County Stymied Over The Fate Of Hernandez Loyalists Permeating Its Highest Ranks

Moving on to nearly a month after Leonard Hernandez was overtaken by events and forced out of his 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 director and deputy department director positions 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 county 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 Hernandez 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 the eighth highest ranking personage on the county’s organizational chart.
Even before he was made CEO, Hernandez had found his niche with the board of supervisors because of his aggressive personality hidden beneath a pleasant exterior and his can-do attitude by which he was able to get things done, in particular accomplishing short term or immediate goals that brought credit to the county and imbued the board of supervisors with an air of efficiency. Hidden was that Hernandez’s ability to drive staff was based in almost equal measure on his unawareness of the actual rigors of running the county’s various departments whereby he had no regard for the corners he was asking his minions to cut and the rules he was demanding they ignore. His utter ruthlessness allowed him to, without compunction, insist on immediate compliance with his instructions, no matter the long-term implication. His primary criterion in filling all of the county’s administrative and department head positions that were immediately answerable to him was loyalty to him, the ability to unquestioningly carry out orders. Competence and actual knowledge of the department’s function and role within the overall government were of distant secondary and tertiary priority to that loyalty. To the extent that an existing assistant or deputy administrator or department head exhibited willingness to get on board with his management priorities, he or she would be retained. Any others who were sticklers for existing or established protocol or processes or otherwise insisted on applying governmental best practices were gotten rid of in one way or another, either by outright termination or being forced into resignation in lieu of firing. Strong or independent women with established bona fides were a particular botheration to him. Former Principal Deputy County Counsel Penny Alexander-Kelly, former County Counsel Michelle Blakemore, former Deputy Executive Officer Dena Fuentes, former Director of Child Support Services Marie Girulat, Director of Children and Family Services Marlene Hagen, former Director of Information Technology Jennifer Hilber, former Director of Behavioral Health Dr. Veronica Kelley, former Chief Learning Officer Dr. Trinka Landry-Bourne, former Director of Land Use Services Terri Rahhal, former Director of Purchasing Laurie Rozko, former Director of Public Health Trudy Raymundo, former Assistant Executive Officer Casonya Thomas, former Acting Economic Development Director Soua Vang, former, former Deputy Director of Public Works Melissa Walker, former Director of Agriculture, Weights and Measures Roberta Willhite and former Director of Risk Management Leanna Williams were all deemed incompatible with his formula for leadership and either resigned of their own volition, were forced out or were otherwise induced to leave.
A top priority with Hernandez was being able to effectuate the personnel changes he desired. He accomplished this by ensuring that he had absolute control over the county’s human resources division.
Even before Hernandez was elevated to the CEO position, he was looking toward that eventuality and anticipating his need to co-opt the human resources division to be successful in the role. In May 2019, while McBride was yet chief executive officer, Diane Rundles, who had been the deputy human resources director in Riverside County previously, was brought in as San Bernardino County’s interim human resources director at Hernandez’s recommendation. In December 2019, again at Hernandez’s recommendation, Rundles was given full-fledged status as the county’s human resources director. Prior to becoming CEO, Hernandez was networking with Rundles to refine the county’s top administrative and executive staff to create a team amenable to how he wanted things run. In essence, that meant purging the county’s top positions of those who did not in short order reveal themselves to be Hernandez loyalists. Gina King and Amy Coughlin, both of whom occupied the positions of human resources officer in 2019, were promoted to human resources division chief positions in 2020 and then rapidly elevated into each of the human resources department’s two deputy director positions in 2021. The decision to install Coughlin in the deputy director position alarmed a wide cross section of the employees within the division, causing what was described as a virtual revolt. Hernandez hastily arranged a conference meeting with a roomful of angry division personnel. To the employees’ straightforward complaint that Coughlin didn’t know what she was doing and was insufficiently experienced for the role of division chief let alone that of the deputy director posting, Hernandez acknowledged that Coughlin was not really qualified at that time for the position she had been given, but that she was undeniably loyal and willing to work hard, such that if she were to be given support, as he knew those present would do, she would be able to hack it. Unspoken was the threat that if any of Coughlin’s underlings did not go along with the new order, they would themselves be looking for employment.
That message was quickly assimilated. Under Rundles going forward, with the assistance of Coughlin and that of Gina King, the human resources division conducted a purge of independent thinking and acting employees and replaced them with less competent individuals who were known to be loyal Hernandez. This was done, county employees with access to relevant documentation told the Sentinel, by fudging data, inflating the test scores and performance criteria of those to be promoted and manufacturing demerits and derogatories regarding those targeted for removal.
In the overall scheme of politics, some elements of governance loom larger in terms of significance than others, particularly with regard to the wielding of power and influence and, as or more importantly, the application, provision and spending of money. In this way, a handful of county departments and the activity they routinely engage in are of importance to the county’s political leadership, the board of supervisors. A central tenet of Hernandez’s formula for not only surviving as county CEO but thriving in the position was his ensuring that the support network for his political masters – the board of supervisors – was taken care of. By ensuring that the county government structure served the needs of the county’s politicians, at whose pleasure Hernandez served, Hernandez had job security, presumably for as long as those politicians remained in office or until Hernandez reached retirement age. In practical terms, this meant that the county’s divisions which had control over building and development, the granting of contracts and franchises, and the provision of employment and jobs were to be turned, as needed, to the services of the friends and associates of and political donors to the members of the board of supervisors.
Political patronage is the practice of rewarding political allies with government posts or benefits. Just as Hernandez used the human resources department to make sure that his loyalists were in place, he extended the same courtesy to members of the board of supervisors. Requests from members of the board of supervisors – ones that were direct, indirect, pointed, oblique, subtle or crude – that positions be found for their friends, associates, children of donors were positively met.
The San Bernardino County Department of Land Use Services is the division of the county which oversees development project proposals, determining the standards applied on building that takes place generally in the county’s unincorporated areas. The development industry over the last half century or beyond has proven to be the major contributor of political donations to the county’s local elected officials – i.e., city/town council members and members of the board of supervisors, with public employee unions being its closest rival in that regard. Terry Rahhal, whose reputation for having land use staff make a methodical evaluation of the projects considered for approval by both the planning commission and board of supervisors, was forced out of her position in March 2022, a move that was intended to ensure the faster processing of projects and, indeed, the rubberstamping of ones by applicants with political connections. In an ironic twist, the department has stuttered in the aftermath of Rahhal’s departure, with, in many cases, the processing of projects suffering delays, some interminable, a development Hernandez did not intend and which has dismayed members of the board of supervisors.
In 2021, Hernandez installed Peter Mendoza, who from 2013 until 2016 was a business applications manager with the county and was promoted to a human resources department integrity division chief, as the interim purchasing department director. County employees told the Sentinel that Mendoza was entrusted with the assignment because Hernandez could count upon him to carry out his instructions to the letter.
Within the purchasing department, one highly placed county employee said, “There was a lot of pressure to bend the processes to Leonard’s will. There were procurement actions that did not follow the procedures and protocols which were done at the behest of elected officials trying to placate friends, in most cases donors. After COVID, there were huge purchases of items such as hand sanitizing stations at inflated prices. Public competitive bidding requirements were suspended or ignored. Pete Mendoza didn’t have the experience in purchasing and he didn’t have the strength of character to say no to what Leonard was ordering him to do, which was to use vendors that were being dictated to the department.”
Last week, six county employees buttonholed the Sentinel, providing it a breakdown in action that took place in various county departments during Hernandez’s tenure.
From the outset, the Sentinel was told, Hernandez compromised the hiring process. “Virtually any time there was an opening in any department in the county,” one employee said, “someone he worked with would get the position.” Hernandez arranged to have slots as they came available filled not with someone with experience in that given area, but someone he knew from his time as librarian or as the deputy chief executive overseeing the community services division.
“Whenever there was a new deputy director or director, it would be someone from libraries or the museum or a park ranger,” one employee said.
Subsequently, after Hernandez had exhausted the people who could be promoted out of the county’s library and museum systems, the registrar of voters office, regional parks, county airports and the county department of agriculture/weights and measures, he opened himself to being lobbied by those who were ambitious and smart enough to understand that he was looking for loyalists.
“Everyone came to understand that you go to lunch with Leonard and then you get promoted,” an employee said. “He would handpick who he wanted and make the arrangements with HR [human resources]. He would tell Diane [Rundles], ‘This is who I want,’ and she would then have Gina [King] or Amy [Coughlin] process it. Amy or Gina were given the ability to hire anyone at any step [i.e., pay level or gradation] they wanted within the classification for that particular job. Normally, there is a process to bring someone in at an advanced step, where doing that has to be justified by the experience or education of the applicant. That was the standard we had been held to before, anyway. But right off, first Gina and then later Amy were given the authority to make the decision on who would get promoted. It was something of a double standard. If someone they didn’t want to promote applied, they would find a reason not to promote that person, some grounds. But if Leonard wanted you in that position, you got the job. Prior to Gina, only Diane Rundles had that authority. Gina as the deputy director was given the authority to hire employees anywhere on the salary range all the way to the top step. She and then later Amy had the ability to have employees skip steps. They have the authority to randomly make changes and hire people and place them into the top step. They could approve compensations, what are called SACs, special assignment compensation, to approve extra money for people. Gina is what they call the ‘interim director of the pay chart.’”
There were multiple casualties in the transition to the county operating using loyalty to Hernandez as the basic hiring and firing criteria, but one in particular in that regard sticks out, several of the county employees told the Sentinel.
“There was a human resources analyst who had to have been one of the most reliable and dependable employees this county ever had,” one of the employees told the Sentinel. “His name was John Wood. His work was thorough and complete. Everyone relied on him to make evaluations of new hires or applicants for promotion. He was completely by the book. He was dedicated. He went over everything in complete detail. If he said the applicant was qualified, then the applicant was qualified. If the applicant came up short, he let you know. He documented everything. You couldn’t get him to fudge the numbers. Everyone trusted his judgment. His word was truth.”
In early 2021, after the third or the fourth time that Wood was given the assignment of processing the documentation for promoting someone Hernandez wanted advanced and he returned a set of documents that highlighted the applicants’ shortcomings, that was it.
“He refused to change the test scores and the requirements for them,” one of the employees told the Sentinel. “He went away in the quiet of the night and no one here at the county has seen him since.”
A county employee confirmed an earlier report published by the Sentinel that those targeted for removal from county staff would be ambushed by Hernandez’s human resources team, informed he or she was to be terminated and then would be offered a face-saving opportunity to voluntarily resign pursuant to a mutual separation agreement. The employee would then be presented with a document to sign on the spot. If the employee sought time to actually read agreement or seek a delay so that a lawyer could review it, he or she would be informed that the document had to be signed right then or the offer, including a three-month or six-month severance payment, would be withdrawn. Most employees chose to enter into the separation agreement, which included a nondisclosure clause executed with the signing of the document.
The vacancy created would then be filled with a county employee already chosen by Hernandez to fill the opening. No other employees were offered the opportunity to apply, test or compete for the position, with the entire matter kept quiet.
“We would give the appearance we were going through the merit system process and have the person put in an application,” a human resources department employee told the Sentinel. “If by chance someone else heard about the opening and applied, we would make sure every person on the list got a hearing where there were interviews conducted, but the outcome was predetermined. Leonard’s choice always got the job.”
The employee said, “I don’t think it was always like this. Previously, we strictly followed the merit system. There was a paradigm shift when Leonard Hernandez stepped in. I am ashamed of what we did in this department. We ruined the careers of good people who were conscientious and worked hard. We ruined their lives and those of their families. What our county leader did and asked us to do was wrong. When we went along with it, it discredited all of us.”
Running right through Hernandez’s tenure as CEO was an arrogance of breathtaking boldness. Even before he had appointed Pamela Williams to serve as his chief of administration, he had been having an affair with her. That relationship, complete with its sexual component, intensified after she was promoted to that powerful position, which in addition to giving her administrative oversight of the entire county governmental apparatus, entailed her having direct control over the county office of special projects, the Inland Counties Emergency Medical Agency, the county’s office of emergency services, the county’s communications, public information and multimedia divisions, countywide events, the county’s printing services, the county’s marketing division, along with the responsibility of preparing, with Hernandez’s assistance, the agenda for the board of supervisors meetings.
Moreover, it has been reported to the Sentinel by county employees, Hernandez was carrying on with at least two other women who were employed by the county.
As time progressed, some employees became concerned that given the general inadvisability of executives in an organization fraternizing with their underlings, the Hernandez/Williams relationship compromised the administrative function of the county, representing an overall breach in the county’s professionalism. When they came forward to lodge an official complaint through the human resources department, it is reported that Rundles short-circuited them, persuading most of those to drop the matter by telling them that if they insisted on continuing that there would be no turning back and the complainants would need to cut ties with the county and lose any future chance at promotion. In the two cases where the employees insisted on pursuing the complaints, they were, the Sentinel was told, logged “off the books.” The conclusion arrived at by Rundles, who was the ultimate arbiter of the matter, was that the complaints lacked substance and were not sustained. Those making the complaints, it was determined, had evinced an attitude incompatible with the county’s goals. They were threatened with termination as a consequence and ultimately shuffled into a separation arrangement, including a nondisclosure agreement.
A central tenet of Hernandez’s approach, at least during the first two years he was CEO, was to ensure that requests originating with the supervisors’ offices be addressed promptly and to the seeming satisfaction of the supervisors themselves. That was sometimes problematic because, according to one county employee, “he just did not have the breadth of knowledge to run a whole county. All of his actual experience was in managing the libraries or the museum or parks and recreation. He didn’t have a clue how to manage anything other than the rinky-dink departments he led before. He honestly did not understand anything about how those other parts of the county really operated. He would be giving orders to land use services or purchasing or public works that were out of touch with reality.”
Nevertheless, Hernandez would insist that those department heads or deputy department heads figure out a way to fit square pegs into round holes, and if they didn’t, those unwilling to pound on those pegs with a greater amount of force or beat on them from multiple angles to shove into place would lose their jobs.
Abetting Hernandez in this was Williams, county employees said.
“The position Pam was in had a lot of power,” one said. “Everything funneled through her. She was the gatekeeper, the gatekeeper to Leonard and the gatekeeper to information that went to the supervisors and back to the departments. Her department prepares the items from all over the county for the board of supervisors’ agenda. Those action items would come in but see changes to them at the last minute, some of which did not make sense because there wasn’t a lot of leeway in what the departments were asking for. A lot of things got bottlenecked and changes were made that were not logical changes.”
In time, the alteration to the different agenda requests came to be seen as Hernandez’s tendency toward micromanagement.
“Their [Hernandez’s and Williams’] priorities were different from the departments,” one county employee said. “Some things just weren’t important to them. The county lost homeless program money because they weren’t paying attention. That lays at Pam’s feet. She did not care about that particular program because she was literally the female version of Leonard. She managed the processes and she managed people the same way he did. His priorities were her priorities. If he put no emphasis on it, she didn’t even think about it. That’s how that money for the homeless programs was lost. She carried out his style of management. It was horrible to go through.”
One employee said she did not know until it was openly acknowledged last month that Hernandez and Williams were an item.
“I did not know about their affair,” the employee said. “Others did, I know now, but I didn’t. I just knew she was highly favored. Once this was revealed, it suddenly made a lot of sense to me, since it was always a mystery to me how she could rise to the level she did with her lack of experience.”
While many employees fell victim to Hernandez and the cabal of employees he promoted to carry out his bidding and serve as enforcers to make sure others did what he ordered, a few managed to wrest themselves free of Hernandez’s domination with their dignity and professional integrity intact, in certain circumstances sustaining only minimal financial or familial damage and in one known case, outmaneuvering him altogether.
Laurie Rozko in 2011 had achieved the position of director of purchasing with the county.  She remained in that post for nine more years, while Devereaux and McBride were county CEO. Her experience with Hernandez while he was in the position of county chief operating officer beginning in 2017, however, instilled in her an understanding of exactly where and how Hernandez was willing to cut corners and violate not only protocol but the law. In 2020, just as preparations were being made to jettison McBride as CEO and replace him with Hernandez, Rozko resigned.
“I had already seen him as the chief operating officer putting pressure on the procurement process that was anything but proper,” Rozko said. “He knew I wouldn’t do what he wanted, and he was already trying to stir up human resources. He was courting the board and trying to go around procedures to accomplish their goals. He was sabotaging the public bidding process wherever he could. He was monitoring our phone calls and emails to make sure his marching orders were complied with. He wanted somebody there, plain and simple, who would do what he wanted in purchasing. I was not going to wait for him to go through human resources to make things up so he could fire me. I just left, right before he became CEO.”
Another personage now known to have stood up to Hernandez’s bullying is Jennifer Hilber, the county’s one-time director of information technology.
In a report that has grown now into something of a legend, Hernandez sought to force the information technology department, now referred to as the innovation and technology department, to double as a spying network that would employ invasive surveillance software to route all communications carried out on county devices to Hernandez so that he might detect, virtually in real time, when a county employee deviated from his orders. Hilber refused to go along and when Hernandez grew abusive with her, she dropped off her keys at the county administrative building, announcing simply, “I’m done.”
Dr. Veronica Kelley, who was formerly the director of behavioral health for the county, perceiving that Hernandez was pushing her and the department she headed toward activity she recognized as clearly unethical and simultaneously skirting the law, tendered her resignation.
Perhaps the most effective show of defiance made to Hernandez and his mode of operation was made by Diana Atkesson, who at one time was an accountant within the auditor-controller division of the San Bernardino County Auditor-Controller/Treasurer/Tax Collector’s Office. In 2014, Atkesson transitioned from being a senior accountant to an accounting manager and in 2015 became the division chief of the auditor-controller side of the office. She remained in that role until 2021, at which point Hernandez convinced her and Auditor-Controller/Treasurer/Tax Collector Ensen Mason to transfer her into the county finance department as one of that department’s four deputy executive officers for finance and administration.
Atkesson was brought over to work with three other deputy executive officers for finance and administration, Robert Saldana, Valerie Clay and Paloma Hernandez-Barker under County Chief Financial Officer Matthew Erickson. In her capacity as a deputy executive officer, Atkesson’s primary function was administering the county’s capital improvement program, debt program, the discretionary elements of the county general fund and realignment revenues. Additionally, she assisted the other deputy executive officers in their direct oversight of the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, the project and facilities management department, the real estate services department, and the county fire department. She was also tangentially involved in the county’s community revitalization group, working with various departments on activating the county’s homeless strategic action plan.
Atkesson made the transition readily enough, but by 2022, had noted multiple anomalies in the way Hernandez and his management team functioned. She soon came to recognize that she was on a collision course with Hernandez and that, given his upper hand in terms of control over the county and all of its divisions and departments, including human resources, she would likely end up on the scrap heap with the dozens of county employees who had clashed with the way Hernandez did things. Quietly and without setting off any alarms, she applied with the treasurer’s office, which is answerable to the elected treasurer rather than the board of supervisors, to return to work there. She successfully negotiated with Mason a return to the auditor-controller/treasurer/tax collector’s office as the assistant auditor-controller/treasurer/tax collector, getting him to agree to withhold any notification of her pending action. In April, Atkesson effectuated her return. Hernandez was caught flat-footed by what had occurred.
Hernandez considered it an act of betrayal and disloyalty, but was unable to prevent what had occurred from happening. Despite that, he labored to make it appear that it was his decision to let Atkesson go, rather than that she was jumping ship.
Among some county employees, there is a theory that it was Atkesson’s move back to the auditor-controller/treasurer/tax collector’s office that triggered certain internal county actions and examinations that ultimately led, or at least contributed, to Hernandez’s undoing as CEO.
Many county employees, particularly mid-level and lower ranking ones, were neither positioned nor equipped with the ability, as were Rozko, Hilber, Kelley or Atkesson, to stand up against Hernandez and the core of high-ranking county officials who composed the praetorian guard that ensured his primacy.
Leonard Hernandez’s reign of terror, to a degree and directly, has come to an end. Precisely how his fall from grace came about is not fully publicly known. The corner cutting, his inadequate understanding and mastery of the function of the full range of county departments accompanied by his incessant need to obtain short-term results ultimately played him wrong, as by 2022 there were repeated and multiple performance failures. That was followed by an accumulation of faux pas and scandals – an inadequate response by the county’s emergency agencies to a blizzard in the San Bernardino Mountains that left an untold number of people dead, the San Bernardino County Grand Jury’s conclusion that the Department of Children and Family Services had failed to protect children living in abusive foster arrangements and the county acceding to a $1.1 million ransom demand to unlock the sheriff’s department’s computer and communication system, among them. Ultimately, Hernandez found himself undone when in early August, after an unknown contretemps between him and Williams, she came forward and acknowledged to several high-ranking county officials the longstanding affair between them.
The use of intimidation to keep that sordid secret of Hernandez’s administration hidden for so long, followed by its revelation in which the public has come to question just how much that sort of thing has permeated the county governmental establishment and involved county honchos and the women who work for them has very much taken a toll on many of the women in the county’s administrative office and elsewhere.
Approaching a point nearly a quarter of the way into the 21st Century, clerical staff throughout the United States and particularly in San Bernardino County government, is, like it was in the 20th Century, primarily composed of women.
“It’s not easy being a secretary in the county,” one told the Sentinel. “We don’t make the big money like some of the department heads and administrators. When you look at the chief of administration getting to the top by sleeping with the boss, it can get to you. I have a husband and I’m not going to do something like that. I’ve never been approached to go to bed with anyone I work for. But what am I supposed to do if I am? What’s expected? Would I lose my job if I don’t?”
The Sentinel took that up with County Spokesman David Wert.
“The county has a very firm policy about retaliation and harassment,” Wert said. “It’s the one policy every county employee is expected to read and sign every time they receive a performance evaluation and are given a pay increase.”
That policy was honored more in its breach by county officials than by them adhering to it during Hernandez’s reign, a county employee pointed out. There is no guarantee the same violations won’t be carried forward by the next group of people in charge, she said.
Another county employee put it thusly, “There was a lot of emotional trauma and stress with what was going on here under Leonard Hernandez. It’s still there. There is a psychological burden to just getting through the workday. I know for a fact that all of us in the administrative office have felt very uncomfortable for the last three weeks. We’ve been told, ‘Do not talk about this if you are approached.’ So, we are supposed to sit there and have minimal or no discussion about what went on and what many of us were put through. Senior staff right now are not thinking of the rigors this involves and our emotional and mental ability to get over this. They are avoiding the elephant in the room. They want us to not bring it up and just go home at the end of the day. Dawn Rowe let us down. Dawn Rowe continues to fail us.”
Of concern for many employees is that in recomposing county staff, County Chief Operating Officer Luther Snoke, who has been selected by the board of supervisors to temporarily and maybe on a lasting basis assume the post of chief executive officer, will default to maintaining in place all of the top administrators and managers that Hernandez appointed. This means perpetuating in positions of authority those who facilitated Hernandez’s depredations and, essentially, rewarding those who assisted him by disciplining, forcing the resignations of or terminating the employees who stood on principle and resisted what Hernandez was doing. At the very least, a chorus of county employees say, those who were at the core of Hernandez’s regime of malfeasance and misfeasance – Williams, Rundles, Coughlin, King and Mendoza – should be either terminated, demoted or otherwise removed from their positions of authority and prominence in the county.
“None of us has a close direct working relationship with Luther,” one of six county employees who met collectively with the Sentinel last week said. “I do have an extremely reliable source who works closely with him, though. He has told me Luther’s leadership model and integrity is completely the opposite of Leonard’s. I know I and the others have more confidence in Luther than we ever had in Leonard, but there is a question about whether he knew what Leonard was doing and what was going on in all of the different departments and levels. I don’t believe he knew half of what was going on in our department alone. He has a big role now and it will be very hard for him to move some of those people out, but he should.”
Several women employed by the county pointed out that Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dawn Rowe, the only woman on the board, was the last member of the board to come to terms with the multiplicity of damaging acts Hernandez had engaged in and the need for him to depart the county. They uniformly said they were baffled why Rowe, who as the board’s only distaff member, came across as seemingly less sensitive to the gender harassment issues in which women are exploited than her four male colleagues, who had backed Hernandez’s removal at least a week-and-a-half before Rowe came around to accepting that his exit had to take place.
Hernandez’s legacy, in the minds of many, remains intact while those he put in place to execute his formula of governance and management yet hold the highest-ranking staff positions and the authority that comes with them. At present, Snoke is wrestling with determining who yet serving in the county’s top echelon engaged in action on Hernandez’s behalf so egregious that the county cannot countenance their staying in place.
Questions also attend those whom Hernandez promoted based on loyalty alone and whose skill, knowledge and competence do not match the demands of the roles they fill, such that the county has already suffered from a lack of performance or productivity in the areas they oversee.
Snoke is simultaneously faced with the reality of having to maintain the day-to-day operations of each of the county’s departments and divisions, virtually all of which demand the oversight of a director and in most cases deputy directors. The majority of the people in those key positions were advanced into them by Hernandez, in some cases unfairly. Ascertaining who among those should be salvaged and who should not is an undertaking of significant moment for Snoke at this time. In some cases, the perception that the county cannot function without certain people, even if Hernandez appointed them, prevails, even where it is recognized they did some damaging things to the county and county morale.
An obvious insult to anyone with even a shred of integrity, now that the county is coming to terms with the vitiation of standards Hernandez perpetuated, former County Purchasing Director Laurie Rozko said, is Pam Williams’ continued presence as a top-ranking county administrator.
“She was obviously involved in the inappropriate conduct he was,” Rozko said.
Similarly, within human resources at the senior levels, indefensible activity predominated, Rozko said. Leaving those people in place to assist Snoke in determining who should be kept or hired or promoted to run the county’s departments going forward will not bode well for the county, she opined.
“Recruitment is in the wrong hands, which is to say it isn’t going to be fair,” she said.
The question now is how much of the leadership that Hernandez cursed the county with will be purged, she said.
“How deep are they going to cut to clean house?” Rozko asked.
Neither Snoke nor Rowe responded to an invitation by the Sentinel to offer a statement with regard to what reforms the county will insist upon in the aftermath of Hernandez’s departure as CEO.
The Sentinel likewise sought in writing input from Hernandez, Williams, Rundles, Coughlin, King and Mendoza with regard to their perspective on these matters, asking for their version of events. Those inquiries prompted no responses. At the August 22 board of supervisors meeting, in a brief verbal exchange, Rundles told the Sentinel she would “love to respond” to its inquiries but that she simply could not. “All I can tell you is that what is being said is a bunch of BS,” she said.

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