Moving on to nearly a month after events overtook Leonard Hernandez and he found himself relieved of his $600,000 per year total compensation position as San Bernardino County chief executive officer, mystery yet attends what shift in interpersonal dynamics and accompanying sequence of events led to the change and the degree to which the county’s political leadership will allow the reform of the leadership echelon that was rebuilt in Hernandez’s image during his tenure to progress.
Hernandez exercised rigid control of the county and the standards it enforced across a multitude of latitudes for the nearly three years he held the position of county chief executive officer, overseeing what many employees are openly acknowledging was a reign of terror in which those who questioned the wisdom, logic, purpose, effectiveness, sustainability or legality of the courses of action he was having them embark upon were ignored, demoted or kept from promotion, fired or forced to resign. Consequently, over the course of the last three years, something on the order of two-thirds to three-quarters of the individuals promoted into and yet inhabiting the county’s assistant executive officer, deputy executive officer, department directors and deputy department directors were Hernandez loyalists. With only a few exceptions, those loyalists at one point or another and in many cases on a repeated basis disciplined or at some level took part in the silencing, suppression and/or termination of those who had dissented from Hernandez’s methodologies. In the predominate number of cases, lower ranking county employees who were skeptical or even inwardly disapproving of the action they were being ordered to take by Hernandez and his adherents did as they were ordered to without any show of objection, generally out of a basic survival precaution, as it generally became recognized that disobeying or even quibbling with instructions originating with Hernandez was considered grounds for termination. Though those orders were in the vast majority of cases carried out, this engendered layers of resentment among staff throughout the county.Hernandez’s rise in the county bureaucracy to its pinnacle for the first fifteen years of his existence as a public employee would have appeared to be an unlikely one. He first began as a part time library page at the Chino branch library in 1998 when he was a 20-year-old student at California State Fullerton. After obtaining a history degree he began working for the county library system full time, simultaneously working on getting his master’s degree in Library Science through Clarion University’s online learning program, which facilitated his promotion to the position of the Fontana Branch Library manager. In 2008, he jumped at the opportunity to become the director of libraries with the City of Riverside, but returned to San Bernardino County in 2010, anticipating the retirement of San Bernardino County Librarian Ed Kieczykowski. When Kieczykowski departed in 2011, Hernandez moved into the position of San Bernardino County librarian. At that point, it seemed that Hernandez had found his niche, that of a mild-mannered librarian, content to live within the genteel world of books and accentuating literacy. In 2013, he was entrusted by then-San Bernardino County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux with the secondary assignment of director of the San Bernardino County Museum. That responsibility was of a piece with the role of a librarian, one which made him, as it were, the cultural and historical dean of the county. There was nothing that would suggest he had aspirations beyond being anything more than a well-remunerated academic. In 2015, pleased with his oversight of the library and museum, Devereaux advanced him into the position of county deputy executive officer overseeing the community services group, which at that time included the departments for the county’s library and museum systems, the registrar of voters, regional parks, county airports and the county department of agriculture/weights and measures. In 2017, in one of his last acts before he was forced out of the position of county chief executive officer in a power play by Supervisor Curt Hagman, Devereaux elevated Hernandez to the position of interim county chief operating officer. A few months later, shortly after Gary McBride, who had been county chief financial officer, became county chief executive officer, Hernandez was fully fledged as the chief operating officer.
The affable and non-confrontational McBride, a classic institutional accountant whose comfort level was tested if he was called upon to do anything beyond dealing with spreadsheets and calculating machines, was constitutionally incapable of being forceful with the county’s various department heads. In particular, McBride blanched at the prospect of having to discipline or terminate employees. He delegated such assignments to Hernandez. To the surprise of virtually everyone, the soft-spoken and studious librarian excelled at such distasteful missions, indeed seemed to relish them. In short order, the more awkward and demanding administrative chores that required a hard-edged personality to see them through or effectuated fell to Hernandez. As he developed a reputation as someone who got immediate results, the board of supervisors, and in particular the strongest personality on the board, Supervisor Curt Hagman, began to bypass McBride, going directly to Hernandez, instructing him to carry out not only what the board as a whole had voted upon but to put into play whatever it was that Hagman on his own wanted to see accomplished. Hernandez, looking to get ahead and recognizing that Hagman was the de facto leader of the board and the county, swung into immediate action in accordance with those instructions. Ultimately, in September 2020, the board opted to remove McBride and replace him the following month with Hernandez.
Two key promotions were made by Hernandez at that time. He settled upon elevating Luther Snoke, then a deputy county executive officer into the position of chief operating officer that he was vacating. Also in October 2020, within days of his assuming the post of CEO, Hernandez elevated Pamela Williams, an administrative analyst who had previously been advanced to senior administrative analyst at his urging, to the position of chief of administration, making her, after Hernandez, the eighth highest ranking personage on the county’s organizational chart…
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