San Bernardino city officials are attempting to put criminal cases together against three journalists over what those officials are saying was the premature disclosure of the identity of the individual a majority of the council had resolved to hire as city manager earlier this year.
The journalists acted improperly and illegally, city officials contend, in informing the community with regard to certain particulars about the city’s recruitment process for a top city administrator that had been necessitated by the December 2022 resignation of City Manager Bob Field.
In the aftermath of Field’s departure, the city arranged for former City Manager Charles McNeeley to serve in the capacity of interim/acting city manager while the Berkeley-based headhunting firm of Koff & Associates, also known as Gallagher Benefit Services, carried out a recruitment effort during which a reported 68 applicants expressed an interest in the post.
By July, Mayor Helen Tran and six of the council’s seven members had come to the conclusion that one of those 68, who was then a city manager with another city, stood head and shoulders above the other applicants. Despite the intention of the council majority to offer that individual the city manager’s post in San Bernardino, the candidate had not been so informed. When someone with the City of San Bernardino approached a member of the city council in the city that employed the candidate, thereby informing the city manager’s political masters that their city manager was about to jump ship, the candidate, at that time uncertain of being extended a job offer in San Bernardino and ignorant that being hired was just around the corner, withdrew.
The disappointed council redoubled its examination of the field of applicants, which by that point had been winnowed to roughly a dozen semi-finalists as a consequence of Koff & Associates’ evaluation of the applicants. Those 12 or so candidates were considered and examined closely by the city. From that group of semi-finalists, according to reliable sources, “about four” finalists emerged by mid-August. Shortly thereafter, Mayor Helen Tran and council members Ted Sanchez, Sandra Ibarra, Juan Figueroa and Fred Shorett were leaning heavily in favor of extending an offer to Steve Carrigan, the city manager of Salinas. The mayor and council met in a specially-called closed session on August 28, during which they were secretly slated to vote on extending a job offer to Carrigan.
Despite the determination of Tran, Sanchez, Ibarra, Figueroa and Shorett to hire Carrigan, the resolve among the city council to do so at that point was not unanimous. Councilman Damon Alexander, while favorably impressed with Carrigan, was not 100 percent sold on him. Council members Ben Reynoso and Kimberly Calvin were in favor of considering the other three applicants more seriously before rejecting them outright or widening the selection field.
As it would turn out, the council at the August 28 meeting, in a decision widely regretted later, did not move as anticipated to make the job offer to Carrigan and lock him into place, instead temporizing until the council’s first meeting the following month to take that action, out of the hope that Reynoso and Calvin might be persuaded to endorse Carrigan, based on the belief that hiring him out of a collective vision and intent as well as with a unanimity of purpose would form the basis of a stronger relationship between the city’s political and administrative echelons, and would be better for the city moving forward.
Meanwhile, Carrigan, who had been informed of the scheduling of the August 28 meeting on August 24 and sensing his hiring was imminent, informed members of the Salinas City Council on August 26 that he had applied for the San Bernardino job.
With the city council’s failure to act at the August 28 meeting, Carrigan found himself unexpectedly hanging in what would soon be the autumnal California wind, twisting.
At the San Bernardino City Council’s first regularly scheduled meeting in September on September 6, a decision was reached in closed session to hire Carrigan, who had the support of Mayor Tran and Sanchez, Ibarra, Figueroa, Shorett and Alexander. In announcing that decision during the public portion of the September 6 meeting, City Attorney Sonia Carvalho stopped short of identifying Carrigan by name, stating that the official hiring decision would take place in open public session at the council meeting on October 4 and that full details would become publicly available with the September 29 release of the agenda for the October 4 meeting.
The decision, in which the council was abetted by Carvalho, to publicly withhold Carrigan’s identity compounded an already existent problem. While the city had unilaterally and under the gravitas of its status as a public authority deemed all information pertaining to Carrigan and its examinations and interviewings of applicants for the city manager’s job to be classified, the very process of carrying out those examinations and the conduction of those interviews exposed the identities of those being considered for the job to sophisticated observers. That certain organs of public information dissemination had already succeeded in informing the public that the council was considering hiring, or indeed had already resolved to hire, Carrigan and that Carrigan’s then-current employer was aware he had applied for the San Bernardino job somehow eluded San Bernardino City officials, who continued to carry on as if the information relating to Carrigan’s application was classified. This served as a general insult to the public and in particular the Salinas mayor and members of the Salinas City Council. Moreover, it painted Carrigan in a poor light and served as a demonstration to him of the inconsideration with which his would-be future employers are capable of acting and applying their authority, to say nothing of what some deemed to be their ineptitude and outright ignorance.
On September 28, Carrigan, considering the ordeal he had already been needlessly put through by San Bernardino officials, came to terms with the consideration that he was on the brink of walking into a nightmare scenario in San Bernardino. Of what good would the roughly $60,000 more per year he would make in San Bernardino be to him if he was to be miserable every waking moment of his existence, answering to elected officials who did not even have sense enough to read the local newspapers to bring themselves up to speed on what is ongoing in their own community, he asked himself. He called Gallagher Benefit Services and informed the company he would not take the San Bernardino job, after all. He then drafted a memo to the Salinas municipal staff. “Earlier this morning,” he began, “I contacted the recruiter and removed my name from consideration for the position of San Bernardino city manager. Over the past few weeks, I have had time to think about what’s important to me from a personal and a professional standpoint and I have decided that Salinas is the best place for me. In Salinas, we’ve made a lot of progress on major issues like homelessness, affordable housing, crime and infrastructure and I want to be here to continue that momentum. I cannot see myself working anywhere else.”
This sent San Bernardino city officials scrambling, as the planned hiring of Carrigan that was to take place on October 4 was no longer operative. The council members’ collective expectation that they had created for themselves some breathing room and could turn over to the supercompetent Carrigan the operations of City Hall was out the window, and they were hit with the dawning realization they were back to square one. Actually, it turned out, they had worked themselves into a situation where square one was multiple squares ahead of where they found themselves.
On October 3, the day before San Bernardino had been scheduled to hire Carrigan, four of the five members of the Salinas City Council met in their own specially-called meeting to discuss the action of their city manager, who had deliberately sought to leave their employ to go to work in San Bernardino. Considering events in their totality, the Salinas mayor and five of their six council members voted to terminate Carrigan.
Whereas by the beginning of Summer 2023, no fewer than 68 municipal professionals, many of whom had impressive credentials, were willing to come in as San Bernardino city manager, as of October 4, the majority of those applicants, having witnessed the series of incompetencies that San Bernardino city officials had engaged in while trying to plug the city manager gap and the destruction of Carrigan’s municipal managerial career that arose out of his application for the San Bernardino job and his eventual selection, recognized that working for San Bernardino, indeed having simply applied to work in San Bernardino, represented not an enhancement to each applicant’s professional career but a major liability and perhaps, depending on how things might play out, even its end. Having struck out in trying to hire the city council’s first choice and then failing in offering the job to the council’s second choice, city officials began working their way down the list. The third-ranking, fourth-ranking, fifth-ranking, sixth-ranking, seventh-ranking and eighth-ranking candidates were suddenly no longer willing to take on the San Bernardino city managerial assignment. In a panic, city officials began offering the job to anyone who was available to take a phone call.
No one is willing to say how far down the list the city went or how close officials were to scraping the bottom of the barrel when they received a positive response from Charles Montoya, who had last worked for the City of Avondale in 2021, at which point he was terminated. Montoya is yet suing Avondale, seeking $6.875 million.
Now, with Montoya in place, San Bernardino city officials have taken stock of what occurred with their recent city manager recruitment effort. According to that analysis, the difficulty those officials experienced was through no fault or shortcoming on their part but rather journalistic interference.
As San Bernardino city officials see it, they were entitled, and indeed attempted, to carry out a confidential recruitment for a replacement city manager. Despite that, first the San Bernardino Sun and two of the writers it employed and then the San Bernardino County Sentinel and one of its writers, purposefully and knowingly, compromised that confidentiality.
On April 20, 2023, the Sun published an article headlined San Bernardino Hires Berkeley Recruiting Firm To Find Next City Manager written by Brian Whitehead. That article reported that the city was paying Gallagher Benefit Services/Koff & Associates $28,500 to conduct a search for potential city manager candidates and to advise the council on their qualifications and which should be chosen for the post.
On August 25, 2023, the Sentinel published an article headlined San Bernardino Poaching Salinas City Manager, With Hiring Scheduled Next Week written by Mark Gutglueck, which identified Carrigan as the leading candidate among the applicants for the post.
On September 7, 2023, the Sun published an article headlined San Bernardino Picks New City Manager written by Whitehead, reporting that a decision on the hiring had been made but that City Attorney Sonia Carvalho stopped short of officially identifying the employee by name, and that the identification would occur on September 29 when the agenda for the October 4 meeting, at which the council would approve the contract.
On September 8, the Sentinel published an article headlined Salinas City Manager Carrigan In As SB Administrator October 4, which identified Carrigan, further reporting that a previous top pick for the post had become unnerved when the city council then employing the applicant had learned its city’s top staff member was contemplating leaving, resulting in that applicant withdrawing as a candidate in San Bernardino as a result.
On September 29, the Sentinel published an article headlined Salinas City Manager, To Whom SB Extended Job Offer As Top Administrator, Withdraws Application, which reported on Carrigan’s decision not to accept the San Bernardino city manager position.
On October 2, the Sun ran an article headlined San Bernardino Restarts Search For City Manager After Top Candidate Drops Out by Beau Yarbrough, which identified Carrigan by name and encapsulated his memo to Salinas staff announcing his reason for doing so.
Four days later, on October 6, the Sun followed its October 2 article up with another offering by Yarbrough headlined San Bernardino Residents Tell Council: ‘Find The Right Candidate’ For City Manager, in which Yarbrough reported that at the October 4 city council meeting “residents expressed skepticism that Carrigan was ever the right person for the job.”
On October 16, the Sun and Yarbrough reported, in an article headlined San Bernardino Announces It Has A New City Manager For Second Time In A Month, that Charles Montoya had been hired by the city, while noting “like San Bernardino’s previous top pick for city manager, the new candidate comes with baggage attached.” The article referenced Montoya’s 2021 firing by Avondale and the lawsuit he had filed against that city. The article also referenced accusations relating to covering up corruption lodged against Montoya by two police department detectives in Florence, Arizona where he had previously worked as city manager.
San Bernardino municipal officials, including the mayor and at least five members of the city council, have come to believe that journalistic activity has interfered with the administration of governance in the 223,044-population city. That interference crossed the line from being a mere nuisance into the province of criminality when the newspapers published Carrigan’s identify, city officials maintain.
Consequently, the city and its police department has initiated an investigation aimed at documenting the transgressions those journalists engaged in, activity which ranges, according to city officials, from tortious interference in a civil context to infractions and misdemeanors at the lower end of the scale up to felonies within a criminal context. Those transgressions were compounded, according to the city, when Carrigan withdrew as a candidate for city manager, requiring the city council to not only contemplate filling but to then actually fill a key post at City Hall with an individual widely recognized as an inferior substitute to Carrigan.
The ultimate goal of the investigation is to accumulate adequate information upon which the city can pursue both civil and criminal actions against the journalists involved. In undertaking the investigation, the original intent was to induce the Sun to fire both Whitehead and Yarbrough and obtain a financial settlement to ward off any further critical reporting with regard to San Bernardino by the Sun and to force the Sentinel, a more modest operation, out of business entirely. Already, the city has achieved a portion of what it hoped, as Whitehead has departed from the Sun and his journalistic capacity, taking a job as the public spokesman for Pomona College.
Two of the prime movers in the city’s effort are Mayor Helen Tran and City Attorney Sonia Carvalho.
Tran is particularly sensitive to any suggestions of incompetence or inefficiency in her administration. Prior to her successful run for mayor in 2022, Tran had been a San Bernardino city employee, having risen to the rank of the human resources director under former Mayor John Valdivia. Valdivia as mayor triggered a slew of city employee departures based on myriad examples of alleged inappropriate behavior, which included graft and bribetaking in which he involved city employees, maltreatment, mistreatment and allegedly wrongful termination of employees who were unwilling to engage in ongoing graft on the mayor’s behalf, Valdivia’s pressuring of city employees to engage in sexual relations with him, his requests of city employees to make special accommodations with regard to city policy or action favorable to his campaign donors and his requests that the city improperly remunerate him for expenses unrelated to his function as mayor, including paying for airline tickets, hotel accommodations and meals. When employees sought the protection of the city’s human resources division from the treatment that Valdivia was doling out because of their unwillingness to accommodate him, according to many of those caught in that circumstance, Tran did not have the strength of character to stand up for them and essentially allowed Valdivia to prevail in his battle of wills with them. When some of those employees sued over what had occurred, Tran’s reaction in siding with Valdivia became a factor in some of those lawsuits. As a consequence, Tran bailed on San Bernardino, moving into the position of human resources director in West Covina when that position became available. Now, as mayor, based on her unwillingness to stand up against the stronger-willed and more dominant Valdivia when she occupied a high-ranking position in his administration, Tran is struggling to convince city staff, her council colleagues and her constituents that her willingness to allow Valdivia to bully those over whom he was lording it is not a lasting character flaw now that she is in the ultimate position of authority in San Bernardino as mayor. She is looking to prove to others that she is as assertive as Valdivia and that under her “San Bernardino is not going to be fucked with.”
Thus, seeking accountability from the journalists who prevented San Bernardino from being able to bring Carrigan in as city manager will prove a successful strategy, she and her advisers are convinced.
In this regard, she and they believe Tran starts out from a position of strength. It is clear, they believe, that Whitehead, Yarbrough and Gutglueck knew what they were doing was wrong and that they had no right to interfere in the city’s efforts to hire a city manager. In particular, the exposure of Carrigan through the identification of him as an applicant for the city manager job was an illegal act that will obliterate whatever protection is afforded the three in their capacity as journalists by California’s Shield Law, city officials aver. California’s Shield Law allows bonafide journalists to resist identifying the sources of the information they publish if an effort to compel them to do so is made in a court of law within a civil context. That protection, while absolute in a civil case, is less firm when the context falls within a criminal case. Tran and other city officials believe that by representing what Whitehead, Yarbrough and Gutglueck, in the guise of the Sun and the Sentinel, engaged in as criminal in nature, they can convince a judge to allow the San Bernardino Police Department to obtain search warrants to access their offices, files, computers, communication devices, phone records and electronic data storage facilities. Being able to conduct such searches will have multiple benefits, city officials believe, including unmasking who the Sun’s and the Sentinel’s source or sources were in identifying Carrigan, providing them with a wealth of information about information in the custody of the newspapers and their methods and means of operation and demonstrating, by the exposure of the sources and showing that the newspapers’ files are vulnerable to examination, that the newspapers and the journalists that write for them cannot be trusted by future potential sources of information to maintain their confidentiality.
San Bernardino officials believe there is overwhelming evidence to demonstrate that Whitehead, Yarbrough and Gutglueck, acting, variously in conjunction with and under the auspices of the Sun and Sentinel, received, possessed, communicated and published restricted information and that they did so knowingly and intentionally. Additionally, city officials believe it can be proven that all three unlawfully appropriated or otherwise came into unauthorized possession of restricted governmental documents, information and/or materials relating to governmental operations which they then retained, communicated, delivered, transmitted and published without authorization. Furthermore, according to the city, adequate evidence exists to prove the trio obtained personal identifying information for an unlawful purpose and then publicly disclosed that information without the consent of the individual to whom it pertained, in this case, Carrigan.
In recent months and years, there has been considerable attention drawn to the success that government officials across the country have had in getting search warrants issued by local courts to allow them to search newspaper offices and operations. Earlier this year, police in Marion, Kansas obtained a search warrant to raid the office of the Marion County Record, a weekly newspaper. In 2019, in San Francisco, police there were able to get a search warrant to seize all order of equipment and materials from a journalist’s office in an effort to identify a confidential source. In the 1978 case of Zurcher vs. Stanford Daily, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that journalists have no special rights extended to them by the First Amendment to prevent them from being subject to a search warrant.
Ideally, Tran and Carvalho want the police department to be able to simply hand the investigative file off to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office to have it prosecute Whitehead, Yarbrough and Gutglueck, such that it will be able to use the information marshaled during and results obtained from that prosecution in pursuing a civil action against the three and the two newspapers.
Neither the mayor nor the city attorney is certain, however, that District Attorney Jason Anderson will pursue a criminal case. Consequently, they are in the preliminary stages of setting up the city’s own adjudicative hearing process, one which would likely utilize either Tran or Carvalho as a dual prosecutor/hearing officer. There is a precedent for such arrangements for quasi-municipal courts in California, ones most notably set up to adjudicate code enforcement matters. While criticism has been vectored toward jurisdictions using arrangements in which a single individual oversees a prosecution and acts as the judge in the same case, such courts are permissible under California law.
A drawback, from the perspective of the city, with regard to having the city operate the court in which it would be able to prosecute the journalists it is now targeting in its investigation and simultaneously adjudicate the process is that any crimes charged in such a forum could not range beyond misdemeanors, meaning the city would not be able to seek felony convictions against Whitehead, Yarbrough and Gutglueck, which would better match the seriousness of the activity city officials believe the trio engaged in.
Tran’s priority in the investigation is the Sun, with a circulation of 274,526 over the course of seven days each week, as it is the county’s most widely distributed daily newspaper and the most influential publication and shaper of opinion not only in San Bernardino but the county as a whole. The Sun has not been particularly unkind to Tran for the most part, but it did play what city officials perceive to have been a crucial role in keeping Carrigan from becoming city manager, which has been a heavy blow to Tran’s prestige and status as an effective political leader. By blackening the Sun’s eye with an investigative and legal strategy and potentially succeeding in getting Yarbrough fired now that Whitehead has already left, Tran and other city officials believe they can discourage any disparaging news reports about the city, which declared bankruptcy in 2012 and did not emerge from that status until 2017, and prompt the Sun to provide more upbeat news coverage of the county seat than has been the case over the last few years, thus assisting in promoting the San Bernardino renaissance Tran wants her administration to be known for.
Tran is less concerned about the Sentinel, with only 46,274 readers on a weekly basis, which is poorly regarded in most county circles and largely perceived in governmental spheres and among the local political and social establishment as a tabloid entirely lacking in professionalism and a font of inaccuracies, disinformation and anti-government sentiment. Because the Sentinel lacks credibility, Tran is confident that most of her constituents disregard the paper and its content, although she and other city officials believe that the one substantial danger it represents is that from time to time the issues it dwells upon will be picked up by other more reliable news sources, at which point those matters have the potential of becoming penetratingly difficulty for local officials. For that reason, and because the Sentinel does not have the staff depth of the Sun, she and her advisers see as desirable the prospect that a combined criminal prosecution and civil challenge of Gutglueck, the Sentinel’s owner and publisher, will result in the newspaper’s demise.
Tran and her supporters believe public officials and government employees to be the political, institutional, intellectual, ethical, moral and practical betters of journalists, for whom they have barely disguised contempt as jealous outsiders incapable of meaningful action, carrion feeders who needlessly criticize and sap the strength and will of those dedicated professionals working for the city who are committed to social and communal improvement.
Tran considers Carvalho to be the brightest and best of the class of faithful public servants at San Bernardino City Hall and is grateful to her that in her time and capacity as San Bernardino’s de facto city attorney since she was installed in that position in 2019 just prior to the elected city attorney position being eliminated, she protected Tran from being overwhelmed and consumed by the lawsuits filed against the city that brought into question her comportment as the city’s human resources director while the depredations Valdivia was involved in when he was yet in the capacity of mayor were ongoing. Tran is hopeful that in tandem with Carvalho, she will be able to reassert the mayoral post as a potent political and administrative force in San Bernardino. The mayor, who previously under the city charter that was put in place in 1905 served as the city’s co-regent with the city manager, lost administrative authority when voters passed a new charter in 2016. With the failure of the council to hire Carrigan and the council’s settling upon Montoya as city manager, the potential now exists for Tran to fill an administrative/managerial vacuum that will replicate, or at least simulate, the authority of the city’s past strong mayors.
It is the city’s position that the Sun and the Sentinel went over the line of decency and legality in Whitehead’s, Yarborough’s and Gutglueck’s researching and writing of the articles. All three writers engaged in journalistic intrusion in the city’s managerial hiring effort, according to the city, and they should have kept their noses out of any area in which they did not belong nor have the authority to involve themselves.
Both newspapers engaged in improper gathering of information with regard to the managerial recruitment and went into far more depth and detail than was necessary in pursuing their respective articles about the matter, according to the city. The writers could not have failed to recognize that in both researching the articles and in writing them and having them published that they would complicate the city’s effort to recruit Carrigan, the city maintains. All three are for those reasons personally responsible for the current state of municipal management in the county seat, city officials believe.
Not only are Whitehead, Yarbrough and Gutglueck cowards, they are hypocrites, according to San Bernardino city officials. They are cowards hiding behind California’s Shield Law and the skirts of their respective newspapers, according to the city. They are hypocrites as well, according to city officials, because as journalists who traffic in information as a trade and celebrate the free exchange of information, they are refusing to disclose how it is that they came into possession of the information that destroyed Carrigan’s career and deprived the City of San Bernardino of the best city manager it was likely to have ever had.
City officials do not see anything wrong with trying to maneuver Whitehead, Yarbrough and Gutglueck into jail cells, since, according to the city, decent people in the community recognize that is exactly where they belong.
Whitehead, Yarbrough and Gutglueck never gave a second thought to the way they arrogantly damaged Carrigan’s prospect of becoming city manager in San Bernardino, according to the city.
If they for some reason felt that there was a journalistic justification for informing the public about the city’s effort to recruit a city manager, Whitehead, Yarbrough and Gutglueck should have let it go at that, city officials believe.
Given the stakes involved, it does not appear that Whitehead, Yarbrough or Gutglueck will be making any public utterances soon about the controversy that has ensued from their coverage of the city’s effort to recruit a replacement city manager.
Anyone with information that might assist the city in holding those journalists to account for their part in preventing the city from successfully recruiting Carrigan as city manager are encouraged to contact City Attorney Sonia Carvalho at (949) 263-2603, Police Chief Darren Goodman at (909) 384-7272 and the city’s investigative team at (562) 301-1901.
San Bernardino city officials are attempting to put criminal cases together against three journalists over what those officials are saying was the premature disclosure of the identity of the individual a majority of the council had resolved to hire as city manager earlier this year.