His Pension Maxed Out, Hesperia City Manager Bentsen Retiring After Six Years

Having reached the point where he will receive as much by collecting his pension as he currently makes in salary, Hesperia city manager Nils Bentsen is officially retiring as of Sunday.
Bentsen will be replaced by Assistant City Manager Rachel Molina.
Bentsen was the Hesperia Station commander with the sheriff’s department for slightly less than three years when the Hesperia City Council in January 2016, faced with the retirement of City Manager Mike Podegracz, selected Bentsen as his replacement. Bentzen at that point had 27 years’ experience in law enforcement, but no real experience or training in municipal management.
One of the things that did recommend Bentsen to the post was his intimate familiarity, as a native son, with the Hesperia community. He attended Hesperia Christian School and Victor Valley College. In his capacity as the Hesperia sheriff’s station commander, a position tantamount to being police chief in Hesperia insofar as Hesperia contracts with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services, he was less aloof than many of those who had previously held the station commander’s post and he had engaged regularly with residents, city employees and elected officials.
During his tenure as city manager, the city faced some challenges beyond what were already difficult issues in the City of Progress.
When Bentsen took on the post of city manager, the city had long been dealing with the legacy of Penn Phillips, the founder of modern Hesperia, who had created a residential community after purchasing the entire Township of Hesperia for $1.5 million in 1954, and then installed infrastructure that was inferior and inadequate to support the population that came to inhabit what was eventually incorporated into a city in 1988. The first several generations of the city’s political leadership, in some cases because of natural inclination and in other cases as a consequence of graft and corruption, were virulently pro-development in their orientation toward running and managing the city, opting to allow the building industry to proceed with project after project that was accompanied by inadequate infrastructure, thereby perpetuating and exacerbating the infrastructure deficit that had characterized the community from the time before Phillips abandoned it to pursue his “get rich quick” scheming elsewhere. The situation in Hesperia was not enhanced by the consideration that its first city manager was Robert Rizzo, who militated with investment and development interests in Orange County to commit the city’s governmental structure to facilitating and having the city’s taxpayers subsidize elaborate developmental schemes in which the cost of infrastructure was to be underwritten by the public rather than the entities that profited by the residential and commercial subdivisions that were popping up all over the more-than-70-square-mile city.Further long-existent detractions to the city consisted of the Burlington-Northern Railway Line that bifurcated the city and made crossing from the city’s east to west and vice versa possible only at three locations and the consideration that when the city first incorporated it was saddled with an arrangement put in place which provides it with a return of only 1.57 percent to 1.59 percent of the property tax collected within its borders. In this regard, Hesperia is the long-forgotten stepchild of San Bernardino County, receiving the lowest percentage of property tax among all of the county’s 24 incorporated municipalities.
Bentsen proved to be a more apt municipal manager than many of his detractors thought someone professionally trained to be a policeman would turn out to be. Still, he made mistakes, including one that was clearly an outgrowth of his professional orientation as a lawman. 
One of those was the formulation of the City of Hesperia’s “Crime Free Rental Housing Ordinance,” which was devised by Bentsen while he was yet Hesperia police chief and first put into place under Podegracz but which was fully implemented during Bentsen’s tenure and remained in effect between January 1, 2016 and its amendment on July 18, 2017. It required all rental property owners to evict tenants upon notice by the sheriff’s department that the tenants had engaged in any alleged criminal activity on or near the property. In 2019, the U.S. Justice Department under the administration of then-President Donald Trump filed a lawsuit alleging both the City of Hesperia and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in pursuing the program aimed at reducing crime discriminated against African American and Latino renters in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
The federal lawsuit alleged that the city, with substantial support from the sheriff’s department, enacted the ordinance and then enforced it in such a way as to address what one city Hesperia councilmember called a “demographical problem,” which was defined as the city’s increasing African-American and Latino population. The ordinance resulted in the evictions of numerous African-American and Latino renters, according to the U.S. Justice Department. The complaint further alleged that the sheriff’s department exercised its substantial discretion in enforcement to target African-American and Latino renters and areas of Hesperia heavily populated with so-called “protected minorities,” including Latinos and African-Americans. Although the ordinance purported to target “criminal activity,” the sheriff’s department notified landlords to begin evictions of entire families – including children – for conduct involving one tenant or even non-tenants, evictions of victims of domestic violence, and evictions based on mere allegations and without evidence of criminal activity, according to the civil complaint.
The city’s need to defend against the suit marred much of Bentsen’s tenure as city manager. In December 2022, a settlement of the federal suit was brokered between U.S. Justice Department and the City of Hesperia.
As a retired law enforcement officer, Bentsen is due, under the San Bernardino County Employees Retirement System, known by its acronym SBCERA, a pension equal to 3 percent of his top pay as a sheriff’s captain times the number of years – 27 – he was employed by the sheriff’s department. As a city manager with Hesperia, under the California Public Employees Retirement System, he is entitled to a pension equal to 3 percent of his salary as a city manager times the number of years – seven – he was employed by the city. Thus, with 34 total years as a public employee, Bentsen is eligible to pull a pension equal to 100 percent of his current pay of $243,751.56, subject to a three percent cost of living increase per year, each year for the rest of his life. Upon his death, his wife will be eligible to a continuation of a pension equal to half of that for the rest of her life.
In this way, the incentive to retire was too great for Bentsen to resist.
According to Kelly Brady, Hesperia public relations analyst, “Bentsen’s last day of service to the City of Hesperia will be June 18.”
Brady said, “Assistant City Manager Rachel Molina will serve as the city’s next city manager, effective June 19, 2023.” Molina, a longtime Hesperia resident with over 16 years of service to the city, was offered an employment contract, unanimously approved by the Hesperia City Council in October 2022, following City Manager Nils Bentsen’s retirement announcement.
“We are very pleased to make this appointment from within our existing city leadership team that will allow for as seamless a transition as possible for the organization and the community,” said Hesperia Mayor Brigit Bennington. “Rachel has served our community exceptionally for many years and is a proven leader in municipal government. For these reasons, she is well-positioned to lead our city into the future.”
Molina was first employed by the city in 2007 as a senior office assistant in the city manager’s office. Since then, she has served in various positions, including public information officer, deputy city manager and assistant city manager.
“The opportunity to be Hesperia’s city manager is an honor and I appreciate the support of our city council to serve in this new capacity,” said Molina. “Over the past 16 years, I have worked alongside an incredible team of dedicated public servants to provide exceptional services and programs to our residents and other community stakeholders. I look forward to continuing our important initiatives that improve our quality of life as Hesperia grows and prospers.”
Molina holds a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from Chapman University and a master’s degree in public administration from California Baptist University.
-Mark Gutglueck

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