By Mark Gutglueck
A five-eighths split of the San Bernardino City Council is leaning toward hiring Salinas City Manager Steven S. Carrigan as the county seat’s top municipal administrator, reliable sources have told the Sentinel.
Since shortly after the official confirmation of Mayor Helen Tran’s November 2022 election victory, Robert Field’s tenure as San Bernardino city manager essentially drew to a close. Even before Tran was sworn into the mayor’s post, the city council, in the last gasp of the administration of Mayor John Valdivia, voted unanimously to accept Field’s resignation.
Field had been hired in September 2020, a little less than halfway into Valdivia’s four-year span as mayor. Field, in an astounding misreading of political alliances and reality for someone in his position, had assumed Valdivia to not only be the titular leader of the city, but its dominant political personage as well. And while Valdivia in the months after his November 2018 election as mayor had controlled as many as five of the votes on the city council, making him the head of a ruling council coalition at that time, by the end of Summer 2019, his relationship with three of the council members he had counted upon for support in governing the county’s largest city – Councilman Teddy Sanchez, Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra and Councilman Henry Nickel – had begun to deteriorate. In March 2020, a full six months before Field was hired, then-Sixth Ward Councilwoman Bessine Richards, one of only two remaining Valdivia allies on the council, had been defeated in her reelection bid. Richards was replaced by Kimberly Calvin in December 2020.
During the three months between Field’s hiring as city manager and the installment of a differently-composed city council in December 2020 that saw Calvin replace Richards in the Sixth Ward, Ben Reynoso replace Henry Nickel in the Fifth Ward and Damon Alexander replace Jim Mulvihill in the Seventh Ward, Field on a number of issues began militating to assist Valdivia in his political agenda. That agenda involved promoting the fortunes of entities that had provided Valdivia with campaign contributions and other forms of monetary support. Those entities were seeking city contracts or project approval for their undertakings. In this way, Field, who on one level believed he was merely doing the bidding of his political masters, was actually getting crosswise of a majority of the council which was at odds with Valdivia.In 2022, despite the substantial fundraising advantage that Valdivia had accumulated over all of his declared opponents for mayor, the pay-to-pay ethos that inhabited his tenure as mayor had so damaged his reputation that he was able to manage no better than a third-place finish in the June primary election among seven candidates. Tran, as the top vote-getter in the June primary, won the November 2022 run-off in the race against the second-place finisher, former San Bernardino City Attorney James Penman.
Field’s resignation as city manager was accepted in early December 2022 and became official as of January 16, 2023.
The San Bernardino City Council in January turned to former San Bernardino City Manager Charles McNeely, who had overseen the city between 2009 and 2012, to serve in the capacity of interim city manager while an effort to find a replacement for Field was undertaken.
With seven months having elapsed, word now comes that Tran and four of the seven ward-elected members of the city council have arrived at a consensus to offer a contract to Carrigan, who has served in the capacity of Salinas city manager since January 2021, to relocate to San Bernardino and guide municipal operations.
In addition to Tran, those satisfied with Carrigan’s ability and bona fides, the Sentinel is informed, are First Ward Councilman Ted Sanchez, Second Ward Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra, Third Ward Councilman Juan Figueroa and Fourth Ward Councilman Fred Shorett. According to the information available to the Sentinel, Fifth Ward Councilman Ben Reynoso, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Kimberly Calvin and Seventh Ward Councilman Damon Alexander either have misgivings with regard to Carrigan or are not 100 percent sold on believing he will make a good fit with San Bernardino.
The 59-year-old Carrigan has been working in the public sector for more than 27 years.
He has a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from the University of Arizona.
He served eight years as the economic development director in Stockton. Thereafter, he worked as the assistant city manager of 25,000-population Sanger in Fresno County. In 2013, he was hired as the city manager of 37,000-population Los Banos in Merced County and in 2015, the city council with 84,000-population Merced, the county seat of Merced County, hired him as city manager on a three-year contract. That contract was extended, but in 2020, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, his efforts to have the city adhere to health precautions and mandates imposed by the State of California rubbed several members of the Merced City Council, in particular then-Mayor Mike Murphy, the wrong way. When Carrigan in the face of the council’s questioning expenditures he had signed off on to comply with those mandates persisted in making certain purchases of items meant to meet state regulations, he was faced with what looked to be a 6-to-1 vote by the council to terminate him without a citation of cause. He resigned in lieu of termination. Statements by Murphy and other members of the council suggested they were dismayed by Carrigan’s assertion of his authority as city manager to declare a state of emergency in the city without first running it by them.
Carrigan did not remain idle long after being liberated from his Merced assignment. Soon thereafter, he applied for an emerging opening as Salinas’ city manager when Ray Corpuz Jr. left that post in September 2000. In a competition against 77 other applicants, he underwent interviews by the mayor and city council that were in place prior to the November 2020 election and then further interviews with the new mayor and reconstituted council after the election. Ultimately, he was deemed the most suitable candidate and given the contract in January 2021.
Elements of Carrigan’s function, performance and accomplishments in his past municipal assignments correspond with the perception that at least some San Bernardino officials have of what is called for in a management professional for their city. Carrigan’s experience as an economic development director oriented him favorably toward development and economic expansion, including incentivizing development by governmental subsidizations of projects or through private/public partnerships. While he was in Los Banos, he was a prime mover in an effort by city officials to develop a 1,585-acre industrial park along Interstate 5 and Highway 165.
In Salinas, he has wrestled with similar issues that have bedeviled San Bernardino, which sought bankruptcy protection in 2012 and is beset with a recalcitrant homelessness problem and crime issues, including being consistently ranked at being anywhere between the eighth and 52nd most crime-ridden city in the country over the last 12 years. In Salinas, a substantial amount of Carrigan’s time was taken up with dealing with the city’s institutionalized budget deficit, crime, homelessness and efforts to create affordable housing.
One issue that local residents find disturbing about the San Bernardino City Council majority’s apparent offer of employment to Carrigan and his willingness to accept it is Carrigan’s commitment in 2021, at the time of his hiring by Salinas, to remain as city manager. Much was made of his move to the city and purchase of a home there as a show of that commitment. That he is now breaking, or on the verge of breaking, that commitment and that the mayor and San Bernardino City Council are abetting him in the violation of that commitment is considered a poor omen or inauspicious beginning of Carrigan’s tenure in San Bernardino.
Carrigan’s appointment is anticipated as early as Monday, August 28. The city council is scheduled to convene in a specially-called closed session at 5:30 p.m., at which it is to discuss a public employee appointment of the city manager.
By Mark Gutglueck