By Mark Gutglueck
With the final political piece now in place, there is acute concern among informed individuals concealed within the county government’s structure that the county’s taxpayers are about to be taken on a $7 million to $11 million ride by one of the board of supervisors’ more obscure, but nevertheless generous, patrons.
Of note is the creative fashion in which what have been characterized as payoffs are being delivered to the politicians who will make an ultimate determination on the projects in question and whose personal interests are driving the giveaway of public money.
All five of the current members of the board of supervisors – Curt Hagman, Dawn Rowe, Paul Cook, Joe Baca Jr. and Jesse Armendarez – have been compromised by the ultimate intended beneficiary of the proposed set of projects and his political operative.Key to the planned diversion of public money into the pockets of a deeply self-interested private sector entity, his agent of political influence and the elected officials being corrupted is exploitation of a loophole in California law that allows for the suspension of the requirement that public projects be awarded through an open bidding process. Crucial as well is the willingness of the county’s two top staff officials – in order to protect their respective $550,000-plus per year and $350,000-plus per year total annual compensations – to allow what is estimated at more than $100 million to be expended on projects which they know will enrich a benefactor of their political masters on the board of supervisors while simultaneously costing taxpayers approaching or exceeding $10 million more for the provision of services that could be obtained from other business entities offering a comparable set of services and improvements at a substantially lower cost.
The formula for this taxpayer-funded giveaway has already been applied on a lesser scale with the cities of Upland, Fontana and Rialto.
At play is a determination by the county’s top elected officials and their senior staff members to obtain future electioneering funding, both for themselves and their political allies and protégé. Equally involved is a determination by former County Supervisor/Assessor Bill Postmus to overcome his 2011 conviction on a variety of public officer corruption charges and reassert himself as a major political force in the county. The third ingredient is the opportunity for and ability of a private sector contractor to exploit Postmus’s desire and the financial needs of the present set of supervisors who have succeeded Postmus and his colleagues who are now overseeing the county’s governmental structure.
San Diego-based Alliance Building Solutions, which is owned by Brad Chapman, has found a niche in the energy efficiency market. While Chapman’s company does a modest amount of work in the private sector in commercial or industrial/manufacturing settings, its specialty is catering to public agencies, utilities, schools and governments.
In recent years, governmental entities at all levels have gone on an energy efficiency kick. Emerging technologies have improved insulation methodologies for buildings, keeping them cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning unit design has evinced substantial improvements, such that less energy is used in heating furnaces whether they are electrically-powered or burn gas or oil. Similarly, there have been improvements to air conditioning units that allow them to operate using far less current for the same cooling effect than was achieved in older models. Improvements in light bulbs and florescent tubes provide today equal or greater luminosity than did previous generation illumination devices that used twice as much electricity. Solar panels as well as solar film can now be mounted on the roofs of buildings or south-facing walls to provide a substantial amount of the electricity used within those buildings.
Servicing the public sector confers upon Alliance Building Solutions an advantage it does not have when it deals with the general public and private companies.
Generally speaking and with a few exceptions, governments are required to carry out a competitive bidding process when contracting for services or the delivery of goods. From the standpoint of the governmental entity or public agency and taxpayers, competitive bidding offers a multitude of advantages. Among those are the opportunity it provides to scrutinize myriad options with regard to the products available, examine the level and types of service, consider the qualifications, experience and track record of those offering to provide the service as well as an opportunity to purchase the goods or services sought at the lowest available cost. While in most cases governments and public agencies at all levels are required by law to utilize a competitive bid process, that requirement is suspended in certain circumstances such as emergencies or where the urgency for the service or goods is so great that soliciting, receiving and evaluating bids would result in a delay that would harm public safety, health or wellbeing.
Another specific exception to the competitive bid requirement for public agencies and governments in California relates to energy efficiency projects. As long as a public agency or government can demonstrate that the products, work or service to be provided will result in improved energy efficiency or a reduction in fuel or energy use as well as show that some savings in cost will accrue to the entity contracting for the service, it need not conduct a bidding process but can simply award a contract to a licensed provider of that service. While not conducting a competitive bidding process on energy conservation or energy efficiency projects is an option for governments and public agencies, they can, if they so choose, seek competitive bids. The process of soliciting bids is referred to in government jargon as a request for proposals.
Already in San Bernardino County, Alliance Building Solutions has gotten three multi-million dollar no-bid contracts from three cities – one worth $6.7 million in Rialto; another for $6.7 million in Upland; and a third that took place in three stages for a total of $9.4 million in Fontana – all of which involved outfitting their facilities with energy conservation systems and products and installing alternative energy supply sources such as solar energy facilities on rooftops and carports. In all of those cases, there was no competitive bidding on the projects, the contracts for which were simply conferred upon Alliance Building Solutions.
Word has reached the Sentinel that the County of San Bernardino over the next several years will embark on similar efforts to efficientize its energy use, reduce its energy consumption and engage in, where feasible and most useful, alternative energy production. Reportedly, county officials are prepared to spend well over $100 million on such projects and, depending on the county’s success in obtaining state and primarily federal grants for that purpose, conceivably a quarter of a billion dollars toward those goals over the coming decade.
Because the energy efficiency programs are ones that are exempt from the government’s open competitive bid requirement, they present an ideal opportunity for the decisionmakers overseeing the ultimate approval of the project, in this case the members of the board of supervisors, to show favoritism toward a selected contractor outside the realm of standard accountability.
In this case, the pending approvals of the facility modernization projects that are slated well ahead of time to go to Alliance Building Solutions are a function of Bill Postmus’s return to a position of prominence within San Bernardino County’s political establishment.
Roughly a quarter of a century ago, Postmus launched the most meteoric political ascent in San Bernardino County history. A founder and charter member of the High Desert Young Republicans in the 1990s, in 2000, at the age of 29, Postmus was elected First District San Bernardino County Supervisor, the fifth youngest supervisor in county history. Four years later, in 2004, he was reelected supervisor and acceded to the position of chairman of the board of supervisors, the second-youngest person in county history to hold that post. He was simultaneously elected chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee. In 2006, he successfully vied for county assessor, the highest taxing authority in the county, a position of tremendous influence from which it was widely assumed he would leap to the next position up the political evolutionary chain, either within the state legislature as an assemblyman or state senator or that he might bypass Sacramento altogether and make a run for U.S. Congress.
Within two years, however, after soaring to the highest echelon of county government and establishing himself as a kingmaker to whom all other politicians paid homage, Postmus came crashing down even more abruptly and dramatically than he had risen. In February 2009, he resigned as county assessor amidst overwhelming scandal involving the use of the assessor’s function for political purposes, adjusting county taxes to favor his political allies and penalize his political foes, hiring no fewer than 11 political operatives with no experience, knowledge or expertise relating to real estate or property valuation who utilized county facilities to engage in partisan political activity and his own personal drug use, in particular that of methamphetamine. A year after his resignation, he had been hit with a series of 14 political corruption charges, including bribery, conspiracy, misappropriation of public funds, public office conflict of interest, fraud, conspiracy to accept a bribe, soliciting a bribe, receiving a bribe, embezzlement by a public officer, two counts of grand theft and perjury. In 2011, he entered guilty pleas on all 14 counts.
To Postmus, whose imagination as a 9-year-old had been captured by Ronald Reagan’s spectacular election as president in 1980, that conviction practically ended his life as he knew it and always anticipated it would be. His calling, he believed, was to be a politician. His goal in life had been that he would go as far up the political ladder as he could ascend, and for himself and many of his supporters, becoming a U.S. Senator or even governor seemed well within his reach, even though one day residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. might have been a bit too far-fetched. But under California law, Postmus’s political aspirations were dashed, as the conviction he had sustained on a public office conflict of interest charge – violating Government Code Section 1090 – carried with it a lifetime ban on holding elected office in the Golden State.
Postmus longed to get back into the political game and he began casting about for a way he might do so. Having resigned himself to no longer being a politician, per se, in 2013 he pulled himself together, determining he would once more to make his way in the political world, not as an officeholder but as a political operative. He sojourned to Wyoming, where he established a limited liability company, Mountain States Consulting Group. He had no real intention of actually doing business in Wyoming, but was interested in taking advantage of the relatively sparse reporting requirements for registered businesses in the Equality State. Returning to California, he started off tentatively, laying the groundwork for his reemergence into the thick of San Bernardino County’s often contentious political scene.
The first order of business was to align himself with the dominant political bloc.
Postmus hired one of his protégés, Victor Valley College Associated Student Body Council and Senate Parliamentarian/Vice President Jeremiah Brosowske, as Mountain States Consulting Group’s primary employee. Together, Postmus and Brosowske in 2013 sought to make themselves indispensable to Curt Hagman, the one-time Chino Hills mayor who was then in his third term in the California Assembly and therefore under the term limit rules then in effect no longer eligible to run for reelection to California’s lower legislative house. Hagman was intent to transition to the position of Fourth District San Bernardino County supervisor, which was to be contested in the 2014 election. To better position himself for the supervisorial race, Hagman orchestrated a silent coup to move then-San Bernardino County Republican Party Chairman Robert Rego out of the county party’s top spot and assume it himself. Once he had acceded to the county party chairmanship, Hagman worked closely with the then-22-year-old Brosowske, who exhibited an uncommon enthusiasm and energetic intensity in his involvement on behalf of the Republican Party. As the new county party chairman, Hagman, at Postmus’s urging, gave Brosowske one challenging assignment after another, which he dutifully fulfilled. Hagman proudly proclaimed that his protégé Brosowske had involved himself in 14 separate electoral efforts on behalf of Republican candidates in the 2014 election, and all 14 had won. Consequently, Hagman hired Brosowske at the age of 23 into the post of executive director of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee.
In this way, through his connections with Hagman and Brosowske, Postmus had once again placed himself within the inner circle of those controlling Republican politics in San Bernardino County.
In 2014, Postmus used Mountain States Consulting Group as a vehicle for successfully supporting Paul Russ, one of his longtime associates, in his run for the Hesperia City Council. In 2016, he used Mountain States to assist several hopefuls in the race for the Republican Central Committee held during that year’s June Primary and he coordinated the successful Hesperia City Council candidacy of Rebekah Swanson, the wife of one of his longtime political associates, Eric Swanson, in that year’s November race.
For Postmus, who understood implicitly and explicitly how the political system works with its circular pay-to-play element of control and governance where politicians take in money from those with an interest in the governmental decision-making process, use that money to get into office or stay in office and vote to approve the development projects or the contracts or the franchises of those who have donated that money, Mountain States Consulting proved the ideal vehicle for reestablishing himself as a political player. He had been caught boldly and baldly engaging in quid pro quos – bribetaking in which he sold his votes or actions as an officeholder to entities with a financial interest in governmental decisions or policies. Now as the owner of Mountain States Consulting Group, he could offer politicians a way to engage in the same pay-to-play ethos that had tripped him up so that they would not get caught and be stigmatized with criminal convictions as he had been. Mountain States took money originating with individuals or companies with a stake in governmental decisions, laundered it through his company and then provided that money, either as legitimate political donations or payments in some other form to the politicians making those decisions. In this way, Postmus employs Mountain States Consulting Group as a cutout, insulating the recipients of the money – the politicians – from those who are providing the money. When Postmus properly executes on this mission, it protects the politicians from the perception that their votes are being purchased, which has political benefits, while serving to lessen to some extent the possibility that the politicians he is funneling money to will be subject to enforcement action for engaging in what in the final analysis is out-and-out illegal activity, the taking of kickbacks.
Brosowske, Postmus and others believed, possessed the charisma, attitude, perseverant dedication and temperament the GOP needed in its leadership and elected officeholders to offset the increasing advantage the Democrats have been accruing over the Republicans in San Bernardino County in terms of voter registration numbers. Postmus began grooming the younger man for office, such as that of county supervisor or a place in the state legislature and Congress Postmus had once aspired to but ultimately failed to achieve.
In May of 2018, Hesperia Mayor Russ Blewett died. Rather than hold an election to fill the resulting vacancy until what would have been the end of Blewett’s term later that year, the council, after elevating Councilman Bill Holland into the mayor’s position, invited residents of the city to apply for appointment to fill in the council gap. Postmus arranged to find Brosowske living quarters in Hesperia, and had him apply to serve as Blewett’s replacement. Since Postmus had been instrumental in getting two of the Hesperia City Council’s members at that time – Paul Russ and Rebekah Swanson – elected to their positions, he was able to readily convince them to support Brosowske’s appointment. With some minimal lobbying of Holland, another Republican, Postmus was able to get him to support Brosowske as well. Just like that, Brosowske, at the age 27 was the youngest member of all of the city and town councils in San Bernardino County’s 24 municipalities. Running in the November 2018 race as an incumbent council member, Brosowske, using his own electioneering savvy and the support of Postmus and the Republican Party and its donors, won that election.
At that point, Postmus was back with a vengeance, and he was well on the way to once again becoming the de facto kingpin of San Bernardino County politics, the hidden hand behind the fundraising efforts for Third District County Supervisor Dawn Rowe and First District Supervisor Paul Cook in their successful 2000 election efforts and that of Jesse Armendarez in his 2022 Second District supervisorial victory, to say nothing of the guidance he gave with regard to the shaping of the campaigns themselves.
A key element in this is the role Postmus plays in guiding not just the candidates for office but a good cross section of the major political donors in the county.
A case in point is Reggie King. From 1999 until 2008 King was the second most prolific individual donor to San Bernardino County politicians and from 2009 until 2018 the most generous financial sponsor of the county’s elected officials. He remains among the top five contributors to the political campaigns of officeholders throughout San Bernardino County. The chief executive officer of Young Homes, King is also a principal in or president of 15 other companies, including YHM, LLC; Young Homes Group, LLC; YH Communities LLC; North Trademark Builders, Inc; North Trademark Finance Company, LLC; PRJR Partner, Inc; Marsteller Investments, LLC; Jumong 81 LLC; Neoteric Entertainment Inc; Avenal Finance, LLC; RJJ Investments LLC; The Avenal Group, LLC; Avenal Auto & Marine LLC; and FHC Productions, Inc. In non-election years, King’s donations to elected office holders hover around $100,000 annually. In election years during the first two decades of the Third Millennium, King’s donations to local politicians typically reached or exceeded $200,000 annually. King told the Sentinel that he in large measure relies upon Postmus to guide him with regard to which candidates for public office he should support. Postmus, King said, was on top of the dynamics impacting local government and politics, and is able to discern trends and momentum in that regard and keep him ahead of the curve in terms of who is up and who is down in the clash between rival political camps.
King is not the only captain of local industry who has turned to Postmus for such guidance.
Consequently, the powers that be in San Bernardino County – officeholders at the municipal and county level – have reason to maintain a working relationship with Postmus. In this way, Postmus and Mountain States Consulting Group today exist as a juggernaut of influence at the local governmental level, an irresistible political force.
It is not lost on San Bernardino County’s political class, either, that it was former San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos who initially laid Postmus low by criminally charging him in 2009 and again in 2010 and obtaining the 14 convictions against him in 2011. Ramos was defeated by the current district attorney, Jason Anderson, in 2018. Anderson is disinclined to prosecute Postmus at this point out of political considerations, which has provided Postmus with a free hand to engage in political money laundering while facilitating the pay-to-play trade-offs between donors and politicians that have become his bread and butter.
Postmus has gone to bat for Chapman and Alliance Building Solutions, having effectively persuaded Hagman, Rowe, Cook and Armendarez – the four Republican members of the board of supervisors – that they should allow Alliance Building Solutions to simply take on the county building and facility upgrades without having to engage in an open bid process, just as was the case in Upland, Rialto and Fontana.
The remaining member of the board of supervisors – Joe Baca Jr – was a member of the Rialto City Council when that city waived the bid competition requirement for Alliance Building Solutions, and he has been primed to repeat that in his supervisorial capacity. The county and the board stand ready to use the loophole in California law that allows projects that promote energy efficiency to be considered and approved outside the normal process of requiring a competitive bid.
At the county staff level there are two individuals who have the authority to intervene on behalf of the county’s taxpayers and make a point of forcing the issue in such a way that the board of supervisors would face unwanted public scrutiny of their decision to waive the competitive bid process for the building and facility upgrade projects: County Chief Executive Officer Leonard Hernandez and County Chief Operating Officer Luther Snoke. Either Hernandez or Snoke could exercise the discretion they possess to put into the staff reports relating to those projects a recommended waiver of the competitive bid process or, in the alternative, a recommendation that the county solicit bids on each of the projects separately or a series of the projects collectively.
The Sentinel is informed that Hernandez has already delegated oversight of the projects to Snoke with the understanding that Snoke will go along with the will of the board of supervisors that no competitive bidding take place.
There are multiple factors driving why no competitive bidding will occur. The first of these is the substantial increased profit Alliance Building Solutions stands to make if it is not forced to compete against other companies to obtain the contract. The contract would be awarded to the lowest responsible and responsive bidder. There are other companies that are prepared, if a bidding competition is held, to complete the projects in question at a lower cost than Alliance Building Solutions is prepared to accept for completing the upgrades.
The second factor, which proceeds from the first, is that Alliance Building Solutions is willing, if it is provided with the contracts to do the upgrades without having to lower its rates for the work in question by first having to underbid its competitors, to make consistent, generous and across the board political donations to the county’s elected officeholders in ways that would overcome the single-donor contribution limits that have been imposed on the members of the board of supervisors and those supporting them.
County supervisors are subject to a $4,900-per-election cycle limitation on how much money each of them can receive from a single donor.
One of the workarounds to this limit devised by Postmus is to have multiple individuals affiliated with Alliance Building Solutions or Chapman provide separate donations to the supervisors, as was the case on September 27 of last year in the midst of the Second District supervisorial race when Chapman and his wife, Regina, each gave $4,900 to the Armendarez for District 2 Supervisor 2022 campaign. Another strategy Postmus has come up with to overcome the contribution limit consists of donations made to independent expenditure committees, which are not bound by campaign donation limitations. A third potential means of bypassing the contribution restriction would involve providing the money to Postmus, who can use Mountain States Consulting Group to filter the money to the supervisors.
The third factor that is leading to the atmosphere in which no competitive bidding on the contracts Alliance Building Solutions covets consists of the reluctance of both Hernandez and Snoke to get crosswise of the supervisors and their collective desire to have Alliance Building Solutions obtain the contracts for the building and facilities upgrades.
Hernandez has been in the chief executive officer position since September 2020 and is presently receiving a total annual compensation package of $557,830.12, consisting of a $326,759.04 salary, $40,745.14 in add-ons and perquisites and $190,325.94 in benefits.
Snoke, who was previously a deputy county executive officer, was similarly moved into the chief operating officer post, which Hernandez vacated to become CEO, in 2020. Snoke is now making $358,859.69 in total annual compensation, which is composed of his $252,175.18 salary, add-ons and perquisites of $14,832.10 and $91,852.41 in benefits.
Some county employees who are knowledgeable about the move to award the building and facilities upgrade projects to Alliance Building Solutions describe Snoke as lacking the strength of character to stand up to his political masters as this would likely result in him losing his position as county chief operating officer and having to forego his substantial salary and benefit package.
Hernandez, the Sentinel is informed, has more job security than Snoke, as he has accumulated blackmail material on some of the current supervisors, which makes terminating him out of the question. Nevertheless, despite Hernandez’s willfulness and assertiveness in certain regards, his underlings with a window on the dynamic that exists between him and the members of the board of supervisors have told the Sentinel that he does not consider resisting the board with regard to the Alliance Building Solutions contracts to be a battle worth waging and ultimately compromising his mostly cordial and positive standing with the board, which might lead to future complications vis-à-vis his continuing in the county chief executive officer’s position.
Efforts by the Sentinel to get Hernandez, Snoke and Chapman to go on the record with regard to the reports that the county will enter into no-bid contracts with Alliance Building Solutions for the upgrading of county buildings were unsuccessful.
By Mark Gutglueck