Preparatory toward next month’s court hearing at which Judge Michael Sachs is to make a decision about the continuation or dismissal of the lawsuit Yucaipa City Clerk Ana Sauseda brought which, in essence, prevented 194 Yucaipa residents from pursuing an effort to recall three of their councilmen, Sauseda offered a free-ranging defense of her action.
Two months prior to her hiring as city clerk by City Manager Chris Mann in March, events played out in the city of 55,495 that have triggered the most contentious chapter in Yucaipa’s 34-year history.
On January 9, the newly-formed city council coalition of Mayor Justin Beaver, who had first been elected to the council in 2022, Councilman Bobby Duncan, a councilmember since 2012, and Councilman Matt Garner, who had been elected in November 2022 and was sworn in the month before, pressured then-City Manager Ray Casey to tender his resignation in lieu of being ignominiously fired and outright terminated City Attorney David Snow, an attorney with the law firm of Richards, Watson & Gershon.
Yucaipa’s citizenry had been given only the shortest of warnings about what was to take place, with the agenda for the January 9 meeting having been posted 72 hours in advance referencing an item relating to the performance evaluations of both Casey and Snow. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of the city’s residents was caught unprepared by the fast-moving developments that manifested with, most notably, Casey’s departure.
Not even three months previously, on October 24, 2022, the Yucaipa City Council as it was then composed had extended Casey’s contract as city manager at least until June 30, 2024, conferring upon him a 3 percent salary increase that would jump his annual salary to $299,420, such that he would be making, when his benefits and perquisites were consider, $422,901.50 in total annual compensation, putting him among the 25 highest-paid city managers among California’s 482 municipalities.
The Princeton-educated Casey had begun with the city in 2003 as the city engineer/director of public works and was elevated to the position of city manager in 2008. During that time, he had become something of an institution in Yucaipa, which qualifies as San Bernardino County’s fifteenth largest or tenth smallest of 24 municipalities in terms of population and, at 28.27-square miles, the sixteenth largest or ninth smallest of the county’s 24 cities and incorporated towns landwise, making it either the fourteenth most dense or the tenth least dense of the county’s municipalities.Yucaipa stands as a relatively rare blend of Old West, worldly, agricultural, mercantile, semi-rural and urban influences, ones that are much prized by its residents and which Casey had labored, mostly successfully, to keep in balance. As a celebrated cattle town at one point in its history prior to its incorporation, Yucaipa still encompasses some agricultural operations consisting mostly of farms and groves. Over the years, as the town of Yucaipa grew, with its 1989 incorporation, to become the City of Yucaipa, the community adhered to a simple, and by some people’s reckoning, an ideal and logical, model of expansion. The commercial district has continued to confine itself to a relatively narrow corridor around Yucaipa Boulevard, which winds from the 10 Freeway at the south end of the city and makes its way toward the San Bernardino Mountains. With only a few exceptions, the rest of the city has remained as a rustic agricultural district or residential neighborhoods. It also became something of a retirement community, as a good number of older residents flocked to live in a host of mobile home parks that came to dot the landscape. Yucaipa is one of six cities and one unincorporated community in San Bernardino County which hosts an accredited college or university, that being Crafton Hills College, built on 484 acres of ground donated by the Finkelstein Brothers in 1972, while Yucaipa was still an unincorporated community. In addition, the city is home to the Yucaipa Performing Arts Center, a significant regional cultural events venue.
Casey had a depth of experience prior to coming to Yucaipa which included having been employed in the private sector with Manitou Engineering in Escondido as a consulting engineer, a stint with the City of Temecula as its land development department’s principal engineer, more than five years as the highway engineer and traffic manager with the Isabella County Road Commission in Michigan and serving as the deputy director for development services and city engineer with the City of San Bernardino. A partial outgrowth of that experience was that he had an intense and intimate understanding of the need for matching any incoming development with adequate infrastructure, the cost for which had to be defrayed, one way or another by either the developer or the city’s taxpayers. He was thus capable of serving as not only an honest broker between pro-development and anti-development forces and sentiments within the community but advocating for and insisting that project proponents be financially responsible for the infrastructure and off-site improvements that must accompany their development efforts.
In October 2022, when Casey’s contract had been extended through June 2024, Greg Bogh, who had been in office since 2010; David Avila, who was first elected in 2014; and Jon Thorp, who had been on the council since 2020, were members of the city council, as were Duncan and Beaver. Bogh and Avila had opted out of running for reelection and were not on the following month’s ballot. Ultimately, in the November 8, 2022 election, Matt Garner managed to finish first in the race to represent Yucaipa’s First District and he was sworn in to replace Avila. Chris Venable captured first place in the Second District contest, and he supplanted Bogh on the council in December.
Thus, when Beaver, Duncan and Garner combined forces to cashier Casey on January 9, this represented a 180-degree reversal of the vote Beaver and Duncan had made on October 24. For an overwhelming number of observers, there were troubling aspects to the way the Casey’ and Snow’s exodus had been effectuated.
That night, more than two dozen alarmed and agitated residents showed up for the council meeting because they had caught wind that Casey and City Attorney David Snow were about to be axed. Despite efforts by multiple anxious members of the crowd to talk the council out of the action those residents were led to believe its members were going to take, they were met with the assertion that Casey had tendered his resignation, that in that evening’s closed session preceding the public session Beaver, Duncan and Garner had accepted that resignation and the entire city council had voted to give Snow the heave-ho.
During that closed session, the council was accompanied not by Snow but by another attorney, Stephen Graham. In the course of that closed session, the council voted to 5-to-0 to hire Graham as city attorney, effective immediately, and voted 4-to-1, with Thorp dissenting, to hire Chris Mann, the chairman of the Yucaipa Valley Water District Board of Directors, to serve as city manager, effective March 1. There had been no previous indication, in that evening’s meeting agenda or in any other forum or posting, that the Mann and Graham hirings were to take place.
Mann and Graham were at that point also the city manager and city attorney with the municipality of Canyon Lake. With Graham on hand for the meeting and Mann in the City Hall parking lot during the initial portion of the meeting, there were immediate accusations of a violation of The Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open public meeting law.
The Brown Act prohibits a quorum of an elected governmental body or an appointed governmental body with decision-making authority from meeting, discussing any matter to be decided or voted upon or coming to a consensus in any way about the matter to be voted upon or holding that vote outside of a public forum. The Brown Act allows less than a quorum of an elected body – as in the case of the five-member Yucaipa City Council, two members – to meet and discuss some contemplated action to be voted upon, but it prohibits either of those two members from engaging in a “serial” meeting of a quorum, whereby one of those members then separately meets with another member to discuss the upcoming action or vote.
The Brown Act also requires that any action an elected or appointed governmental decision-making body is to take be agendized and posted for public scrutiny at least 72 hours before the meeting at which the action to be voted upon takes place.
Residents who were opposed to what they saw as Casey’s forced departure reasoned that a Brown Act violation had to have taken place, as Graham was on hand for the meeting before he was hired as city attorney and, likewise, Mann was on the civic center grounds, in anticipation of the action the council ultimately took.
It appears that Beaver, Duncan and Garner anticipated no or only mild objections among the public to jettisoning Casey or that if there was to be any protest over that action, they would be able to ride it out. In that respect, they grossly miscalculated. And once the intensity of outrage at Casey’s firing manifested, it did not, as Beaver, Duncan and Garner initially hoped, abate over the next several weeks. Indeed, it intensified as many residents who were not initially aware of what happened learned of the events of January 9.
For a good number of Yucaipa residents, the most alarming element of the developments consisted of the public and professional orientation of Chris Mann, one that was in stark contrast to the approach toward municipal management that Casey had embodied.
In welcoming Mann to the city manager’s post, Beaver, Duncan and Garner had similarly emphasized that Mann was himself a Yucaipa resident, one involved in a number of civic affairs, most notably as the president of the Yucaipa Valley Water District Board of Directors. The community would reap the benefit of employing a city management professional who had sharpened his skills in the capacity of serving as the top administrator of Canyon Lake and who, as someone who had invested himself in Yucaipa by purchasing his home there, would have a personal stake in maintaining the local quality of life.
The council troika, however, did not mention that in addition to having been the Canyon Lake city manager, Mann is the principal in Mann Communications, which according to the company’s own website functions in the main as a representative of developers and development interests seeking to move building proposals past the planning process and get them approved. Mann Communications’ specialty was, according to the firm’s website, making sure that “elected officials are… provided the political cover they need in order to support good projects” to “provide our clients with a wealth of knowledge and experience and a winning approach to land use entitlement.” Furthermore, according to the company website, “Mann Communications Principal Chris Mann has been an active partner in numerous development projects in California, Nevada and Arizona. Having worked both as an elected official and as a developer, he uniquely understands the development process from both the public and private perspectives. Understanding the practices and motivations of each side better than most, he is able to provide tremendous value to the entire development process, making Mann Communications an invaluable member of any project team.”
At the time of Mann’s hiring, only a handful of city residents knew that he was the owner and operator of Mann Communications and that the company was a primary lobbying/promotional arm of the building industry. Within a very short span, however, those residents began spreading the word about the past activities of the city’s new city manager and what his overarching goals appeared to be.
To many Yucaipa residents, it was highly troubling that Mann had been brought in to oversee the operation of City Hall, including the city’s land use decision-making and planning functions, while he was simultaneously working for and accepting money from developmental interests, the very entities he was supposed to be regulating. Nor was it lost on a wide cross section of Yucaipa residents that Duncan was a real estate agent. While previously, allowing the real estate industry to have a seat on the city council as long as having that representation was balanced by four other individuals embodying a variety of professional classes was not perceived as problematic, many had the impression that Duncan had put Mann in place to boost the prospect of more and more development in Yucaipa, in turn increasing his ability to sell houses and make money. It further appeared that Garner was front-ending for the real estate industry. Previously, Beaver had been able to convince his constituents that his priority was maintaining a balance of growth and tradition that would preserve the city’s quality of life. His embrace of Mann, however, triggered widespread reevaluations of previous assumptions, and some were openly speculating that Beaver, Duncan and Garner were ushering Yucaipa toward a developmental frenzy in which they all stood to profit in some way. There arose a perception that Beaver, Duncan and Garner had ditched Casey in favor of Mann, who would have the city adopt an absolute open-door planning and development process by which the city’s largely rural nature would come under increasing threat and the balance that had long been maintained between its Old West, worldly, agricultural, mercantile, semi-rural and urban influences was to be discarded and replaced by subdivision after subdivision that would make Yucaipa indistinguishable from dozens or indeed scores of other cities in Southern California that are now composed, practically, of wall-to-wall houses.
Rumors spread to the effect that Beaver, Duncan and Garner were in the pocket of the development industry and that they were on the take.
Throughout February and into March and then April, a group of Yucaipa residents began coordinating a response that they were hopeful might reverse the momentum that was threatening to slide the entirety of the city into what was for them a deep and dark abyss.
On April 24, Sherilyn Long representing residents in District 1, Steve Maurer, representing residents in District 3, and George Sardeson, representing residents in District 4, came to Yucaipa Hall, where they filed a notice of intention to circulate recall petitions against Garner, Duncan and Beaver. In District 4, 62 residents signed the notice of intent to qualify a recall election against Beaver. In District 3, 67 residents signed the notice of intent to qualify a recall election against Duncan. In District 1, 64 residents signed the notice of intent to qualify a recall election against Garner.
Initially, city officials were caught off guard by the boldness of the recall effort. A first reaction by Beaver’s, Duncan’s and Garner’s supporters was to warn residents against signing the petition. Statements circulated that those signing the petition ran the risk of having their personal information compromised. Others were told the recall could not possibly succeed and that those sponsoring it and backing it would find themselves at odds with some very powerful people.
In the aftermath of Casey’s departure and the hiring of Mann, Mann replaced the city clerk who had been in place under Casey, Kimberly Metzler, with his own choice, that being Ana Sauseda.
Sauseda already owed much to Mann for advancements in her municipal career. In 2018, she had been a city clerk records management analyst in the Rancho Cucamonga city clerk’s office making $40,952 annually before benefits. In 2018, she was hired to serve as deputy city clerk in Canyon Lake. In 2020, Mann promoted her to city clerk, with her annual salary before benefits increasing to $72,978.28. In 2021, her salary before benefits jumped to $82,845 and in 2021, Mann arranged to increase her salary to $103,807 before benefits.
When Mann in March brought Sauseda over from Canyon Lake, he installed her as both the city clerk and the director of general services at an annual salary of $163,858.63 before benefits.
In Sauseda’s capacity as city clerk, the processing of the intent to recall documents fell to her. Mann, meanwhile, was able to avail the city of the services of the Los Angeles-based Sutton Law Firm. Between Mann and the Sutton Law Firm’s attorneys Bradley W. Hertz and Eli B. Love, they found what they said might be some factual errors: Despite all appearances on the evening of January 9 when Graham was available to serve as city attorney even before a vote on firing Snow took place and Mann was waiting in the wings at City Hall in anticipation of the council confirming the acceptance of Casey’s resignation, an actual violation of the Ralph M. Brown couldn’t be and hadn’t been proved, they asserted. Nor was it true that Casey had been terminated, they pointed out. He had resigned of his own volition. Moreover, Mann, Hertz and Love noted, the recall papers were worded against each of the three councilmen separately, asserting each had taken the action on January 9 for which they were being criticized. In actuality, Mann, Hertz and Love averred, no single council member had the authority to take action. Such action as the trio was accused of individually could only be taken with no fewer than three members of the council coming together to vote as a majority of the body. Thus, the grounds cited for the recall were invalid, they said.
Sauseda adopted the position set out for her by Mann, Hertz and Love. Shortly thereafter, represented by Hertz, Love and the Sutton Law Firm, Sauseda, as Yucaipa city clerk and the city’s election officer, filed suit in San Bernardino Superior Court in the form of a writ of mandate naming all of the proponents of the recall against Beaver, all of the proponents of the recall against Duncan and all of the proponents of the effort to recall Garner.
The writ of mandate relied upon Assembly Bill 2584, which went into effect on January 1 and enables city clerks to combat what are alleged to be “abuses of the recall process and to ensure that voters are not misled by false and misleading statements on recall petitions.”
The suit’s upshot was that there were false and misleading statements contained in the recall petitions which should invalidate the recall effort altogether.
Mann, with the backing of Beaver, Duncan and Garner, used city funds to pay for Hertz’s, Love’s and the Sutton Law Firm’s filing on behalf of Sauseda.
In March, the same month that Mann had brought Sauseda to Yucaipa, he had hired Joe Pradetto to serve as Yucaipa’s director of governmental affairs. Pradetto, who had run in many of the same circles as Mann, has been a planning commissioner with the City Of Palm Desert since February 2015. He was a supervising deputy assessor with the County of Riverside from April 2017 until November 2021, at which point he was hired by Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington to serve as his chief of staff. Pradetto stayed in that post for one year and four months, departing from Washington’s office in February 2023 to take the Yucaipa job.
From January 2010 until April of 2017, Pradetto had been a legislative assistant with the County of Riverside. From September 2014 until December of 2018, he was a board member and then the president of the Coachella Valley Resource Conservation District.
Pradetto put out a press release announcing Sauseda’s suit, referencing Assembly Bill 2584 and offering the somewhat dubious assertion that the city clerk had carried out an independent and impartial analysis of the recall notices, coming to a conclusion on her own “that many of the statements were objectively false, and others, while perhaps technically true, were clearly misleading.”
Pradetto then upped the ante, stating, “In addition to the provisions of AB 2584, Sauseda also cautions recall proponents that, ‘Per Elections Code section 18600, it is a misdemeanor offense to circulate or obtain signatures on a recall petition that intentionally misrepresent or make false statements.’”
The filing of the suit, the cost of having to make a legal response and the threat of arrest being made against the recall proponents was intended, and succeeded, in spreading fear and dissension within the ranks of the recall proponents.
More than a fourth and approaching a third of the recall proponents, faced with the prospect of being arrested, jailed and prosecuted for having participated in the recall effort, headed for, or attempted to reach, the tall grass. They in relatively short order agreed to withdraw their names from the petition.
Sauseda, however, represented by Hertz, Love and the Sutton Law Firm, declined to allow them to do so, extending their discomfiture, perpetuating the prospect that they would yet need to undergo an expensive legal process, at the end of which they would be subjected to up to six months in jail for having unjustifiably maligned Yucaipa’s political leadership.
More than half of the recall proponents, however, remained steady in the face of the counteroffensive that Mann, Sauseda and Pradetto had mounted on behalf of Beaver, Duncan and Garner with the assistance of Hertz and Love.
Recall proponents asserted that Sauseda, Hertz and Love were dealing in semantics with the writ. While it was true that Casey resigned, he did so with a figurative gun pointed at his head, the proponents pointed out, such that he was for all intents and purposes terminated. They stood by their assertion that a Brown Act violation occurred on January 9. “How was it that both Mann and Graham were on hand to take over as city manager and city attorney if there was no Brown Act violation?” they asked, collectively.
Some recall proponents said they would be willing to redraft the recall papers to address Sauseda’s assertions of inaccuracies. Sauseda refused to allow a new submission to be substituted for the original.
The recall proponents retained Jim Penman of the Milligan Beswick Law Firm, who was for more than 20 years the city attorney in San Bernardino, to represent them in their effort to contest the writ.
Penman asserted the recall proponents’ rights to withdraw the intention to circulate a recall petition filing, even while some Yucaipa residents were contemplating a second filing utilizing language that would withstand Hertz’s and Love’s withering scrutiny.
Under California law, to qualify a recall against a city council member wherein the number of registered voters eligible to vote for that position total between 1,000 and 10,000, as is the case in all of Yucaipa’s council districts, the valid signatures of 25 percent of the current registered voters must be obtained. Because Yucaipa switched from an at-large voting system to a by-district system in 2016, qualifying a recall effort against a council member in that city is now one-fifth as formidable as it was previously.
Given that District 1 in Yucaipa has 7,303 registered voters, to qualify a vote on recalling Garner, recall proponents had to gather the signatures of at least 1,826 registered voters in his district by August 16.
Given that there are 5,912 registered voters in District 3, to qualify a vote on recalling Duncan, recall proponents were required to gather the signatures of at least 1,478 registered voters in District 3 by August 16.
Given that District 4 has 6,492 voters, to qualify a vote on recalling Beaver, recall proponents needed to garner the signatures of at least 1,623 registered voters in his district by August 16.
Distracted by the legal action and unsure of whether the legal action would invalidate their effort in any event, the recall proponents failed to coordinate the gathering of signatures over the four months they had to do so.
The recall proponents, who had begun with so much enthusiasm and intensity for the task of getting the recall question before Yucaipa’s voters, had not considered the signature-gathering requirement to be a daunting one at all. Few or none had anticipated that the city’s administrative and legal authorities would elevate the effort to a one in which the stakes of participating would entail a seemingly interminable battle in court compounded with each recall advocate facing criminal charges. The collective focus by which each of the 64 recall advocates in District 4 on average would need go out to obtain at least 26 valid signatures of voters in their district other than their own to qualify the recall question against Garner, the 67 recall advocates in District 3 on average would need go out to obtain at least 22 valid signatures of voters in their district beyond their own to subject Duncan to facing a recall election and the recall advocates in District 1 would need go out to obtain at least 28 valid signatures of voters other than their own to put Mayor Beaver’s political future in the hands of the voters did not materialize.
On August 16, nowhere approaching the 1,826 registered voters’ valid signatures on the petition targeting Garner, nor the 1,478 registered voters’ valid signatures on the petition targeting Duncan, nor the 1,623 registered voters’ valid signatures on the document relating to Beaver had been gathered. Consequently, the recall effort officially drew to a close. On August 31, Sauseda filed a motion with the court proposing a settlement of the suit she had lodged in which either side would pay its own legal fees and go their separate ways.
The recall proponents seized upon that settlement offer as a confirmation that Sauseda’s intent with filing the lawsuit was not to, as she, Hertz and Love had asserted, protect the integrity of the electoral process, but rather to prevent the recall effort from going forward.
Penman pointed out that the recall proponents he represents made an offer early on to withdraw the recall. Sauseda had refused and he believes she, meaning the city, should now cover the legal fees of those residents who sought the early dismissal of the case. In this sense, according to Penman, “the city’s conduct against them was more political than legal. That means the court now needs to determine whether or not the city should be required to reimburse them for their legal fees if the court determines the city should have accepted the offer of the recall proponents to withdraw the recall papers and put a halt to the legal expenses going back to May 24. As of now, the taxpayers of Yucaipa and the Yucaipa citizens, who lawfully exercised their right to recall their elected officials, have been forced to pay unnecessary legal fees for the city’s lawyers and for the recall proponents’ lawyers. The city had the opportunity to stop those costs from accumulating a mere 7 days after the city clerk commenced her lawsuit. The city, however, which is controlled by the three council members who are the subjects of the recall, deliberately chose to needlessly continue a lawsuit which became legally moot one week after it was filed.”
Penman accused Beaver, Duncan, Garner, Mann and Sauseda of “misusing the legal process to punish citizens for exercising their legal rights as Americans, as has been happening in this case since the beginning.”
On October 12, Superior Court Judge Michael Sachs will consider competing motions from Hertz and Love on one hand and Penman on the other that the case should simply be dismissed or that the Sauseda and the city should bear the cost of the recall proponents’ defense of their efforts to participate in the political process.
This week, Sauseda, with assistance from Mann, Pradetto, Hertz and Love, responded to a set of questions the Sentinel had originally sought to pose to Sauseda in a telephonic contact on September 7 and which was provided to her in writing on September 12.
In her email, Sauseda said of the controversy attending the Yuciapa recall effort, “There are at least two sides to every story. Transparency is central to my profession.”
With regard to the recall proponents’ contention that she did not carry out her own independent analysis of the recall filing language but instead relied on the analysis provided to her Mann, Hertz & Love, Sauseda said, “Upon submission of the [intention to circulate recall petition] notices, I reviewed the statements and came to the conclusion that they contained false and misleading information.”
Sauseda added, “I take pride in staying up to date on the most recent law changes affecting the office of the city clerk and was aware of recent legislation that allowed a voter or elections official to challenge false and/or misleading information in a notice. I approached other city clerks to get their take on this new provision of the Elections Code. As this was new law, and I was therefore in uncharted waters, I reached out to the city attorney who suggested that I engage the services of special counsel with expertise in elections law. I interviewed multiple law firms, and ultimately chose the Sutton Law Firm and Mr. Bradley Hertz.”
In response to the assertion that her dispute with the recall filing language is one of semantics rather than substance and that a violation of the Brown Act involving Mayor Beaver and Councilmen Duncan and Garner did take place on January 9 and that collectively by their action on January 9 Mayor Beaver and Councilmen Duncan and Garner did terminate Mr. Snow and force the resignation of Mr. Casey, Sauseda wrote, “I take exception to the assertion that I would pursue a frivolous lawsuit with political motivations. As a certified municipal clerk, I am committed to upholding the law in a neutral and impartial manner. My challenge to the allegations in the notices is about upholding the law to ensure the voters of the city are not misled on official election documents. It was my hope that I would have an expeditious court hearing so that a judge could rule on the merits of the case, and it is unfortunate that the process has taken so long because I believe I would prevail on the merits.”
According to Sauseda, “The assertion that a Brown Act violation occurred is one of the central misleading statements from the recall proponents and has been deemed unfounded by an independent investigator. Upon Mr. Mann’s hiring, the council commissioned an investigation into the allegations by critics of the council’s decision to hire him. One of those allegations that the investigator looked into was that of a Brown Act violation. The investigator acknowledged that Mr. Mann had conversations with councilmen Beaver and Duncan before his hiring and with Garner before his election. As Mr. Mann is not a council member, he could not have committed a Brown Act violation by talking to the three, especially since Garner had not yet been elected and was not subject to the Brown Act’s prohibitions. There has been absolutely no evidence to suggest that three or more members of the city council met, conducted serial meetings, or otherwise violated the Brown Act.”
Asserting her “lawsuit is about much more than semantics,” Sauseda referenced the first two statements on the notice filed regarding Beaver, which stated “Abuse of Power: Behind closed doors, Justin Beaver removed the city attorney and forced City Manager Casey into retirement without warning, despite a favorable review and 2-year contract extension – leaving taxpayers on the hook for severance pay” and “Self Serving: Immediately replaced city manager and attorney with political cronies without public scrutiny, input or transparency in the selection process.”
Sauseda quibbled with the recall proponents’ characterizations, saying “There are both false and misleading statements contained in the document filed by the intended recall petitioners. ‘Abuse of Power’ in close proximity to ‘Behind Closed Doors’ implies illegality, even though the actions on January 9, 2023 were done in conformity with the Brown Act,” she asserted. “Voters in Mayor Beaver’s district, reading this statement in official election documents, would be misled to believe that Mayor Beaver singlehandedly removed the city attorney. This is factually inaccurate. No single member of the council, including the mayor, has this authority. The legal services contract of Richards, Watson & Gershon was terminated by a unanimous vote of all five members of the city council.”
Sauseda asserted, “It is factually inaccurate to state that Mr. Casey was forced into retirement. I am prepared to produce evidence to the court that proves this.”
She did not produce that evidence to the Sentinel, however, implying Casey’s departure was in some fashion made of his own volition, without fully explicating how it was, roughly two-and-a-half months after he had acceded to a 20-month contract extension, that he felt compelled to tender his resignation.
“It is factually inaccurate to state that taxpayers were left on the hook for severance pay,” Sauseda said. “As Mr. Casey’s employment was not terminated by the city council, there was no severance payment. While there was a payment made to Mr. Casey based on the terms of a negotiated separation agreement, he was not paid severance.”
Sauseda further wrote, “Neither the city manager [Mann] nor city attorney [Graham] were close personal friends of the mayor [Beaver], and therefore do not meet the definition of ‘cronies.’ This statement misleads voters by implying impropriety or illegality in connection with the appointment process. The truth is that appointments were properly agendized and effectuated in the manner required by the Brown Act.”
Sauseda, who was not in January employed in Yucaipa nor involved in the unfolding events, asserted, “There was tremendous public scrutiny and input leading up to the hiring of Mr. Mann and Mr. Graham. This scrutiny was only possible because the city council was, in fact, transparent. The discussions in closed session about the removal of the city manager and city attorney, as well as the appointment of a new city manager and city attorney, were properly agendized for the January 9, 2023 meeting. As a result, extensive public comment/input was given prior to the city council going into closed session that night. Further, Mr. Mann was not officially hired until his contract was approved on January 30, 2023. Extensive public comment/input on the matter was given at agendized City Council meetings on January 23, 2023 and January 30, 2023, prior to Mr. Mann’s contract being approved by a 5-0 vote of the city council.”
Sauseda wrote, “T]hese are just the first two statements made against just one of the councilmembers who had been the subject of a recall effort. Almost all of the statements made on the notices for each of the three councilmembers are either objectively false or clearly misleading.”
Sauseda did not offer an explanation of how it was that Mann was present at the Yucaipa Civic Center on the evening of the January 9 meeting nor square his presence with her assertion that he was not hired, officially, by the city council until January 30, which remains a central tenet to the recall petitioners’ contention that a Brown Act violation took place. Nor did she explain how the Brown Act was not violated by Graham’s spontaneous hiring on January 9 without any notice.
Sauseda reacted to the recall petitioners’ contention that her loyalty to the residents of Yucaipa had been compromised by the degree to which her municipal career had been advanced by Mann when she was working with Canyon Lake, where her annual salary of $72,978.28 in 2020 dwarfed the $40,952 annual salary she had received in her previous municipal assignment in Rancho Cucamonga and where, under Mann’s leadership in 2021 her salary increased to $82,845 and to an annual salary of $103,807 before benefits in 2022. Moreover, according to the recall petitioners, Sauseda’s independence has been further compromised by the consideration that Mann had brought her to Yucaipa from Canyon Lake, conferring upon her the dual appointments of city clerk and the director of general services at an annual salary of $163,858.63 before benefits.
Sauseda wrote that a previous Sentinel article which “said that Mr. Mann ‘plucked’ me from Rancho Cucamonga… could not be further from the truth, and I request that you correct the misinformation. I began working for the City of Canyon Lake in September of 2018 and was hired by then City Manager Aaron Palmer. Mr. Mann was hired in March of 2019. As the city clerk [of Yucaipa], my responsibility is to the nearly 55,000 residents and more than 34,000 registered voters here in the city, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I take exception to any allegations to the contrary. These allegations undermine and diminish my hard work and dedication to furthering my career, including my efforts to earn the prestigious certified municipal clerk designation, taking a pay reduction for a position with more upward mobility, and earning my degree while working full-time and being a mom.”
According to Sauseda, “The salary numbers you provide are inaccurate. When I accepted the position of records management analyst in the Rancho Cucamonga City Clerk’s office in 2017, my starting pay was $56,000 per year. I applied for a deputy city clerk position at the City of Canyon Lake in 2018 and was hired by the city manager at the time, Aaron Palmer. I took a pay cut to take that job, [at] $48,000 per year, because it provided additional responsibility and the ability to develop my resume and career. While at Canyon Lake, I earned my certified municipal clerk designation and proved my skill and competence in the city clerk profession. I was promoted from deputy city clerk to city clerk in March of 2020. My promotion to the city clerk position upon receiving my certified municipal clerk designation had been discussed and was already on the table prior to Mr. Mann being hired as city manager. However, Mr. Mann honored that arrangement and approved the promotion. The 2020 salary you found reflects 9 months at the higher salary of city clerk. In 2021, I moved up a step in the salary schedule. And in 2022, the [Canyon Lake] City Council conducted a classification and compensation study that led to raises across-the-board.”
Sauseda wrote, “Joining the City of Yucaipa represents another promotion in my career for which I have spent more than 17 years preparing and for which I am well qualified. I am thankful to Mr. Mann for the opportunity but take exception to any allegation that my career advancement is based on anything but merit and proven competence.”
Sauseda sought to controvert the assertion that her intent in petitioning for the writ challenging the recall filing was to prevent the recall effort from proceeding.
“Nothing I, or anyone at the city, have done has in any way prevented anyone from exercising their right to pursue a recall,” she wrote. “My goal with this lawsuit, which is an option clearly provided to me in the Elections Code, was simply to protect the voters by preventing the circulation of false and misleading information in official election documents. The recall proponents had options to continue their efforts, including 1) circulating their original petitions, presuming they had confidence in the honesty and validity of their statements, or 2) drafting and circulating new notices with revised statements. A new recall effort with factually true information could have been initiated at any time. It was entirely the decision of the recall proponents not to circulate their original petition and not to initiate a new effort.”
In response to the assertion that her intent to prevent the recall effort from proceeding by petitioning for the writ challenging the recall filing was demonstrated by her willingness to settle the proceedings now that the deadline for the filing of the signatures that were supposed to be affixed to the recall petitions has elapsed, Sauseda wrote, “My goal with this lawsuit was to exercise my legal rights to seek a court order stopping the circulation of false and misleading information on recall petitions. As the circulation period has ended and the proponents have indicated that they do not plan to circulate the false and misleading statements that led to the lawsuit, I have achieved success and there is no reason to continue the lawsuit. My offer to settle is based on pragmatism and doesn’t mean that I don’t want a hearing on the merits. Ideally, I would prefer a hearing on the merits and believe that a judge would affirm my conclusion about the false and misleading statements in the notices.”
Sauseda took umbrage at the recall proponents’ characterization of her as Mann’s tool rather than a servant of the residents, citizens and taxpayers of Yucaipa and their contention that her role in petitioning for the writ challenging the recall was part of a strategy to salvage the current elective terms of Mann’s political masters/patrons, those being Mayor Beaver and Councilmembers Duncan and Garner.
“To those people who assume that I am nothing more than a tool of Mr. Mann, I say ‘Shame on you!’ Shame on you for trying to discredit the more than 17 years I have spent serving the public in varying jurisdictions – all while earning professional designations, continuing my education culminating with a bachelor’s degree in public administration, and while growing my family. I took this job not to serve political agendas, but instead to serve the public, and that is what I have been doing and will continue to do. My actions in this matter have been motivated by nothing more than a desire to serve the public, dedication to the city clerk profession, and determination to safeguard the electoral process.”
The recall proponents contend that rather than facilitating the democratic process in Yucaipa, Sauseda, by her actions as city clerk and a litigant in San Bernardino Superior Court, thwarted the democratic process.
To that, Sauseda said, “My actions as a city clerk have been entirely within the legislative framework of the Elections Code, which could not be more clear on this matter. I’m not sure how enforcing the law could be construed as thwarting the democratic process. My responsibility is to uphold the law on behalf of the nearly 55,000 residents and more than 34,000 registered voters here in the city. I am duty bound to preserve truth and integrity in the election process, and that is what I did. [T]he proponents had options to continue their recall efforts. But, as you note, the recall proponents were unsure about the legality of their statements and made the decision not circulate.”
According to Sauseda, “The bottom line is that the group of recall proponents blatantly lied on official election documents, got caught, and now they are lashing out. If they prefer not to face legal challenges, I suggest they familiarize themselves with applicable law or at the very least stick to the truth.”
Preparatory toward next month’s court hearing at which Judge Michael Sachs is to make a decision about the continuation or dismissal of the lawsuit Yucaipa City Clerk Ana Sauseda brought which, in essence, prevented 194 Yucaipa residents from pursuing an effort to recall three of their councilmen, Sauseda offered a free-ranging defense of her action.