Montoya Departure Perhaps Signals Council Resolve On Calvin Censure Has Lapsed

Though it is too early to determine with certainty, it appears the effort to censure San Bernardino City Councilwoman Kimberly Calvin may be running out of steam.
On April 17, a sharply divided city council voted to initiate the process of issuing a public reprimand to Calvin, accentuating the displeasure some of its members had with the manner in which Calvin had conducted herself over the previous year.
A week earlier, at a specially called meeting of the city council on April 10 from which Councilman Ben Reynoso was absent, City Attorney Sonia Carvalho announced the council met in closed session and voted 4-to-2, with Calvin and Councilmember Damon Alexander opposed, to consider Calvin’s censure. The staff report relating to the censure proposal generated by then-City Manager Charles Montoya for the April 17 meeting was vague in identifying what grounds there were for Calvin’s censure. The closest that document came to doing so was a nonspecific assertion that doing so would “align with” what was identified as “Key Target No.1e” within the city’s “2021-2025 Strategic Targets and Goals,” which pertained to the city’s intent to “Minimize risk and litigation exposure.”
What was generally understood by members of the public who had followed municipal operations in San Bernardino County’s largest city was that Calvin had been less than impressed with Steve Carrigan, whom her council colleagues Ted Sanchez, Sandra Ibarra, Juan Figueroa, Fred Shorett, Damon Alexander and Mayor Helen Tran had resolved in August 2023 to hire as city manager as a replacement for Robert Field, who had resigned in the aftermath of Tran’s November 2022 election. Ultimately, a series of ill-advised delays in signing Carrigan, who was then the city manager in Salinas, to a contract in San Bernardino, along with Trans’ eventual disinclination toward hiring Carrigan, created a circumstance in which Carrigan, less than a week before his scheduled October 4 hiring, withdrew his candidacy and then filed a $2.231 million claim against San Bernardino for dilly-dallying and leaving him out to dry, which he said led to his termination by Salinas.
Thereafter, on October 18, 2023, Sanchez, Ibarra, Figueroa, Shorett and Tran resolved to hire Charles Montoya, who formerly had been the city manager of Watsonville in California and the town manager of Florence, Arizona, city manager of Avondale, Arizona, the finance director and treasurer with the Town of Castle Rock in Colorado, and the chief financial officer for both Centennial, Colorado and for Jefferson County, Colorado.
Calvin, who was skeptical about Montoya from the start, had a rocky relationship with him. Shortly after he became city manager, the city hired Laguna Niguel-based JL Group to look into accusations that Calvin had bypassed the city manager’s office in attempting to get information from city staff. In December, JL Group returned a report with findings to the effect that Calvin created an uncomfortable work environment for a city employee who claimed to have been bothered by her inquires and that Calvin created an uncomfortable work environment for other city employees by making such direct inquiries, such that Calvin violated the city’s self-imposed rules regarding council members’ communications and direction to city staff.
The identity of the claimant who touched off that investigation was never made clear. There were suggestions that it was none other than Montoya.
Montoya, who was reportedly the 15th, 16th or 17th place finisher among the 68 applicants to replace Field as ranked by the headhunting firm the city hired to carry out the city manager recruitment, Berkeley-based Koff & Associates, came into San Bernardino with something of a chip on his shoulder and was determined to prove his worth to the city, which had hit the skids financially in the 1990s with the closure of Norton Air Force Base, eventually having to file for bankruptcy in 2012. The city had been without its City Hall since that six-story building had been shuttered in 2017 over seismic stability considerations.
In January, Montoya, determined to move ahead with aggressive action to redress the city’s many issues and overcome the procrastination of city officials that in his view had plagued the city in the past, entered into discussions with the bond underwriting firm Stifel Financial Corporation and made tentative arrangement toward having the city issue $120 million in bonds, the proceeds from which could be used to finance a host of undertakings, including the seismic retrofit of City Hall. Montoya went so far as to sign, without city council authorization, a letter of intent with Stifel to hire it as the city’s financing agent. At that time, Calvin challenged Montoya over the decision to hire Stifel without a competitive bid process, but Montoya, riding high with the support of at least five council members and the mayor, weathered that confrontation.
Montoya further induced the city council to go along with having JL Group look into the debacle involving Carrigan. In April, JL Group released a report which stated a “preponderance of credible evidence overwhelmingly points to Calvin as the originator of the closed-session leaks” relating to the city manager search in 2023.
Montoya, from the vantage of the city manager’s post, was aware of the testy relationship Calvin had with council members Sanchez, Figueroa and Shorett, as well as backroom and closed session jousting she engaged in from time to time with Sanchez, Ibarra, Figueroa, Shorett and occasionally the mayor. In April, the atmosphere on the council dais had grown so poisonous that the effort to censure Calvin was launched.
Over the next month, however, there were revelations that brought the JL Groups’ conclusions about Calvin into question, including suggestions that the leaks with regard to the city manager hiring process originated not with her but the mayor and other members of the city council, as well as Koff and Associates.
On May 15, Montoya on the spot fired the city’s finance director, Barbara Whitehorn, when she refused to endorse his plan to issue $120 million in bonds using Stifel as the underwriter, which would generate close to $750,000 in fees to that company. Montoya’s intent was to use the proceeds from the bond sale to revamp City Hall, make certain infrastructure improvements and fund the city’s housing authority operations. As a consequence of the bond issuance, the city would be on the hook to pay the bond purchasers a return on their investment, one that was to total roughly $302 million over the next 30 years, starting with $12 million in Fiscal Year 2024-25 followed by $10 million per year from 2025-26 until 2053-54.
On May 22, the city council unanimously voted to terminate Montoya.
He has been replaced, on an interim basis, by Rochelle Clayton, who had newly arrived in San Bernardino in April as deputy city manager.
It had been Montoya’s intention to bring the matter relating to the censure of Calvin before the city council as early as next month.
The agenda for the first meeting in June, to take place next week on Wednesday, June 5, has been made available. It contains no item relating to the censure.
With the partial discrediting of the JL Groups’ reports, information now available to suggest that
Koff and Associates had compromised the identity of Carrigan during the city manager vetting and selection process, that other members of the council and Mayor Tran had a hand in promoting their own favored candidates for city manager while undercutting those candidates favored by other members of the council, and the entire council having come around to not only adopt Calvin’s skepticism regarding Montoya but to have joined together in cashiering him suggests that the council as a whole may now have come to recognize that Montoya’s animus toward Calvin was a driving factor in the censure effort. One item in particular – Montoya’s suggestion that by censuring Calvin the city could limit its potential liability in the event that Carrigan makes good on his claim against the city and indeed files suit – is being reexamined. Indeed, it now has become clear to city officials, the opposite is true: Censuring Calvin will strengthen Carrigan’s claim.
Another consideration is that Calvin, who was first elected to the council in 2020 and failed to obtain enough signatures to run for reelection on the ballot in this year’s March election, failed as a write-in candidate and is to be replaced in December by Mario Flores, who captured more than 53 percent of the Ward 6 vote. With Calvin set to depart from the council at the end of the year, to rebuke her over issues no longer roiling in the county seat could create unneeded enmity for Sanchez, Ibarra and Shorett, who will need to get the endorsement of the voters in their wards, and for Tran, who will need votes citywide to remain in office when they are up for election in 2026.
Many eyes will be on the council on June 5 to see what direction the council will give Clayton relating to Calvin.
-Mark Gutglueck

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