered years, Williams vied, unsuccessfully, for a position on the district’s board of directors. Williams finished fourth, failing to capture a position on the board.
In December 2001, Williams returned to work, but a little more than a month later, he was diagnosed with skin cancer, and on January 28, 2002, the district placed him on Section 4850 disability leave. On June 21, 2002, Williams submitted an application to the California Public Employees Retirement System for industrial disability retirement.
In 2004, after the district had moved to even-year elections, Williams was elected to serve a two-year term on the fire board in an election held to fill the gap created when a board member had resigned. In 2006, he was not reelected to that post.
In 2008, at the age of 59, Williams initiated an effort to be rehired as a firefighter, asserting he had by that point recovered from his injury. When the district declined to rehire him, he engaged in a series of three legal actions to be reinstated as a firefighter, two in state court and one in federal court, all of which were ultimately unsuccessful.
Also in 2008, he vied for the fire board, but was unsuccessful. In each election over the next eight years, in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016, he ran for the fire board and was unsuccessful each time.
During that period, Williams was a frequent attendee at the district board meetings, where he often weighed in on various issues relating to district operations, occasionally in a way that was critical of board policy. Williams said that during his first two-year stint on the board, “I regret that I didn’t always speak up back then when I should have.” He said assuming the role of the district watchdog during the twelve years he was not on the board was a way of making up for his previous reticence.
In 2018, after losing in six straight elections, Williams captured 18,136 votes, or 26.44 percent, which was good enough for second place in a four-way race, with two seats in the balance. He thus ousted incumbent Ed Gray, who had first been elected to the board in 2004, and with whom Williams had served during the two years when he was previously on the board.
Williams maintains tense relations between him and other members of the board and the hostility of district staff toward him manifested almost immediately upon his swearing in in December 2018, enmity he says is a partially an outgrowth of his having unseated Gray, with whom he says the other members of the board had a chummy relationship.
Williams has a personality conflict with the district’s fire chief, Tim Shackelford. Williams has noted that Shackelford’s father, Ray Shackelford, was previously the district’s fire chief, and he contends that the district was and is poorly run by both father and son. He says the district is not a meritocracy in which the most capable are promoted, but rather one in which favoritism in the form of cronyism and nepotism dominates.
The four other members of the board – John DeMonaco, Harvey Luth, Sarah Evinger-Ramos and Mike Kreeger – contend that Williams is obsessed with his own personal issues relating to his inability to rehire with the district, which they say has kept him from focusing on the district’s current challenges and demands. Williams having thrice sued the district puts them in an awkward position, they say. His constant negativism with regard to the department’s personnel, in particular Fire Chief Tim Shackelford, prevents them from having even the semblance of productive discussions with him, they maintain.
Very early in his most recent tenure as a board member, Williams found himself involved in a contretemps district officials say was of his own making and which he contends was an outgrowth of his effort to cooperate with his board colleagues and Chief Shackelford. In that incident, Williams went to the district’s headquarters and asked the district’s board secretary, Sandra Heney, to photocopy documents relating to two of his lawsuits, including the original complaints, to provide them to the district’s “conflict resolution” consultant, Mike Messina, whom Williams had been asked to meet with and who, apparently, expressed interest in learning about the basis of Williams’ animus toward the district. District officials assert that asking Heney to use district equipment to make the photocopies was an inappropriate personal use of the district’s assets. Williams’ interaction with Heney has formed the basis of much of the board’s dispute with Williams. Williams says his requests of, attitude toward and comportment with Heney has been proper.
In February 2019, the board censured Williams for violations of what the board said was district policy. Censures of elected officials are exceedingly rare, and usually are a move of last or near-last resort by members of a governing board against a colleague with whom they do not get along. The February 2019 censure of Williams, coming barely two months after he was sworn in and just three months after he had been elected, appears to be the most rapid application of the censure process against an elected official in San Bernardino County history. Four months later, in June 2019, the board censured Williams once more.
In the summer of 2019, the board declined DeMonaco’s request that Williams be censured again. At the board’s September 11, 2019 meeting, however, Williams openly stated Fire Chief Tim Shackelford was inadequate for the assignment he had been given, and he accused him of indolence in ensuring the firefighters under his command are trained and prepared to fight fires. Citing the so-called Star Fire in Chino Hills that burned 156-acres and a high-priced home on July 28 of that year, Williams irascibly intoned, “Our leadership are all paramedics first and firefighters a distant second.” He then leveled this invective toward Shackelford: “You’re a disgrace to this department, and a disgrace to this community, and every day you remain as chief, your incompetent leadership puts the residents of this community at risk.”
Having endured two previous censures and constant repudiation by his elected colleagues, Williams was once again reprimanded that fall for his conduct considered unbecoming to the district.
The third censure in eight months was approved by a 3-to-1 vote of the board on October 9, 2019, with Williams dissenting and DeMonaco, Evinger-Ramos and Kreeger voting in favor of placing yet another black check next to Williams’ name. Luth was absent from the meeting.
In approving the third censure, the board held that such public criticism of district staff is unacceptable, damaging to district employee morale and counter to the efficient operation of the district. The board also relied on a report from Shackelford that said Williams had unscheduled contact with district personnel, and that Williams had gone into non-public areas of the district’s administration building at 14011 City Center Drive on October 2, 2019.
Williams was accused of violating rules previously imposed on him limiting his privilege of speaking with or contacting employees of the district, despite his status as an elected board member overseeing the district.
Additionally, DeMonaco objected to what he said was Williams’ gratuitous physical contact with district personnel when he has spoken with them.“If they don’t want to shake your hand,” DeMonaco said, “you are not to touch them.”
Williams insisted that he was sincere in his complaint that the district has been incompetently run and tainted by nepotism. District officials counter that Williams sought, gained and was making use of his public office not to benefit those who put their faith in him by electing him but to carry out a personal vendetta.
Williams has accused his rivals on the board and Shackelford of “manufacturing” evidence against him. He said the censures carry no legal weight and that the district does not have the authority to limit his right to seek out information he needs to function in his role as a board member.
In the three years ensuing since the censures, Williams avoided, in large measure, the controversy he had embroiled himself in during the first year of his return to the board.
Many of his constituents see him as a troublemaker who is full of himself and more interested in his own personal issues than the efficient operation of the district. He has been caricatured as someone who previously sought and this year was seeking election to a governmental post so he could hold office and pad his public pension. Still, there are others who maintain that he was a dedicated and competent firefighter before his injury forced him into unwanted retirement. They say he speaks from experience and an informed knowledge of how the district is run and has brought attention to the shortcomings in the way district personnel conduct themselves and attend to providing emergency response to the residents and businesses in the Chino Valley. It is the other members of the board and not Williams, they say, who have grown inattentive and lackadaisical in their approach to monitoring how the district provides its critical services to the public.
The public, it seems, is almost evenly divided in its assessment of Williams’ sincerity in wanting to guide the fire district. He lost in his effort to remain as a board member with the fire district, but not by an overwhelming margin.
In the race to retain his position on the fire board in the district’s Division 3, he came up short, behind former Chino City Councilman Tom Haughey, polling 3,279 votes or 47.05 percent to Haughey’s 3,690 votes or 52.95 percent.
In the race for the position on the Inland Empire Utilities Agency Board representing that entity’s Division 3, he lost far more convincingly to incumbent Steve Elie, who collected 23,332 votes or 64.87 percent to Williams’ 12,637 votes or 35.13 percent.
-Mark Gutglueck

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