Yucaipa City Manager Chris Mann this week derided perceptions that his status as a developer and his role as a representative of the building industry undercuts his ability to fulfill the commitments he has assumed to safeguard Yucaipa residents’ interests in his vaunted position overseeing the myriad operations at City Hall, including ones pertaining to land use decisions and enforcing regulations relating to construction and the provision of infrastructure to accommodate growth in the community.
Mann found himself at the center of a maelstrom of controversy and adversity created by the manner in which he was put into the Yucaipa city manager position.
His hiring in January followed by little more than two months the November election of two new members of the city council – Matt Garner, who replaced David Avila in the First District, and Chris Venable who replaced Greg Bogh in the Fifth District. That hiring came in the immediate aftermath of the forced departure of longtime City Manager Ray Casey.
In October 2022, the council as it was then composed – comprised of Bogh, Avila, Justin Beaver, Bobby Duncan and Jon Thorp – had voted to extend Casey’s contract until June 2024. On January 9, 2023, the first substantive meeting of the Yucaipa City Council with Garner and Venable as members, was held. After adjourning into a closed session conducted outside the scrutiny of the public shortly after the meeting began, Beaver, Duncan and Garner pressured Casey into resigning and moved to conduct a vote to terminate City Attorney David Snow. The vote to accept Casey’s resignation was 3-to-2, with Beaver, Duncan and Garner prevailing and Thorp and Venable dissenting. The council then voted 5-to-0 to fire Snow. At that point, Steven Graham, the city attorney with the City of Canyon Lake in Riverside, materialized and began functioning as Yucaipa’s City Attorney. The council then voted 4-to-1, to offer the position of city manager to Mann, who at that time was the city manager of Canyon Lake, a member of the Yucaipa Water District Board of Directors, and the principal in Mann Communications. Mann, like Graham, had been present on the civic center grounds throughout the meeting.
Nearly two score Yucaipa residents who had been alerted at the last minute that something was in the offing, had shown up at the meeting, several of whom had hoped to be able to talk the council out of getting rid of Casey, a Princeton-educated civil engineer with extensive public works experience in governmental and municipal settings and construction experience in the private sector. He had served as Yucaipa’s city engineer/director of public works for five years beginning in 2003 before he was promoted to the position of city manager in 2008. The crowd’s efforts at intercession had been to no avail, and Casey abruptly joined the ranks of the unemployed or retired or both.
With Mann and Graham on hand for the meeting and Graham assuming the role of city attorney on the spot without any forewarning, there were immediate accusations that a violation of The Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open public meeting law, had taken place. 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 a matter to be voted upon 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.
Residents who were opposed to what was tantamount to Casey’s sacking 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 immediately present, in anticipation of the action the council ultimately took.
Beaver, Duncan, Garner, Mann and Graham had anticipated nothing more than mild objections among the public to jettisoning Casey, which they believed would blow over in short order. That proved a gross miscalculation. Beaver, Duncan and Garner put out a press release justifying their action, asserting that “the voters of Yucaipa elected two new members to the city council” and that “the council is taking decisive action to move Yucaipa forward” by “making changes to the city’s executive leadership team,” simultaneously celebrating the talents of Mann and Graham. For a large number of Yucaipa residents, that rang hollow. The newly elected Venable had not gone along with firing Casey, residents noted, and less than three months previously, Beaver and Duncan had voted to keep Casey in place for another year-and-a-half. When the city conferred a severance package on Casey which essentially guaranteed him the salary he would have received had he remained in the capacity of city manager for the duration of his contract and provided Mann with an extremely generous employment contract, such that the city and its taxpayers were put in the position of paying to employ two city managers for sixteen months, the outrage among a growing contingent of Yucaipa citizens was contagious. Beaver, Duncan and Garner, who to begin with had not anticipated the outrage or its depth, initially assumed it would diffuse rapidly. It did not, and, as more and more residents learned of what had occurred, it intensified.
One public relations misstep followed another as the three members of the council sought to evade the growing wrath of their constituents. Consequently, Beaver, Duncan and Garner turned to Mann, the principal in Mann Communications, which according to the company’s website, assists its clients to “effectively communicate with the public… effect change at the ballot box… delivering… messages through both traditional and innovative means… identifying supporters one by one.” As Mann headed a team of “practiced political strategists,” according to his company’s website, and “the experts at Mann Communications have a track record of success utilizing strategies and tactics such voter targeting, direct mail, live and automated phone banks, opposition research, earned media, polling, issues management, and grassroots mobilization including door-to-door outreach,” Beaver, Duncan and Garner were ready to accede to the city manager’s guidance.
Mann instructed them to seek to have the public move past the loss of Casey as a steady guiding hand at City Hall and instead focus on the talents of the new management team they were installing. Accordingly, Beaver, as mayor, took a bold stab at explaining why the trio had settled on Mann as city manager to replace Casey, alluding to Mann’s status as the president of the Yucaipa Valley Water District Board of Directors, referencing Mann’s knowledge of the community based upon his residence in the city and asserted Mann “has the right relationships to help our city work collaboratively throughout the region for the benefit of Yucaipa residents.”
Paradoxically, however, when the mayor or councilmen Duncan and Garner, whose public communication skills had never been their strong suit, brought Mann’s skill at shaping public opinion to bear, it served only to alarm the city’s already animated residents further, who came to believe that Mann was a puppet master, manipulating the troika over whom he had taken control, to promulgate what was an unabashedly pro-development agenda.
Mann, through Mann Communications, according to the firm’s 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 specializes in, the firm’s website states, 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. 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.”
A good cross section of Yucaipa residents – and others in the know, as well – found troubling that Canyon Lake and Yucaipa would hire Mann into their respective city manager posts, in which they oversaw and oversee the regulatory processes of those cities’ land use decision-making and planning functions, given his ownership of a company in major portion dedicated to working on behalf of developmental interests, the very entities he was supposed to be regulating. Yucaipa residents needed to go no further than Mann Communications’ website to glimpse those development interests – residential developers Lennar, Pardee, Meritage Homes, Richmond American, Holland Development, the Golshan Group, Rotkin Real Estate Group as well as Jacobsen Family Holdings, Turner Dale, Carlton Properties, Preferred Business Properties Real Estate Services and Oakmont Industrial Group.
Whereas previously it was widely recognized among Yucaipa residents that Duncan was a real estate agent, a majority of the community did not perceive as problematic allowing the real estate industry a seat at the table among individuals from a variety of professional classes serving in the capacities of city council members in their roles as the arbiters of how the city’s character was to be maintained or allowed to evolve. What it looked like at that point, however, was 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 was widely recognized that Casey 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 either by the developer or the city’s taxpayers, and that he was 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. Casey, it seemed, had gotten into somebody’s, or several somebodies’, way. With his forced exit, there arose an instantaneous perception that Beaver, Duncan and Garner had ditched him 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 scores or even hundreds of other cities in Southern California that are now composed, practically, of wall-to-wall houses.
Uncharitable word 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 core group of Yucaipa residents who were caught flatfooted in January when Casey’s resignation materialized as a fait accompli, 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 City Hall, where they filed a notice of intention to circulate recall petitions against Garner, Duncan and Beaver. George Sardeson, Cheryl Sardeson, Frances Fields, Frances Finely Fields, Debra Wilson, Robert Otto, Daniel Wilson, Bonnie Farris, Edwin Morgan, William Cooper, Sara Cooper, Debra Studley, Dennis Studley, April Klein, William Klein, Jean Kielhold, Jamie Peterson, Kenneth D. Rolf Jr., Janis Waltman, Lori S. Waltman, Jimmy Distler, Jennece Distler, Rickey Chanter, Lawrence Anderson, Helen Anderson, Kent Miller, Lloyd Rekstad, Patricia Smoll, Donald Saenz, Cheryl Saenz, Thomas Powell, Bonita Powell, Katina Mohler, Kristine Mohler, John Mohler, Robert Henderson, Sandra Henderson, Frank Jubala, Patricia Jubala, Thomas Ziech, Timothy Ryan, Elizabeth Grimes, Scott Smith, Lois Crosby, Gayle Crosby, Lyndi Norkin, Sergey Norkin, Valarie Peterson, Margaret Padron, Baltimore Padron Jr, Jim Peterson, Susan Wamsley, David Knopp, Brenda Knopp, Johanne Dyerly, Stephen Dyerly, Patricia Teeters, Kali Spillmann, Kent Spillmann, Marissa Ryan, Brynn Hoffman and Christopher Hoffman, as residents of District 4, signed the notice of the intention to circulate the recall petition against Justin A. Beaver.
Steven Maurer, Randy Bogh, Chelsey Lauren Bogh, Edmer Salazar, Mana Manasuk, Linda Simpson, Judith Fink, Nelson Fink, Carol Price, Robert Price, Garold Beecham, Robert Montee, Steve C. Martin, Steve A. Martin, Elizabeth Martinez, Telesforo Martinez, Virginia Flores, Willam Crosby Mecham, Quentin Ray Leenstra, Bryan Jovanny Acencio Munoz, Charles Howard Hopson, Patricia Alice Meads, Veronica Anne Carrillo, Vincent Mart Willingham, Lawrence Contla, Brittany Oosterbroek, David Oosterbroek, Joseph Foglio, Ashley Foglio, Marina Ortiz-Corral, Bonnie Hopson, Mark Allen, Gina Allen, Kevin O’Connor, Sabrina Mendel, Bradley Namil, George Ewan, Linda Ewan, Jorge Valenzuela, Elizabeth Corn, Mary Breslin, Robert Andrews Jr, Cheryl Nelson, Kimberly Juarez, Chuck Marrs, Kimberly Marrs, Diana Williams, Amy Gehrke, William Gehrke, Daniel Morales, Mary Sandoval, Nancy Bruins, Seth Bruins, Allison Proffitt, Catherine Proffitt, Kevin Allison, Robert Walker, Pamela Walker, Roberto Corral, Kristen Wheatley, Edward Wheatley, Joseph Phillips, Trevor Miller, Norma Salazar, Wayne Challis, Diane Elmore and Perry Thompson, as residents of District 3, signed the notice of the intention to circulate the recall petition against Bobby Dean Duncan.
Sherilyn Long, David Long, Kathleen Sellers, William Sellers, Robert Huddleston, Wanda Huddleston, Jeanette McKovich, James McKovich, Jay Bogh, Kari Bogh, Brian Bleyenberg, Jennifer Bleyenberg. Benjamin Bleyenberg, Kenneth Jackson, Mark Etheredge, Ramona Etheredge, Jason Bender, Colleen Wang, Matthew Vanderwood, Lynda Underwood, Mary Marsh, George Marsh, Gwendolyn Waters, Travis Waters, Joshua Waters, Jeffrey Bohner, Barbara Bohner, Gillian Bohner, Gillian Skinner, Pierre Assaf, Ivelisse Assaf, Lynette Hirsch, Phillip Philson, Kendall Taylor, Jean Taylor, Katelyn Taylor, Teri Boon, Suzanne Eshleman, James Eshleman, Rebekah Pedersen, Joe Pedersen, Sherry Todd, Heather Dent, Dwayne Brinks, Lucinda Brinks, Patrick Aguirre, Marlin Feenstra, Victoria Feenstra, Nino Valmassoi, Valerie Aguirre, Ruben Aguirre, Denise Aguirre, Wesley Feenstra, Carol Griffin, Christy Garcia, Donice Griffin, Chris Griffin, Cristobal Garcia, Linda Witham, Douglas Witham, Jamie Hillwig, Alan Hillwig, Paul Bolock and Julie Bolock, as residents of District 1, signed the notice of the intention to circulate the recall petition against Councilmember Matthew Gabriel Garner.
Reasons given for seeking the recall against each of the three were that they had acted to terminate Casey and had violated the Brown Act in doing so.
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.
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 Sauceda, whom he had previously promoted to city clerk when she was employed at the City of Canyon Lake.
To protect his political masters on the city council, Mann formulated a strategy of hiring the Los Angeles-based Sutton Law Firm, which had already established a reputation in San Bernardino County of being able to thwart the expressed will of the electorate when it had filed suit on behalf of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in 2020 to prevent Measure K, which had been passed by a supermajority of the county’s residents to convert the board of supervisors into part-time legislators and reduce their $250,000 total annual compensation positions to ones paying a total of $60,000 in salary and benefits, an amount the backers said mirrored the average annual income of the county’s residents. Ultimately, the State Appellate Court had rejected the Sutton Law Firm’s lawsuit, but not before the supervisors were able to use it to postpone the pay reduction aspect of Measure K and substitute another measure reestablishing their approximate quarter-of-a-million-dollar-per-year salary and benefit packages.
Utilizing taxpayer money, Mann arranged to have two of Sutton Law Firm’s attorneys, Bradley W. Hertz and Eli B. Love, draw up a lawsuit challenging the recall effort on the basis that the recall proponents could not prove their allegation that a Brown Act violation had occurred with the forced departure of Casey and that the recall proponents’ separate accusations against Beaver, Duncan and Garner that each had acted toward terminating Casey and Snow was not true since no single one of them had such authority and that the actions to relieve Casey of his city manager’s post and fire Snow were ones taken collectively by the entire city council body. The lawsuit was presented to Sauseda, who consented to acting as the plaintiff in the suit, which referenced her authority as Yucaipa’s chief elections officer under the auspices of a recently passed law, AB 2584, allowing her to contest the accuracy of the stated grounds for a recall. Sauseda’s suit, was filed against all 194 of the recall proponents.
To augment that effort, Mann had Joseph Pradetto, whom he had hired to serve as Yucaipa’s director of governmental affairs and official spokesperson, intensify the intimidation level against the recall proponents. Pradetto, in trumpeting to the Yucaipa community that the recall proponents were being sued by the city clerk, publicly stated, “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.’”
Faced with the distraction of the lawsuit and stood off by Pradetto’s threat to have them jailed for persisting with the recall effort, recall proponents fell far short of gathering, by the August 16 deadline, the minimal 1,826 valid signatures from among District 1’s 7,303 registered voters to qualify a ballot item on recalling Garner, the minimal 1,478 valid signatures of the 5,912 registered voters in District 3 to qualify a ballot item on recalling Duncan and the minimal 1,623 valid signatures from among the 6,492 registered voters in District 4 to qualify a vote on recalling Beaver.
Mann’s masterful use of the governmental machinery at his command to protect the three members of the city council who had conferred upon him a $240,000 salary, perquisites and pay add-ons of roughly $23,000 and approximately $80,000 in full benefits for a total annual compensation of around $343,000 was positively perceived, indeed admired, by the establishment and political insiders in San Bernardino County and the Inland Empire.
Among a wide swath of those in Yucaipa, however, Mann is seen as a pariah, a corrupting and corrosive influence who is ushering in an ambiance, era, ethos and principle of pay-to-play politics in which the development industry is buying off politicians and turning the offices at City Hall intended to protect the city’s residents from the avarice of real estate speculators and builders seeking to profit from the destruction of their quality of life and the character of Yucaipa’s existing neighborhoods by the imposition of ever denser “stack and pack” housing.
Several residents told the Sentinel that Mann, who was elected to the position of Division 1 representative on Yucaipa Water District Board of Directors in 2016 against a single opponent with 54.2 percent of the vote, returned to the board in 2020 without opposition, served as the board’s president from January 2019 to January 2023 and resigned from the water board upon assuming the city manager’s post in January, would draw stiff opposition if he were to attempt to return to the board, such that it is virtually impossible that he would be reelected.
In September and earlier this month, scores or even hundreds of Yucaipa residents saw what they perceive to be further evidence of what Mann is up to when, at the urging of Mann, Director of Development Services Fermin Preciado, Deputy Director of Community Development Benjamin Matlock and Associate Planner Madeline Jordan, the planning commission recommended and ultimately the city council passed Ordinance 429, which superseded Ordinance 344. Passed in 2016, Ordinance 344 had set 16 dwelling units per acre as the maximum density permitted on property in the city converted from existing mobilehome parks. Ordinance 429 upped the number of residential units that can be built on such converted property to 24.
At present, 27.8-square mile, 55,495-population Yucaipa has the highest concentration of mobilehome parks of any city in San Bernardino County. The action taken by the city council with the passage of Ordinance 429 applies to seven of the city’s 42 mobilehome parks – Westwind, Mountain View, Melody Lane, Hide-A-Way, Hitching Post, Las Casitas and Holiday Mobile Rancho. Some residents of those facilities, many of whom are elderly, retired and living on fixed incomes, have expressed their belief that Mann has embarked on a program by which the lion’s share of the mobilehome parks will be supplanted by residential housing, primarily condominiums and apartments, within the next generation, activity which will make land speculators and developers spectacularly wealthy.
A recurrent expression among Yucaipa residents is that Mann’s focus is not on managing – i.e., planning, organizing, directing and controlling – operations at Yucaipa City Hall to benefit the city’s current and future residents but rather to advance the fortunes of the development industry, which is his actual constituency.
Mann this week told the Sentinel that those who are critical of his stewardship of municipal operations in Yucaipa have it all wrong, that there is no conflict whatsoever between his role as city manager and his ownership of Mann Communications and status as an advocate for the building industry and development community and that the criticisms and attacks against him are built upon misinformation, misrepresentations, dishonesty and outright lies.
“Let’s start from the beginning,” Mann said. “Prior to the city council elections in November of last year, a group of residents from a particular area of the city had formed a group to oppose a proposed residential development project.”
Mann’s reference was to the Serrano Estates project.
“This group supported a candidate in that election who shared their views, but that candidate was not successful,” according to Mann. His reference was to Sherilyn Long, who was one of the four candidates and the second-place finisher in the 2022 First District race won by Garner.
“As a result of the outcome of that election, a shift occurred on the city council and a new majority was formed,” according to Mann. “Distrustful of the new council majority, this group of residents began attacking members of the city council during public comment at council meetings and in letters to the editor in the local weekly newspaper. When the previous city manager suddenly retired and I was hired, this group made some incorrect assumptions as to the reasons for the change and as to my motivations. They incorrectly assumed that I was part of a grand conspiracy to usher in a new era of intense development in the city. Unfortunately, this group decided to not just voice their opinions on development projects and city policies, but also to launch vicious personal attacks on members of the council and on me. When Mr. Casey resigned and I was hired, a small number of city insiders, including several former city councilmembers, who had close personal relationships with Mr. Casey and were upset with his departure, joined with this group in criticizing the city council and me. The attacks against me began immediately upon my appointment, before even starting in the position, have been entirely inaccurate or misleading, and have only served to divide the community. It appears that this group formed their inaccurate theories by misinterpreting information gained primarily through Google searches. They then presented their speculations as facts, without being able to present a single shred of evidence. They have submitted complaints based on these unsupported theories and speculations to any and every government entity they could think of, including the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office, the civil grand jury, the Fair Political Practices Commission, County Supervisor Dawn Rowe’s office, State Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh’s office, etc. Not even one of these complaints has resulted in a determination that wrongdoing occurred. There is no evidence to back up their accusations because their conspiracy theories are simply inaccurate. While this group represents a fraction of 1 percent of the 55,000 or so residents of the city, they have been so loud and persistent that their efforts have caused turmoil, have attracted media attention, and have negatively impacted the professional reputations of council members and staff. Some of their very public attacks have been so intentionally dishonest and malicious that they may rise to the level of defamation, even though that is a high bar when applied to public figures; a question that a court may ultimately have to answer.”
Mann maintains that he is being scapegoated, unfairly and maliciously, for developmental trends set into motion by Casey, well before his advent as Yucaipa city manager.
“Ironically, all of the projects and policies this group has opposed were initiated by the previous city manager and city council,” Mann asserted. “Examples include the Serrano Estates single family residential project, the Fallbrook apartment project, the Wine Country Specific Plan, the 6th Cycle Housing Element Update, which included the streamlined process for mobile home park conversions. Despite this fact, the integrity and motives of the previous city manager were never called into question by this group; nor was the previous city council accused of being in the pockets of developers. Even though I had nothing to do with these projects/policies being brought forward, some in this group have disingenuously attempted to attribute them to me.”
The public’s perception of him as advocate for aggressive development is wrong, Mann said.
“I flatly deny accusations that I have in any way pushed for increased housing density,” he proclaimed. “Again, all of the projects and policies pointed to as examples of this by critics were inherited by me from the previous administration.”
Moreover, he said, he and the city are caught up in the State of California’s push to have the state’s cities accommodate denser and denser residential subdivisions to overcome the ongoing housing shortage.
“Unfortunately, future residential projects that seek to increase density will have to be evaluated based on current state law, which in many ways ties the hands of cities when it comes to the development of housing,” Mann said. “I do not have the ability to block these projects from going through the process and having their day at the planning commission and/or city council. However, I will look for every way possible to encourage projects that will enhance the community, while discouraging the approval of projects that would adversely impact the current feel of the community.”
Mann went so far as to suggest he represents a bulwark against intensified growth.
“In reality, I am incredibly particular about the types of development that I’d like to see in Yucaipa,” he claimed. “In fact, I have received feedback from multiple applicants that I am quite a bit tougher on developers than was my predecessor.”
In marshaling evidence to that effect, Mann latched onto his efforts to eighty-six certain types of commercial projects in the city.
“For instance,” Mann said, “in April I asked the city council to adopt a moratorium on certain types of development, including car washes and gas stations. Developers were not happy about this, but it is what I thought was best for the community.”
He is particularly partial to Yucaipa, where he lives, he said, and he is not about to foul his own nest.
“Why am I so picky about how our community develops?” Mann asked. “Because my family and I live here. We love Yucaipa and want nothing but the best for it. I want my 2-year-old son and soon-to-be-born baby, due November 1st, to grow up in a Yucaipa that is safe and friendly and that has maintained its rural, small-town feel.”
His critics and the Sentinel, with its patented fourth-rate journalism, have, Mann said, “publicly misrepresented my professional background and motives. I believe the reasons for this can be almost exclusively attributed to a misunderstanding of my former public relations consulting business, Mann Communications. The Sentinel, in several stories now, has falsely published that I concurrently serve as a city manager and consult for developers or perhaps am a developer myself. This is factually inaccurate and printing it as fact is irresponsible. Even the slightest investigative journalism would have revealed the truth, which is that I have not consulted for developers or any other private business interests since well before becoming city manager in the City of Canyon Lake in 2019. It would absolutely be a conflict of interest for me to consult for a client doing business in a city where I am serving as city manager. Thus, I have never done so. A simple look at my financial reportings, which are public record, and readily available for all to see, would have dispelled this false accusation.”
Mann said, “It is true that I once ran a public relations company specializing in helping businesses interface and do business with local government, and helping local government agencies more effectively communicate with the public. It is also true that I had real estate development companies as clients, along with public agencies, non-profits, community organizations, labor unions, political action committees, etc. I even once represented a grassroots community group in opposition to development and helped that group expose corruption in a city in Riverside County. However, that is only one part of my professional background, which is quite diverse. In addition to running a successful public relations company for many years, I have been a mayor, city councilman, water board director, deputy chief of staff and analyst for a member of the board of supervisors, and now a city manager. I have never hidden from my professional background, evidenced by the fact that I have not taken down my old Mann Communications website. I am proud of it, and I believe it is what has made me an effective city manager.”
Mann said, “”[T]here have been multiple stages to my career. I now devote my professional time entirely to the vocation of city management. When I became a city manager for the first time in 2019, it was the realization of long-held career goal of mine. The city council in the City of Canyon Lake was looking for someone who was well-versed in local government, but who came primarily from the private sector. I was chosen for that position from a field of approximately 35 applicants. From that point forward, I committed myself entirely to the profession. With the exception of providing limited logistical support to one remaining small client, not related to development or any other private business, I ceased all other business activity. My annual financial reporting forms will verify this. In fact, I am so committed to the profession and to the concept that a city manager should be impartial in the provision of public services to all within the community, that less than a year after becoming a city manager I changed my voter registration to ‘no party preference.’ I truly believe that I am now doing what I was called to do professionally. My professional reputation is incredibly important to me, as is my ability to serve out the rest of my career in the city management profession. Therefore, I continually strive to conduct myself ethically, with integrity, and in the best interests of the community.”
Mann was unable to give a comprehensive justification for, or explanation of why, the city council – or more accurately three of its members – had jettisoned Casey in favor of him.
As to how it was that Beaver, Duncan and Garner worked themselves and the city into a position where the city’s residents are paying for two city managers while receiving the services of just one, Mann said, “Much has been made of the fact that Mr. Casey’s contract was amended and extended just a few months prior to his departure, and that two of the councilmembers who ended up voting to accept his resignation had also voted in favor of his contract amendment/extension. I cannot go into the reasons for Mr. Casey’s resignation. However, I can speculate with some level of certainty that the two members of the council in question likely voted in favor of the contract amendment/extension because they were, at that point, in the minority on the issue and saw no reason to rock the boat by publicly voting against someone with whom they would then have to continue working. When Mr. Casey resigned, he and the city council negotiated and entered into a separation agreement. Section 8 of that agreement reads, ‘Employer and employee will work together to prepare a joint press release announcing employee’s retirement. Employee shall provide an initial draft for employer’s review. Employer and employee agree that no member of the city council or city management shall make any written, or electronic statement to any member of the public or the press, concerning employee or employee’s separation from employer, except as contained in the press release. The substance of the press release may be repeated in response to any inquiry.’ As a result of this clause in the agreement, the city council has been legally bound not to discuss or explain the circumstances/reason behind Mr. Casey’s resignation. I understand that this is frustrating for some members of the public, and it has been frustrating for me as well. I would like nothing more than to be able to publicly discuss the issue and thus ease any concerns. That being said, this is a common clause in separation agreements.”
Mann did not explain why he was willing to come into such a situation in which the circumstances surrounding his hiring was fraught with so many negative implications and insinuations relating to his new employers and the prospects and expectations with regard to the assignment he was taking on.
Mann offered a justification for the way in which he had stacked City Hall with his own loyalists. He suggested, without stating explicitly, that it was Casey’s choice to abruptly resign as city manager in January, just two-and-a-half months after he had agreed to a contract that was to keep him in place for at least 20 months.
“Also exceedingly common in municipal government is for a newly seated city council majority to bring in a new city manager who shares their vision and desired approach,” he said. “Examples of this can be seen multiple times after every election cycle in cities throughout California and the United States. It just happens to be something new for the City of Yucaipa, which has historically enjoyed long-tenured city managers. Mr. Casey had served as city manager for over 14 years and had publicly been flirting with retirement for at least the last two years of his tenure. The average tenure for a city manager is just under five years. Mr. Casey served almost three times the average term. Thus, what is unusual is not the change in city managers, but that the change did not happen sooner. That being said, it is admittedly my hope that the trend of long tenures in Yucaipa continues.”
Mann controverted the widespread perception of impropriety in the way he was sprung on the community as the new city manager without any warning or effort to openly invite applications from candidates as part of a recruitment drive to find someone to succeed Casey and conduct a competition to find a pool of qualified contenders to select from.
“Also not uncommon is the manner in which the city council selected me as their new city manager,” Mann said. “While extensive search processes are sometimes utilized, that is certainly not always the case. Examples can be found close to home. Mr. Casey was hired in a similar manner. There was not an extensive search, nor was public input in the decision sought. Then-Mayor Dick Riddell decided that he wanted Mr. Casey and was successful in convincing his colleagues on the council. While Mr. Casey was an internal hire, he was not the assistant city manager, and was therefore not the presumed successor. As the public works director, Mr. Casey was appointed over then-Assistant City Manager Greg Franklin. This was apparently quite controversial within City Hall at the time. Fortunately, Mr. Franklin’s response was professional and he did not attempt to rile up the community over the council’s decision. Other examples may be found at the County of San Bernardino. While admittedly different in that it was an internal hire, the county’s new CEO Luther Snoke was recently hired without a search. Former CEO Greg Devereaux was an external hire and was the only candidate interviewed for the job. In all of these examples, and I could give many more, the council/board knew who they (sic) wanted and so they proceeded with hiring that individual without going through the motions of an extensive search and without seeking direction from the public. Many would argue that, if a council/board knows who they (sic) want, it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars and applicants’ time, not to mention a little dishonest, to go through the motions of a search, just to say that a search was conducted.”
Mann propounded, “It is also important to point out that the city council has every right to determine who to hire as city manager and city attorney, and to use any process they (sic) so desire. The city manager and city attorney work directly for the city council. In fact, these are the only two positions that the council gets to hire and that report directly to the council. All other employees and consultants are hired by and report to the city manager. The only requirement for the job is that a majority of the council wants that person to work for them (sic) in the position. Thus, it is not a decision in which most cities involve the public. The public elects the members of the city council, thus the members of the council answer to the public. The council hires the city manager, who then answers to the council. All other staff report to the city manager. If the city manager and/or his staff are not effective, then public services will suffer, and ultimately the public may hold the council accountable, but the public is not typically involved in the hiring of the city manager or other city staff. I believe that some members of the community have not fully understood this.”
Despite there having been no mention whatsoever of either him or Graham on the agenda for the January 9 city council meeting, Mann offered a somewhat different personal recollection of what occurred that evening from those of dozens of Yucaipa residents and the official record as it was originally memorialized by then-City Clerk Metzler. He said, many Yucaipa “have mistakenly believed that they were somehow robbed of the opportunity to take part in the hiring process. They were, however, given numerous opportunities to speak to the matter during the public comment portion of three separate city council meetings, at which the item was property agendized.”
Mann offered a refutation of the assertion that Beaver, Duncan and Garner had engaged in a violation of the Brown Act.
“One of the false accusations that has consistently been made since January 9th is that there must have been a violation of the Brown Act,” he said. “After all, how could a majority of the city council, at its first full meeting after new councilmembers were sworn-in the previous month, have the votes to accept Mr. Casey’s resignation and already have his successor picked out and famously waiting in the parking lot to be called into closed session? The Brown Act prohibits a majority of the elected body from discussing city business outside of properly agendized public meetings. So, in the case of Yucaipa, which has a five-member city council, no more than two city councilmembers may privately discuss any issue that will come before the council for a vote. What I think the critics are missing is that the Brown Act applies to seated elected officials. It does not apply to candidates for office. It is a legal gray area whether or not it applies to a candidate who has won election but has not yet been sworn-in. In an abundance of caution, it may be wise for successful candidates to assume that Brown Act restrictions apply as of the date of the election, once it becomes apparent that they will be on the city council. Thus, two members of the city council would be entirely within their legal rights to seek out and support candidates who share their views, and to discuss actions the council might consider taking should those candidates succeed in their elections and ultimately be seated on the city council. As long as such discussions do not take place after the election, they are clearly not in violation of the Brown Act. This happens frequently and is common practice at all levels of government. It is not remotely unusual for elected officials of cities, counties, the state legislature or Congress, to support candidates who share their views in an effort to gain a majority and effect change.”
Essentially, what Mann was asserting was that both Beaver and Duncan were free to discuss at any time prior and up to January 9 shedding Casey and Snow as city manager and city attorney and that any discussions of the same either or both had with Garner before he was elected in November were absolutely permissible under the Brown Act.
Mann did acknowledge that discussion, at the least involving Beaver and Duncan and possibly involving Beaver, Duncan and Garner prior to Garner’s election, pertaining to Casey’s exit as city manager and his hiring to replace him took place.
“As to why I was at City Hall waiting to be called in to closed session on the night of January 9th, I was there at the request of the mayor,” Mann said. “The mayor had asked me to be available in case the city council wanted to bring me in to discuss the city manager position. I would also like to point out that the vote to appoint me city manager was 4-1, and my contract would later be approved by a unanimous 5-0 vote. Thus, this was not a decision made by a slim three-vote majority of the council.”
The closest Mann came to explicating why the council majority in January felt it necessary to force Casey out as city manager consisted of his explanation of “why… the council was interested in hiring me as their next city manager” and his listing of issues he had been tasked to address by the city council.
“First, it was an opportunity to have a city manager who is incredibly invested in the community, because I live here,” Mann said of the council’s rationale for his hiring. “Members of the council expressed excitement at the fact that there was someone with city management experience living and raising a family right here in Yucaipa. Second, I believe the council was impressed with what I was able to accomplish in my previous position as city manager for the City of Canyon Lake. Third, I believe the council placed a high value in the fact that I had spent six years serving on the board of directors of the Yucaipa Valley Water District, most of that time as board president. Fourth, as was the case with the Canyon Lake City Council, I believe the Yucaipa Council found value in having someone as the administrative head of the city who has significant public sector experience, but who spent much of his career in the private sector and thus brings a business-minded approach to local government. Lastly, I believe that the city council felt that I understand, and share a devotion to, the things that make Yucaipa unique, and that we have a common vision for protecting and enhancing quality of life here.”
Mann said, “Upon my appointment, members of the city council identified a number of areas that were of concern to them and on which they wanted me to focus. Many of these are reflected in the city council goals, which were adopted in April. At the top of that list were bolstering public safety and tackling the city’s growing homeless problem. Next in importance was to take a more aggressive approach to road maintenance. There were also concerns about looming budget challenges, the practice of loaning general fund dollars to development impact fee accounts, and possible overspending on large capital projects. Micromanagement within City Hall and low staff morale were also mentioned as areas that needed to be turned around. Once on the job, many more issues became apparent. The city’s municipal code is terribly outdated, in many cases no longer in compliance with state law. The city’s development code is vague and does not clearly define expectations and guidelines for projects; it also requires far too many routine applications to go to the planning commission that in most other cities are handled administratively. Development projects were given too much leeway if the project was supported by the previous administration. For example, planning department staff had been instructed to push through a project that was submitted as senior housing, presumably to avoid triggering traffic mitigation, but the proposed project contained only a few designated senior units and therefore did not meet the legal requirements to be considered a senior project. City committees were being classified as, and treated like, ad hoc committees, although in practice they were actually standing committees and should have been publicly noticed accordingly. Transparency was not where it should have been for a public agency; prime examples being that city council meetings were not broadcast in video and some documents that are legally required to be posted on the city’s website were not there. In many cases, basic requests from members of the city council were ignored.”
Mann said, “Since March 1st, staff has been working hard to correct all of these issues.”
As for the city council’s selection of Graham as city attorney, Mann said, Graham’s status as city attorney in Hemet, Canyon and Indio and as general counsel for the Idyllwild Fire Protection District and the Yucaipa Valley Water District impressed them.
“Thus, when two members of the city council separately asked me for a city attorney reference late last year, I could think of no one better than Mr. Graham,” Mann said. “My understanding is that Mr. Graham was interviewed by two members of the council initially, and then by the entire council on January 9th. At the time I entered closed session that evening, Mr. Graham had already been appointed to the position of city attorney. I should also note that the council’s dissatisfaction with their previous city attorney was well known. The vote to terminate that contract was 5-0, as was the vote to contract with… and appoint Mr. Graham. Conspiracy theories aside, engaging the services of a city manager and a city attorney who have a built-in relationship and a history of success working together is a rare opportunity and one that provides tremendous benefits to the city.”
Omitting reference to Snow, Mann said, “Although no city employees were terminated as a result of the transition, there was a slight restructuring and a number of vacant positions were filled. It is not at all unusual or inappropriate for a newly appointed city manager to restructure the organization in order to prepare it for new tasks ahead. Newly appointed city managers regularly bring in professionals they know and trust to fill senior management positions, as this provides a level of certainty that those jobs will be performed satisfactorily. I have hired three such individuals, two of which worked for me in Canyon Lake. This is a small percentage of the city’s 83 full-time employees. As the city manager will ultimately be held accountable by the city council for the successes and failures of the organization, the city manager has every right to build and organize the team as he/she sees fit. I will not discuss the reasons for any particular staffing changes, as they pertain to confidential personnel matters. Suffice it to say that, upon evaluating the organization following my appointment, it was clear to me that there were a number of deficiencies in critical areas.”
Yucaipa City Manager Chris Mann this week derided perceptions that his status as a developer and his role as a representative of the building industry undercuts his ability to fulfill the commitments he has assumed to safeguard Yucaipa residents’ interests in his vaunted position overseeing the myriad operations at City Hall, including ones pertaining to land use decisions and enforcing regulations relating to construction and the provision of infrastructure to accommodate growth in the community.