Expurgated Investigation Report Reveals Malignity & Dysfunction At SB’s Top Echelon

By Mark Gutglueck
Over the course of the last week, local officials throughout San Bernardino County have looked on with astonishment as the mayor and city council in San Bernardino have served up for public consumption an account of the unprecedented degree of disarray that led up to the county seat’s selection of a city manager last year.
Mayor Helen Tran was unable to rein in the determination of four of the council’s members to release a redacted report of an investigation carried out by Laguna Niguel-based JL Group LLC into the council’s internal functions that many insist should not have been commissioned to begin with. Despite editing and expurgation calculated to take the edge off what was at basis an incomplete investigation marred by the self-serving input of both city employees/officials and would-be employees together with city consultants and contractors and the refusal of others with information crucial to the city’s effort to find a permanent replacement for former City Manager Robert Field, the executive summary and 18 pages of 139-page report that were released display a lack of focus and continuity on the part of the council, counterproductive bickering and bias on the part of the city’s consultant members of the council were willing to overlook or tolerate along with an insistence on pointless secrecy with regard to information that had already been publicly compromised which thereby ultimately prevented the hiring of a city manager candidate six of the city’s decision-makers had come to a consensus to hiring who is now threatening to sue the city.
Animus on the part of four council members and the mayor toward one council member in particular resulted not only in the acknowledgement that the formerly confidential investigation had been commissioned and had taken place but the release of the report, which now in the hands of the city manager candidate threatening to sue the city provides him with at least some ammunition to shore up his somewhat dubious claim that he is owed $2.2 million because the city did not hire him.
What is perhaps the sole silver lining in the entire debacle is the report falls far short of substantiating, despite some internal suggestions to the contrary, the claimant’s contention in his assertion that he is owed $2.2 million that he was discriminated against in San Bernardino because he is white.
As significant in the matter is information that was either covered or not covered in the course of the investigation and therefore was contained or not contained in the more-than-100-page report. For the public at large, knowing all that was contained in the full report is well-nigh impossible, as only 18 pages of the report was released.
In December 2022, less than a month after Helen Tran’s election as San Bernardino mayor, then-San Bernardino City Manager Robert Field, throughout whose tenure in that position had been aligned with then-Mayor John Valdivia, chose to resign. The city turned to former City Manager Charles McNeeley to serve in an interim capacity as acting city manager while an effort to find a replacement for Field was carried out. McNeeley who was retired and participating in the California Public Employees Retirement System, was by that system’s bylaws unable to work for a public agency for more than 860 hours during any municipal year, running from July 1 through June 30. Therefore, McNeely, who came back to San Bernardino in January 2023, was eligible, essentially, to serve as city manager through until the end of June 2023 and then remain in the acting city manager’s capacity until December 2023 while the city conducted what the mayor and all of the council’s members hoped would be a comprehensive recruitment and candidate examination process to find a municipal management professional with the skill and experience needed to oversee a city of San Bernardino’s size and complexity, one whose personality would mesh with the eight sometimes temperamental individuals who hold the positions of mayor and council. There was confidence that in the nearly one-year span that McNeeley would remain in place, that goal would be accomplished.
Of note is that at different times, virtually every member of the city council adopted, at least momentarily, the belief that the city need look no further than McNeely to fill the city manager’s post on a permanent basis. That eventuality was not realized as a consequence of an evolving set of what were essentially artificial and changing restrictions and events. Initially, because of his retirement status and participation in the California Public Employees Retirement System, McNeely was not himself interested in coming out of retirement and taking on the job on a long-term basis. Similarly, it was the attitude of the most recent additions to the city council – Ben Reynoso, who had arrived on the council dais in 2020, and Kimberly Calvin, who too had taken office in 2020, and Damon Alexander, who had also stepped onto the council in 2020 – and Tran, who had come into the mayoralty in 2022, that whosoever should serve as the city’s interim city manager should not be hired as the full-fledged city manager. Councilman Fred Shorett, the only member of the current council who had been on the city council in the 2009-to-2012 timeframe while McNeely had previously been city manager, had been instrumental in reaching out to the retired McNeely and talking him into temporarily replacing Field. He needed, at that time, no convincing that McNeely could serve as city manager. Nor were council members Ted Sanchez and Sandra Ibarra averse to McNeely perhaps coming back as city manager.
McNeely took on the interim city manager’s post in January 2023, reacclimating himself for a week, and then departed on a three-week vacation which he and his wife, Rosalind, had planned months in advance. In the weeks after his return in early February, Councilman Juan Figueroa acquainted himself with McNeely and was impressed enough with his performance to come to believe that it was unfortunate that he could not remain as city manager beyond December 2023. McNeeley at that point saw his function as two simple roles: the immediate assignment of seeing to it that the city functioned smoothly day-to-day and week-to-week and one longer-term assignment of assisting the city council in making a determination as to who was to succeed him in the long-term role of city manager. In March, at his recommendation, the city council chose the Berkeley-based firm of Koff & Associates, also known as Gallagher Benefit Services, to carry out a recruitment of city manager candidates, their vetting and evaluation and a winnowing of that field to a set of finalists determined to be qualified to manage the city that the city council could choose among from to at last hire a top municipal manager.
Shortly thereafter, McNeely, having gotten back into the municipal management game after so many years, had warmed to the idea of coming out of retirement, indicating he might consider applying for the job himself or accepting, if the council was willing to offer it, the post for at least two more years, at which point he would eclipse his 73rd birthday, or, depending on how things went, for four years, at which point he would retire for the second time, at the age of 75. His wife, Rosalind, was willing to relocate, at least temporarily, from Escondido to San Bernardino, so McNeeley could take on the job.
Tran, conscious that her mayoralty would be judged by the efficiency of city operations during her watch and her ability to make a showing of a break with the course of the city during Valdivia’s time in office and the way in which things were run under Field, was willing to go with hiring McNeeley on a two-year contract with an option to renew it for another two-years at that point. In fact, the votes to hire McNeeley, who had long served 13 years in the capacity of Reno city manager and prior to that had been the city manager of Seaside and assistant city manager of Palo Alto, at that point existed – Tran’s, Sanchez’s, Ibarra’s, Figueroa’s and Shorett’s. The hold up consisted of the earlier rather ill-advised commitment not to offer the job to an individual brought in as the interim manager, the consideration that the city had just contracted with Koff and Associates/Gallagher Benefit Services to carry out a recruitment and the council’s desire to come to an overwhelming consensus, preferably a unanimous 8-to-0 agreement, on the choice of who should serve as city manager. Somewhat ironically at that point, it would prove out later, it was the council’s three African-American members – Damon Alexander, Kimberly Calvin and Ben Reynoso – who yet needed to be fully sold on McNeely, himself an African American.
There were more than 60 applicants for the San Bernardino city manager post, which Koff and Associates evaluated, winnowing the field. Immediately deeming some of those who applied as weak, inadequately experienced or otherwise ineligible or unqualified, Koff and Associates researched, more closely examined or investigated the others who held promise, although one candidate with impressive credentials was moved out of the running through a decision by Koff and Associates because the company considered him to be an ideal city manager for another city it was recruiting for. By June there were no fewer than 18 applicants deemed worthy of being moved into a second phase of consideration, ones who were subjected to an even more intensive evaluation process. With the calendar’s transition to summer, and the council having had a chance to see the quality of managerial talent interested in coming to San Bernardino, the attitude on the council began to shift. Whereas before Tran, Sanchez, Ibarra, Figueroa and Shorett had been amenable to working on a long-term basis with McNeeley, the presentation of other potential candidates and perhaps developments with regard to certain city issues in the intervening months, those five moved to the conclusion that they should pursue getting a contract with one of the top-ranked applicants for the post rather than sign off on hiring the 71-year-old McNeely, whose longevity or lack thereof in the position would mean the city in a few years would again be looking for another city manager. In contrast, Alexander, Calvin and Reynoso, having gotten to know McNeeley over the previous five months, had come around to thinking that the city would not be likely to much better than keeping him in place for as long as it could and, indeed, might end up doing much worse. In the span of a few brief months, the entirety of the council had moved into polar opposite positions from those they had started from with regard to McNeeley.
Of note, a factor in Mayor Tran’s transition was her hope that she might persuade the members of the council to hire David Carmany, who had been the city manager of West Covina while she was employed there as that city’s human resources director prior to her election as mayor. Tran, who had previously worked for the City of San Bernardino, had risen to the position of human resources director. She had departed for West Covina after her predecessor as mayor, John Valdivia, had entangled himself and the city in no fewer than eight lawsuits relating to what were alleged to be wrongful or constructive firings of city employees as well as abusive treatment or exploitation of other city employees. Some of those suits suggested that Tran, as San Bernardino’s human resources director at that time, had shrunk from protecting those employees in the face of Valdivia’s depredations. Carmany, by hiring Tran in November 2019, shortly after he became city manager of West Covina, allowed Tran to maintain continuity in her employment history and not suffer as a consequence of her name being associated with Valdivia’s and the perception that she was involved with him in his misfeasance and malfeasance. As it would turn out, however, Tran was not able to get a majority of the council, let alone all of the council, to seriously consider hiring Carmany.
Koff and Associates first hiring recommendation, which was given serious consideration by the city council in July, was Harry Black, the city manager of Stockton since 2020. Prior to holding that post, Black, was the city manager in Cincinnati, Ohio and prior to that the finance director of Baltimore, Maryland. In addition, Black, an African American, was a senior aide to Richmond, Virginia Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, the former governor of Virginia.
A 1985 graduate of the University of Virginia, Black went to work for the New York Transit Authority and then the New York City’s Mayor’s Office Department of Contracts. Though he had successive degrees in public administration, he had no formal education in finance, Black was able to transition into his next job as assistant director of investments for the New York State Insurance Fund.
In 1995, he moved to Washington, D.C., and served in four capacities over four years in the District of Columbia government, including a position with the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency, as deputy chief of procurement, the director of budget and finance and chief financial officer and director of administration for the Council of the District of Columbia. In 2000, he became a vice president of McKissack & McKissack, an architectural and engineering firm, coordinating governmental contracts for the firm.
In 2003, he was hired by Richmond, Virginia Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, Mayor Wilder, a former governor of Virginia, to serve as the city’s chief financial officer and Wilder’s his senior aide and advisor. He was made acting chief administrative officer of Richmond but was blocked from acceding to the actual chief administrative officer of the city, after which he left Richmond and joined a firm owned by his wife, Sheryl Black, Global Commerce Solutions, as vice president and chief operating officer. He was with Global Commerce when he was hired as Cincinnati city manager in 2014.
He left Cincinnati in 2018 and moved to California in 2020 to take the job in Stockton.
The San Bernardino City Council first reached a 6-to-2 consensus to hire Black this summer and that vote moved to 7-to-1, with Councilman Fred Shorett the lone holdout, after Mayor Tran gave up on her effort to see Carmany get the job.
There is a lack of clarity as to why the city did not hire Black, with conflicting versions of events, including that which is contained in the report of JL Group LLC’s investigation.
One issue that might have prompted some concern on Shorett’s part with regard to Black’s suitability in San Bernardino that might have spread to some of Shorett’s colleagues was what has been described as Black’s “sometimes volatile personality” and public feuds he engaged in with Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley before Black left the employ of the Ohio city in 2018 as well as with members of the Richmond City Council, who ultimately blocked Mayor Wilder’s effort to promote Black into the position of Richmond’s chief administrative officer.
There is a suggestion that someone from San Bernardino went outside of the channels established through Koff and Associates to obtain information about Black from the City of Stockton out of concern that San Bernardino city officials were not getting the “straight scoop” on Black from Koff and Associates, which some suspected was holding out information relating to other more highly qualified candidates because the company was seeking to place those applicants with other cities that were relying upon it to invite, vet and recommend top administrators for them.
Though the JL Group LLC investigation report refers to several of the involved individuals who were considered witnesses and were assigned coded references using assigned letters, the Sentinel has been able, through its knowledge of the goings-on at San Bernardino City over the last year, deduction, inference and the process of elimination, to identify who those participants are.
According to the JL Group LLC investigation report, an individual identified as “Witness B” made “selections for the top ten candidates” for the city manager’s post.
The Sentinel has identified Witness B as Frank Rojas of Koff and Associates.
“In addition to the goal of sourcing a diverse pool of applicants, Witness B [Rojas] explained that he crafted his presentation of the top ten candidates based on a combination of their credentials, alignment with the San Bernardino Council’s preferences, and insights gained from pre-interviews,” according to JL Group LLC’s narrative encapsulating its investigation. “This comprehensive approach aimed to present candidates who not only met the necessary qualifications but also resonated with the specific expectations and priorities outlined by the San Bernardino Council.”
The JL Group LLC report of the investigation offers the interpretation that “The list of candidates appeared to be fair and balanced.”
In further describing Koff and Associates’ evaluation of the interview process and the selection of finalists, the JL Group LLC report alludes to the city council interviewing several of the candidates via the remote meeting program Zoom.
“After the initial Zoom interviews, the city council employed a scoring matrix to evaluate the candidates,” according to the edited version of the report. “This first round of ratings was conducted without prior knowledge among council members about the scoring process, reducing the potential for manipulation. Following the Zoom interviews, Witness A, Witness BB, and Witness D emerged as finalists.”
The Sentinel has identified Witness A as then-Salinas City Manager Steve Carrigan, Witness BB as former Avondale, Arizona City Manager and now-San Bernardino City Manager Charles Montoya and Witness D as Stockton City Manager Harry Black.
The investigative report continues, “However, some council members expressed concerns that Witness D [Black] seemed ‘coached’ before his second interview, as he addressed previously mentioned shortcomings which were only discussed in a closed session meeting after the initial Zoom interview on August 8, 2023. During the second round of matrix ratings, suspicions arose among council members that some were using the scoring system to create a distinct separation between Witness D [Black] and Witness A [Carrigan]. Notably, council members who ranked Witness D [Black] as their top choice tended to rank Witness A [Carrigan] the lowest, while those favoring Witness A as their first choice often placed Witness D as their second. This pattern led to a one-point difference between Witness A and Witness D in the final scoring.”
Information provided to the Sentinel calls into question the accuracy of the timeline in the edited and expurgated version of the report of the JL Group LLC investigation, which gives the impression that Black and Carrigan were being considered by the council in the same timeframe. In actuality, according to individuals with knowledge of the recruitment process as well as statements by Carrigan himself, Carrigan’s application for the San Bernardino job and the council’s consideration of his candidacy came after the council had been informed of Black’s application, had given close scrutiny to Black and his qualifications and had come away, generally, with a very favorable impression of him.
According to the edited report of the JL Group LLC investigation, there were “subsequent information leaks” that took place during the “contract negotiation phase.”
According to the JL Group LLC’s narrative, “The significant discord within the council became pronounced when Witness D [Black] and Witness A [Carrigan] were chosen as the final two candidates. Despite Witness D being the 5-3 favorite in the vote, Councilmember Reynoso sensed sabotage when a list of ‘demands’ presented by Witness B [Rojas] , including a surprisingly high financial figure, raised concerns even amongst his supporters. Witness E rightly halted the discussion as it had not been agendized.”
While the Sentinel cannot say with full confidence, Witness E appears to be Mayor Tran.
The narrative continues, “It was then decided to obtain the ‘demands’ or ‘deal points’ from Witness A [Carrigan] so the council could conduct a side-by-side review of both candidate requests. Three days later, the council reconvened to compare both candidates’ demands using a side-by-side graph constructed by Witness E. During this meeting, [the] council decided to extend offers to both candidates, with Witness A [Carrigan] receiving a lower salary offer. Before the meeting concluded, Witness D [Black] withdrew, citing a leak of information regarding his candidacy, though this couldn’t be substantiated. This withdrawal upset Councilmembers Reynoso, Calvin, and Alexander.”
At this point in the expurgated narrative, two of those expurgations render the version of events provided in the report highly problematic, as it is extremely difficult for any outsiders without actual knowledge of what is being referred to ascertain not only what actually happened but the thoroughness of the investigation and reliability of the report. “Councilmember Calvin conveyed to the group that she had spoken to Witness D [Black] and attributed his withdrawal to a [position]-to-[position] contact, hinting at a possible leak,” the expurgated text of the report states.
The report uses “[position]-to-[position]” as a euphemism or euphemisms to mask the identity of at least one individual and perhaps two individuals identified by Calvin as those who had compromised or threatened to compromise Black to his political masters in Stockton as someone who was about to jump ship from that city to San Bernardino.
“She, along with Councilmember Alexander, advocated for an investigation, though this particular leak couldn’t be verified,” the edited investigation report states. “Following Witness D’s [Black’s] withdrawal from consideration, the council still extended a generous contract offer to him, hoping to change his decision. However, Witness D, upon reviewing the offer, reportedly became even more upset, expressing dissatisfaction that not all of his requests were accommodated. He insisted that he would not accept a job in San Bernardino. In contrast, Witness A [Carrigan] viewed his offer as generous, leading the council to vote 5-3 in favor of proceeding with Witness A as their top alternative. The dissenting votes were cast by Councilmembers Reynoso, Calvin, and Alexander. Once Witness D was officially out of contention, and Witness A began moving forward in the process, closed-session information began leaking. Councilmember Kim Calvin’s protégés began receiving and disseminating private information on social media platforms and news outlets. Councilmember Reynoso began advocating for a new recruitment process, believing that Witness B [Rojas] had undermined Witness D [Black]. He also believed the [agency] subverted Witness D’s candidacy after receiving information through Councilmember Sanchez or Figueroa.”
It is unclear what entity the euphemism “[agency]” refers to. Some have suggested the reference is to the San Bernardino Police Department.
“At the conclusion of this investigation, the preponderance of the credible evidence indicates that Councilmember Calvin seemingly funneled closed-session information to her close associates, who initiated a social media campaign against Witness A [Carrigan],” the report states.
The ultimate outcome of Carrigan’s application for the San Bernardino city manager’s post and what created that outcome is of tremendous relevance to the controversy and circumstance it has triggered and equally if not more bizarre.
Undealt with in the JL Group LLC investigation and its report or at least in the expurgated version of the report is how a lack of security/confidentiality and/or leaks from the Koff and Associates recruitment process resulted in the compromising of information relating to both Black’s and Carrigan’s applications for the San Bernardino job becoming public knowledge.
Toward the middle of August, word was spreading that Black and Carrigan were or had been in the running for the city manager position in San Bernardino. Carrigan had learned that, apparently from Rojas, who is Koff and Associates’ recruitment manager, that one of the competitors for the job was Black. There is reason to believe that the 18 or so candidates deemed by Koff and Associates to be qualified for a closer look in June or early July and the 10 or so candidates deemed to be quarterfinalists for the job a few weeks later knew of one another as did the yet-standing candidates interviewed by Zoom in early August.
Media outlets by August 20 were positioned to begin inquiries with the likely candidates for the post. No later than August 21, for example, the Sentinel was attempting to reach Carrigan for comment regarding his application in San Bernardino. Simultaneously, the mayor and members of the council as well as McNeely and senior city staff members were being tightlipped with regard to any likely candidates for city manager or even the prospect that a choice was in the offing.
Assistant San Bernardino City Attorney Thomas Rice contacted Carrigan and offered him a contract to serve as city manager. Carrigan responded positively to that offer. It is not clear why Carrigan did not formally sign the contract at that point, the 356-mile distance between San Bernardino and Salinas perhaps being a contributory factor
Based on internal Koff and Associates communications and the company’s communications with job applicants, the press in both San Bernardino County and Monterey County reported in late August that Carrigan had applied for the San Bernardino job and was either a finalist in that competition or that he had been offered the job and was going to accept it.
As of August 23, 2023, a five-eighths consensus on the San Bernardino City Council was purposed to hire Carrigan. First Ward Councilman Sanchez, Second Ward Councilwoman Ibarra, Third Ward Councilman Figueroa, Fourth Ward Councilman Shorett and Mayor Helen Tran were sold on Carrigan. Seventh Ward Councilman Alexander was relatively favorably disposed toward him, as well, but was less enthusiastic than Tran, Sanchez, Ibarra, Figueroa and Shorett. Fifth Ward Councilman Reynoso and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Calvin, while not overtly critical of Carrigan, felt the city had not fully explored its options with other worthy candidates and should not end the recruitment drive and evaluative process.
San Bernardino on Wednesday, August 23 scheduled a special meeting of the San Bernardino City Council for Monday August 28 at which a vote to hire Carrigan or offer him the position was to take place. Carrigan, anticipating that he was going to accept the offer from San Bernardino, on Saturday, August 26 and Sunday, August 27 informed all seven members of the Salinas City Council and some other Salinas municipal officials that he had applied for the San Bernardino job and had been deemed a finalist.
Carrigan was not on hand at the August 28 meeting in San Bernardino. In the open public portion of the meeting before the council adjourned into closed session to discuss the Carrigan hiring, some city residents addressed the council, some of whom advocated against making the hiring at that time. Councilwoman Calvin sought ahead of the closed session to close out the recruitment process and the contract with Koff & Associates and to reagendize a discussion about reinitiating the recruitment process anew. The council voted 4-to-3, with Sanchez, Ibarra, Figueroa and Shorett prevailing, against Calvin’s motion and adjourned into a closed session. When the council emerged from behind closed doors, it was announced it had taken no reportable action.
The expurgated version of the report of JL Group LLC investigation makes a point of noting that many of those cautioning against hiring Carrigan at the special August 28 meeting.
“The first appearance of an organized effort to impede the selection of Witness A [Carrigan] occurred shortly after the [publication] published its unfavorable article on August 25, 2023,” according to the expurgated narrative.
The euphemism “[publication]” refers to the San Bernardino County Sentinel.
“On August 26th, a San Bernardino resident named Witness V (alias) sent a demeaning email to the [agency] [position] and revealed Witness A as a candidate in San Bernardino, JL Group’s narrative continues. “On August 27th, the same mysterious resident named Witness V (alias) posted the following item on the [social media page] Facebook Group which is moderated by three people associated with Kim Calvin[, the m]ost notable being Witness Ortiz.[removed to shield witness information]. The Facebook posting implored residents to show up at the August 28th closed session meeting to demand action after the ‘most qualified candidate had been sabotaged.’”
Witness V is identified as Michael Davis, an individual who in actuality was never interviewed by JL Group LLC. Despite not actually having obtained any direct statement from Davis, JL Group LLC catalogs him as a witness. At other juncture’s, JL Group conflated Witness V with Witness Z. Witness Z has been identified by the Sentinel as former Sixth Ward Councilman Rikke Van Johnson. JL Group has suggested that Witness V – Davis – does not in actually exist, but is a phantom that was used to engage in spurious and scurrilous attacks on Carrigan to derail his selection as city manager. Van Johnson has denied being the Davis phantom.
“On August 28th, the closed session meeting took place,” the expurgated narrative continues. “It was marked by the attendance of a significant number of upset African-American residents expressing dissatisfaction with the selection process.”
Nine days later, at the city council’s September 6 meeting, during the council’s closed session, a unanimous decision to make a final offer of employment to Carrigan was made, with Calvin and Reynoso bowing to the reality of Carrigan’s inevitable selection. After the council emerged from that closed session, City Attorney Sonia Carvalho announced an offer of employment had been made, but she did not identify Carrigan as the selection. A vote on confirming the appointment and the candidate’s acceptance of the contract was set for the October 4 city council meeting. The identification of the council’s selection as city manager – Carrigan – was to be provided in the agenda for the October 4 meeting, which was scheduled for posting no later than September 29, 2023.
Those preparations proceeded and were in full swing by the last week of September.
On September 26, 2023, Mayor Tran hosted a fundraiser to bank money toward her anticipated 2026 reelection campaign. During the course her interaction with the public and her supporters at that event, she was importuned by some in attendance to reconsider her support for Carrigan, with some suggesting that if he were to not work out as the city manager, his failure would be perceived as a discredit to her administration. It is not known beyond Tran’s immediate circle the degree to which she took those admonitions to heart. Some have suggested that she was prepared to withdraw her support of Carrigan and that in doing so, Carrigan was to have been left high and dry, as his appointment would fail on October 4 on a 4-to-4 vote, with Sanchez, Ibarra, Figueroa and Shorett voting for the hiring and Tran, Reynoso, Calvin and Alexander opposed. Others have said that even if Tran defected from the camp supporting Carrigan, he still would have been appointed on a 5-to-3 vote, with Sanchez, Ibarra, Figueroa, Shorett and Alexander in support. Still others insist that Tran was not going to waver, as she was convinced Carrigan was a capable municipal manager and she could ill afford to allow the city to remain adrift and without crucial long-term staff leadership any longer, as she was approaching her first anniversary in office without having an actual city manager in place.
How things might have gone on October 4, however, will never be known with certainty, as Carrigan, on September 28 had an abrupt change of heart. He called Koff & Associates/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.”
Carrigan then alluded to something many people already knew, which was that his decision to remain in Salinas was influenced by his desire to maintain the relationship he had developed over the previous two years with Salinas City Elementary School Superintendent Rebeca Andrade. “I have met someone in Salinas that I’m crazy about,” he wrote.
In San Bernardino there was a mad scramble on at City Hall, particularly in the city clerk’s office, where staff had to redraft the nearly fully prepared October 4 city council meeting agenda by deleting the item relating to Carrigan’s employment with the city and renumbering the items that followed it on the agenda, with each given an identifying number one less than what had already been assigned, and likewise altering the agenda packet to remove the staff report relating to and recommending Carrigan’s hiring, which was augmented with an employment agreement.
Over the weekend of September 30/October 1, Carrigan was looking forward to life with a renewed purpose: He was committed to continuing to meet, and overcome, even more than before, the challenges facing Salinas.
On October 3, the day before the San Bernardino City Council would have voted on approving his contract with the city that was to provide him with a $291,000 annual salary, pay add-ons and perquisites worth $16,000 or thereabouts and benefits/deferred compensation in the range of $89,000 for a total annual compensation of $396,000, six of the seven Salinas City Council members met in a two-hour closed session, after which it was announced they had voted 6-to-0 to terminate Carrigan from his $355,899.38 total annual compensation job as city manager.
When it rains, it pours.
In the course of a few months or maybe a few weeks or, depending on how you counted things out, a few days, Carrigan had lurched from one direction – running municipal operations in Salinas to adjusting himself to a similar but different life in San Bernardino, overseeing municipal operations there. Then he had lurched back, telling himself that he was going to mentally and spiritually recommit to Salinas and stay as the top municipal dog there, only to have the ground underneath him lurch, as he found himself without a job. Maintaining his composure, or trying really hard to, he lurched again, this time trying to land the position that suddenly and opportunistically loomed before him, that of interim city manager in Pacific Grove in Monterey County. But because of the dual debacle he had just been through with San Bernardino and Salinas, and the damage done to his reputation as a result, or so he maintains, the Pacific Grove City Council passed on hiring him.
Ultimately, after cataloging through the remainder of the applicants for the city manager’s position, the city council settled on Charles Montoya, who was previously employed as the city manager in Watsonville in California, city manager in Avondale, Arizona, town manager in Florence, Arizona, finance director and treasurer with the Town of Castle Rock in Colorado, the chief financial officer for Centennial, Colorado as well as Jefferson County in Colorado, after having grown acclimated to government employment as an employee in the governor’s office in New Mexico.
On November 30, 2023 the Irvine-based Executive Law Group on Carrigan’s behalf filed a $2.2 million claim with the City of San Bernardino. Carrigan’s attorney R. Craig Scott maintained Carrigan was fired by the city of Salinas, where he was employed as city manager when he applied for a similar position in San Bernardino, because someone with San Bernardino intentionally informed his political masters in Salinas that he was contemplating leaving his managerial post there.
In that claim, Scott, essentially discounted that Carrigan of his own volition withdrew his application less than a week before the San Bernardino City Council was set to ratify his hiring.
In response, a majority of the city council voted to enter into a contract with JL Group LLC to carry out an investigation into the events surrounding the city manager search, the effort to hire Carrigan, his decision to turn down the offer and what led to his firing in Salinas.
While JL Group was given relatively free access to San Bernardino city employees, materials and documentation, it was hamstrung in carrying out much of its investigation by a lack of subpoena authority, which restricted it from obtaining in many instances any information, let alone thorough and complete information, from crucial participants in the string of events being focused upon.
In this way, JL Group was put in the position of having to draw its information from those willing to participate and submit to interviews. As such, the investigation and the report thereby generated reflected information from participants with an interest in putting their best foot forward and providing input that entirely omitted or at most minimized any of their own involvement in, responsibility for or perpetration of the acts at the basis of the investigation.
In addition, what can only be ascribed to personality conflicts between, on one side, Councilwoman Calvin and, on the other side, councilmembers Sanchez, Ibarra, Figueroa and Shorett, ones that appear to have accelerated over the last year and which were compounded during the search for a city manager and the eventual hiring of Montoya, hang over the entire circumstance. Compounding that, Calvin lost her bid for election in March after failing last fall to qualify for the ballot, forcing her to run as a write-in candidate. Thus, any city employees interviewed by JL Groups investigators would be aware that it would be impolitic at best to answer questions that might in any fashion be seen as a defense of Calvin.
Because the public has been treated only to the two-page executive summary of the report and a selection of 18 full and partial pages, some of which are expurgated, of what is at least a 103-page report of the investigation, it cannot be said with definitude what ground the investigation did and did not cover.
It does not appear, however, that JL Group focused on known leaks of information relating to the city manager search from the Koff and Associates recruitment team. Rojas, who was one of the primary points of contact between Koff and Associates and both the City of San Bernardino and Carrigan, was a primary source of information to the JL Group’s investigators, who sought to mask his identity and protect his confidentiality by designating him as Witness B. It does not appear that JL Group pursued with Rojas making a determination of the degree to which he shared with those applicants for the city manager’s post who their competitors were. According to Carrigan’s claim, he was informed by Rojas while he was yet vying for the post that three members of the council, who are African American, wanted a different candidate, one who was presumably African American. Rojas was quoted in the claim as saying, “This is about race.”
Similarly, Carrigan was a primary source for the investigators. There is no indication that the investigators explored with Carrigan, if he in fact knew, how officials in Salinas came to learn that he had applied for the San Bernardino job if they did not discover it from him when he informed them on August 26 and August 27, 2023 that he was a finalist for the position. Nor is there an indication from the material released that an exacting discussion was carried out with Salinas officials, most particularly members of the city council, who, by the time the investigation was initiated, were wary of talking with investigators out of the concern that Carrigan might be inclined to file suit against Salinas for what he could allege was wrongful termination. Thus, it does not appear that the JL Group investigation explored the actual grounds for Carrigan’s termination in Salinas nor how it was that the city council came by the information which led to its decision to terminate Carrigan.
Contained among the 18 pages of the report that were released were comments made by Treasure Ortiz and Calvin variously during a podcast, during a radio interview hosted by Robert Porter, at what was apparently a political candidates’ forum hosted by former 6th Ward Councilman Rikke Van Johnson and during council meetings. Ortiz, who was identified as “Treasurer Ortiz” in the report, possibly reflecting the mistaken belief by the JL Group that Ortiz is or was San Bernardino treasurer, is one of Calvin’s associates who ran for mayor, unsuccessfully, in 2022 and is vying for city council representing the 7th Ward this year, having proven the top vote-getter in that district in the March primary election. The excerpts from those interviews, public statements and comments include ones from Calvin expressing the difficulty she had in collaborating with her council colleagues whom she perceived as taking action they recognized to be wrong or counterproductive, that during the city manager recruitment process while the hiring of Carrigan was yet pending she wanted to extend the recruitment process and that she was wary of hiring a city manager who lacked financial savvy or who “someone that had a bad reputation with handling money. It was further noted that during the forum hosted by Van Johnson Calvin had leveled criticisms of Mayor Tran and Montoya. The report further noted that during the candidate forum hosted by Van Johnson that Calvin said her fellow and sister councilmembers were not following the direction of the community and were not listening to community members.
The report interpreted one of Calvin’s statements as an attack on Montoya and “insinuating that Witness BB [Montoya] is a thief, or the councilmembers are being paid off.”
The report noted that during a podcast on August 27, 2023, the day before the city council was set to meet and vote on accepting an employment contract with Carrigan, Ortiz had stated, “I can confirm that Witness A[Carrigan] is the candidate.”
The report further quotes Ortiz during Van Johnson’s February 7, 2024 candidates forum, stating her belief that the candidacy of one of the applicants for city manager, apparently Black, had been sabotaged.
According to the executive summary of the investigation and its report, “The weight of credible evidence unveiled during the investigation leads to the conclusion that Calvin intentionally divulged closed-session information to numerous individuals who she is known to associate with in public and at her place of work. The individuals did not participate in the closed session meetings and had no right to obtain or distribute the information.”
According to the section headed “Findings” contained in the 18 pages taken from the JL Group LLC report, “At the conclusion of this investigation, the preponderance of credible evidence strongly indicates that Councilmember Kim Calvin actively participated in releasing closed-session information related to the hiring processes of Witness D [Black], Witness A [Carrigan], and Witness BB [Montoya]. Calvin directly shared information with surrogates who subsequently initiated a campaign through both printed and social media to undermine the candidacies of Witness A and later Witness BB. These same organizers then mobilized a group of citizens during the council meeting’s public comment period, making derogatory remarks about the candidates, the process, and expressing a desire either to retain[position] or initiate another search. The expeditious and accurate dissemination of this information was traced back to City Councilmember Kim Calvin through investigative interviews and her comments in public forums afterwards.”
The report seeks to set up a conclusion that Calvin was responsible for leaking information from closed and confidential city council executive sessions by citing Ortiz as saying, during a January 29, 2024 radio interview with Robert Porter, that “if we didn’t have Kim Calvin… what would have been able to transpire and go on behind closed doors?”
In what was an apparent effort to determine the substance of Carrigan’s assertion that he was discriminated against because he is white, JL Group pursued some puerile indicators of some collusion between the three African American members of the council – Calvin, Alexander and Reynoso – and African American members of the community relating to the lobbying effort against Carrigan’s hiring that took place in August and September 2023. The 18 pages of the report that were released carry a few scant references to either criticisms of Carrigan or calls to extend the recruitment effort, but they hardly deliver any proof of a raced-based animus toward Carrigan or that a coalition of African-American officeholders and residents were conspiring against him.
On the fifth page of the 18-pages lifted from the report, these two sentences appear: “On August 28th, the closed session meeting took place. It was marked by the attendance of a significant number of upset African-American residents expressing dissatisfaction with the selection process.”
Also on the fifth page, with reference to the September 6, 2023 council meeting at which the council voted in closed session to hire Carrigan, is this this passage: “Negative social media coverage persisted prior to the next city council meeting on September 6,2023, where another predominantly African American group of residents continued to voice concerns about Witness A’s potential hiring. Witness A faced disparagement without the opportunity to defend his character, as no one else on the dais was allowed to speak on the topic. [Identifying information], and very close personal friend of Kim Calvin, Witness Z, was notably vocal during the meeting and made public comments about Witness A.”
The identifying information expurgated from the original report is apparently “Former Sixth Ward Councilman,” as it is known that Witness Z is Rikke Van Johnson.
The report also contains on page 6 of the 18-page excerpt from the whole investigative report, the two following sentences, which come immediately following a narrative relating to Carrigan withdrawing his candidacy and Montoya consequently being hired as city manager: “Before departing, ______ sent a confidential email on October 28th to the City Council and [Witness F], calling for an investigation into Councilmember Damon Alexander. This email was leaked within a couple of days and posted on the [social media page] group.”
The passage references Alexander, one of the council’s three African Americans, so it might have been included to shed light on the Carrigan’s accusation of racial bias. Nevertheless, the sentences lack context and suffer from a lack of clarity due to the expurgations to the point that it is difficult to understand what relevance they have.
It is not clear to whom the underscored blank refers. The Sentinel has not been able to determine who Witness F is and the expurgation of the name of the social media forum makes it virtually impossible to find out what any of this pertains to.
Worthy of note is that the report makes at least some mischaracterizations.
On Wednesday, April 17, the council considered an item calling for the initiation of censure proceedings against Calvin based upon the conclusions in the JL Group LLC report. When a vote was taken on that item, it passed on a bare 4-to-3 vote in which Mayor Tran was not permitted to vote as she is excluded from most votes of the council other than those relating to hirings and appointments, councilmembers Sanchez, Ibarra, Figueroa and Shorett voted yes, while Calvin and Alexander voted no and Councilman Reynoso voted with a resounding, “Hell, no!”
Reynoso has not spoken publicly but word has reached the Sentinel that he considers at least one passage in the investigative report pertaining to action he took and/or statements he made during the discussions relating to the city manager recruitment last summer to be factually inaccurate. This extended to, the Sentinel is informed, the position he took in closed session with regard to action that was discussed and voted upon.
The report makes reference to an article which ran in the Sentinel on August 25, 2023 under the headline “San Bernardino Poaching Salinas City Manager, With Hiring Scheduled Next Week.”
In the executive summary of the JL Group investigation, Carrigan is referred to not as he is in the investigation report as “Witness” A but rather as “Candidate #2.” The summary states, in part, “The city moved forward with an employment offer to Candidate #2 on August 22, 2023, which was promptly accepted. However, within three days of his acceptance, an unflattering article surfaced in the San Bernardino [County] Sentinel. This article provided a detailed accounting of the closed-session discussions about Candidate #2 and divulged the identities of the councilmembers who voted for, and against, his hiring.”
The article offered a cursory outline of Carrigan’s background and history as an administrative echelon municipal employee, including that he had worked eight years as the economic development director in Stockton, was the assistant city manager of Sanger in Fresno County for several years, was the city manager of Los Banos in Merced County for two years, and that he had been hired as city manager with Merced, the county seat of Merced County, on a three-year contract which was extended. The Sentinel article also reported, as was historically accurate, that in 2020, when Carrigan had complied with Governor Gavin Newsom’s health precautions and mandates with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic he had upset then-Merced Mayor Mike Murphy by making purchases of certain items meant to meet the state’s regulations without first consulting the city council, and he resigned in lieu of what looked might be a vote to terminate him. The Sentinel article filled in the top line of Carrigan’s résumé by reporting that he was hired soon thereafter as Salinas’ city manager, rising to the top in a competition against 77 other applicants.
The August 25 Sentinel article further noted that in Salinas Carrigan had wrestled with the same issues that bedevil San Bernardino, including an institutionalized budget deficit, crime, homelessness and efforts to create affordable housing. Referencing Carrigan’s experience as an economic development director who had pushed for development and economic expansion, including incentivizing development by governmental subsidizations of projects or through private/public partnerships, the Sentinel noted that formed the basis for San Bernardino’s decision-makers belief that possessed “what is called for in a management professional for their city.”
The Sentinel article did state, “One issue that local residents find disturbing about the San Bernardino City Council majority’s apparent offer of employment to Carrigan and his willingness to accept it is Carrigan’s commitment in 2021, at the time of his hiring by Salinas, to remain as city manager. Much was made of his move to the city and purchase of a home there as a show of that commitment. That he is now breaking, or on the verge of breaking, that commitment and that the mayor and San Bernardino City Council are abetting him in the violation of that commitment is considered a poor omen or inauspicious beginning of Carrigan’s tenure in San Bernardino.”
The JL Group’s use of the term “unflattering” in reference to the August 25 article more than implies that the Sentinel was drawn into or was actively participating with a network of Calvin’s surrogates in an orchestrated leaking of confidential information aimed at short-circuiting Carrigan’s prospect of becoming San Bernardino city manager. That a journalistic effort at evenhanded coverage of what was at that time a significant breaking story is so readily dismissed as propaganda gives rise to a variant interpretation, one that undercuts both the thoroughness and integrity of the investigation as well as the reliability of the conclusion reached thereupon.
An inconsistency in the report is the manner in which it dwells upon the accounts of witnesses and the series of events that begin with the council majority’s gravitation toward selecting Carrigan as city manager which are interpreted to suggest Calvin selectively leaked information to torpedo his candidacy while it barely outlines the circumstance with regard to Calvin’s contention that Black’s prospect of becoming city manager was previously foreclosed by compromises of the confidentiality that was supposed to attend the application and selection process.
Carrigan’s claim that San Bernardino owes him $2.2 million over the way in which Salinas fired him after members of the council in that city learned that he had chosen to back out of his commitment to remain at the helm of that Central California city was the longest of longshots, particularly since Carrigan himself had spurned San Bernardino of his own free will, refusing to take the job it had offered him. With the release of the JL Group’s report, as checkered as it may be with regard to its overall factual basis, the city’s imprimatur is on an account which says one its own violated the confidentiality of Carrigan’s job application with the city offers conclusory language that can only strengthen Carrigan and embolden him to follow through with a lawsuit that some previously saw as an idle threat. The city council’s waiver is all the more shocking, considering that following Calvin’s defeat for reelection on March 5, the council will no longer have her as a colleague in December. As a collective leading a city that a dozen years ago was forced by fiscal reality to declare bankruptcy and is yet facing financial challenges, the mayor and city council’s willingness to risk having to pay out to Carrigan more money than it would had to pay him to guide their city for four years to make a show of their antipathy to Calvin when they are already as a practical political matter done with her, demonstrates the malignity and dysfunction that has been crippling the county’s oldest and largest city for decades.

Governor Gavin Newsom and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials are purposefully and wrongheadedly misapplying the intent of 2016’s Proposition 66 by transferring Death Row inmates to prisons ill-equipped to house them, the California Institute for Men in particular, Chino Mayor Eunice Ulloa and Chino Police say.

Proposition 66 was an alternative measure to Proposition 62. While Proposition 62 would have outright abolished the death penalty in California, Proposition 66 was what its sponsors touted as a more hardnosed yet moderate reform of the penal system as applied to capital punishment in the Golden State. Proposition 66 called for speeding the process of capital trials and executions and limiting the challenges to death sentences. It aimed at doing this by designating the state’s superior courts in each county for initial petitions challenging the application of the death penalty in a given case, limiting successive such petitions, require appointed attorneys who take noncapital appeals to accept death penalty appeals, and exempting prison officials from existing regulation processes for developing execution methods.

The last execution in California took place in 2006 under then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger…

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