County Supervisors Settle On Promoting Snoke To Acting CEO

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors has elevated Luther Snoke, the county’s chief operating officer for the last 33 months, to the role of acting county chief executive officer in the aftermath of Leonard Hernandez’s forced exit from the county CEO position.
On August 8, Chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors Dawn Rowe, the last of a dwindling list of Hernandez’s defenders, reluctantly accepted that Hernandez would need to depart from the county after a revolt by a cross section of the county’s mid-level managers took place the previous week.
In July, after Hernandez had temporarily surrendered to Snoke day-to-day management of the county while he was away on vacation, a concerted move to block Hernandez from returning to his perch as the county’s top staff member materialized. That coup included inducing Pam Williams, Hernandez’s mistress whom he had promoted to the position of the county’s chief of administration within days of his assuming the position of county CEO in October 2020, to come forward and acknowledge the intimate relationship with sexual overtones that she had with Hernandez, while simultaneously seeking whistleblower protection.
Though multiple employees within county government’s executive and managerial echelons for some time had been aware of the relationship between Hernandez and Williams and had concerns that it was compromising the professional integrity of the organization, Hernandez and the county’s director of human resources, Diane Rundles, whom he promoted to the position of deputy executive officer in February, were able to squelch further discussion of the matter or criticism by terminating or forcing the resignations of those who complained about it.Hernandez had initially impressed the members of the board of supervisors with his ruthless efficiency when he had previously filled the role of county chief operating officer under former Chief Executive Officer Gary McBride and during his first year-and-a-half as CEO. His seeming effectiveness was achieved by his demonstrated intolerance of any order of resistance or dissent on the part of county department heads who were answerable to him. Those who hesitated at carrying out his directives, questioned the rationale for the orders or in any way temporized were harshly reprimanded, terminated or forced to resign.
Ultimately, what was taken as decisiveness and ability was revealed as heedless haste and injudiciousness, when several of the courses of action he pursued yielded less than desirable results.
By the summer of 2022 there were undeniable signs of lagging productivity and poor execution within multiple county departments. Things worsened from there.
In December 2022, the San Bernardino County Grand Jury stated that foster children under the supervision of “the San Bernardino County Department of Children and Family Services continue to be abused in resource family homes – formerly known as foster or county homes. Sadly, substantiated foster children abuse cases have increased every year from 2019 through 2021. Significantly, the substantiated abuse cases continue. [There are] no proactive measures to keep foster children from entering abusive resource family homes to begin with, and very little proactive efficient monitoring of these homes once the placement has been made. Foster children are put in danger in San Bernardino County. Children are still being abused in county resource family homes and other foster settings. The bureaucracy that permeates the San Bernardino County Department of Children and Family Services is so extensive, complicated, secretive, and inefficient that the grand jury strongly recommends the department of children and family services be abolished, and a new system be created to help raise and parent foster children in the county. The department of children and family services is too broken to fix.”
On February 15, 2023 the National Weather Service gave an indication that a major weather front was going to converge on Southern California beginning as early as February 21. Hernandez failed to abide by the protocol specified in the county’s comprehensive emergency management program for weather related issues by which he and the county’s director of emergency service were to convene a conference call with the sheriff, the county fire chief, the county public works director, California Department of Transportation’s regional representative, the local California Office of Emergency Services representative, the local CHP commander, relevant city managers and utility company representatives to size up the anticipated circumstance and begin formulating a planned action of response. That protocol further called for scheduling a special meeting of the board of supervisors to get the board’s authorization to put the plan devised during the conference call into effect and begin acquiring equipment, supplies, manpower etc. to initiate the response.
Despite that specified protocol and the National Weather Service warning, Hernandez and his appointee as the head of the San Bernardino County Office of Emergency Services, Deputy County Executive Officer Daniel Muñoz, temporized and did not initiate that conference call until at least six days after the blizzard touched down February 22. The board of supervisors, which held a regularly scheduled meeting on February 28, did not conduct an emergency meeting relating to the blizzard until March 1. As a consequence of the delays, more than 30,000 residents of the San Bernardino Mountain communities found themselves snowed in and trapped, without access to food, fuel, supplies or medicine. Over the course of nearly two and a half weeks from February 22 until March 11, a number of mountain residents were killed, died from exposure or isolation. The number of deaths, which have been quantified by officials, has not been released.
In April, when federal officials with the Emergency Management Agency came to San Bernardino County to obtain from county officials input on what assistance could be provided in effectuating the community’s recovery and to provide assets to assist in preparation for future events, Hernandez and Williams were traveling abroad, attending a trade mission in Korea and then visiting Tokyo, accompanied by Board Chairwoman Rowe and Supervisor Curt Hagman.
Also in April, after the county sheriff’s department’s computer and communications system was hijacked by Russian hackers, the county paid a $1.1 million ransom to restore the system’s functionality.
In May, the county was hit with a class action lawsuit on behalf of 5,800 children and teenagers alleging that the San Bernardino County Department of Children and Family Services had neglected to monitor properly or sufficiently a foster care system in which foster children were routinely abused and neglected.
With the dysfunction in the county, previously obscured by Hernandez, Williams and Rundles, rising to the surface in the last several months, a dynamic foray against Hernandez was staged earlier this month.
By that point supervisors Curt Hagman, Joe Baca Jr, Paul Cook and Jesse Armendarez had been prevailed upon to recognize that Hernandez’s departure was overdue. Difficulty in executing upon his termination existed, however, in that Rowe, the board chairwoman, was still favorably disposed toward Hernandez. In San Bernardino County, the chairperson of the board, in addition to heading the county’s leading political body, possesses substantial administrative clout independent from her political role.
Rowe, whose supervisorial staff is the weakest among the five supervisors, had grown uncommonly dependent upon Hernandez in helping her manage her office. She initially, and for more than a week after it became clear that forces in the county were militating for Hernandez’s ouster, pointedly resisted the gathering momentum against him.
At one juncture, Rowe had come to believe that the effort to oust Hernandez was a manifestation of an effort by certain elements within the county, including other members of the board of supervisors, to undercut her and her authority as board chairwoman.
Even after confirmation of Hernandez’s sexual entanglement with Williams emerged and his vacation leave was extended, Rowe was yet casting about for the construction of a modus vivendi by which Hernandez would return as CEO. Her assumption at that point was that word about Hernandez’s and Williams’ concupiscence would remain, as it had previously, under wraps. When a public exposition of the relationship of their affair took place, that strategy became inoperative.
Nevertheless, in announcing Hernandez’s resignation on August 18, Rowe participated in an effort to deflect the scandal. She quoted Hernandez as attributing his departure to a familial emergency thusly, “Due to an urgent family health issue that requires my immediate and undivided attention, I have informed the board of my resignation.”
Curt Hagman, whose advocacy for promoting Hernandez from COO to CEO was crucial to Hernandez’s advancement in 2020, has gone into a subtle mode of damage control by noting, obliquely, that Hernandez might have failed in the role of the county’s top administrator because he lacked any private sector experience, having been a county employee for the last quarter century, beginning in 1998, before he graduated from college.
Hagman went on record as lauding Snoke for his experience in both the private and public sectors.
Snoke was previously a deputy executive officer with the county before being chosen by Hernandez to serve as chief operating officer in 2020, immediately after Hernandez assumed the role of chief executive officer. Prior to that, from 2000 to 2004, Snoke was a network administrator with Advance Storage Products; from 2005 to 2006, a senior business analyst with Abaris Inc.; from 2006 to 2010, the director of financial operations and reimbursement with Skilled Healthcare; and from 2010 to 2013, the vice president of finance for Hallmark Rehabilitation.
“Government executives don’t often possess that combination of experience,” said Hagman, emphasizing the difference between Hernandez and Snoke. “I’ve always believed government can greatly benefit from innovative, goal-oriented private sector thinking.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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