Having Jettisoned Montoya, SB Council Now Mulling Proceeding With Calvin Censure

By Mark Gutglueck
The sharp division on the San Bernardino City Council has not abated despite the temporary consensus that manifested on May 22 with the unanimous eight vote decision to terminate City Manager Charles Montoya. Up in the air is whether the council will proceed with its ruling majority’s earlier-stated intention of censuring Councilwoman Kimberly Calvin before she leaves office later this year.
The poisonous political atmosphere which has been brewing for more than 18 months has created tensions which now extend to questions over the continuing tenure of the city attorney and whether the elected leadership will be able to resolve its differences in a way that will allow the city to find an administrator to plan, organize, direct and control municipal operations in the county seat for a duration which will allow for the return of stability in the 170-year-old city.
Shortly after Helen Tran’s electoral victory in the 2022 mayoral election which saw then-Mayor John Valdivia – a highly polarizing figure – defeated and due to leave office, then-City Manager Robert Field resigned over concerns that his ties to Valdivia would leave him at odds with the incoming Tran regime. The city council then turned to former City Manager Charles McNeely to serve as interim city manager while a recruitment for Field’s replacement was carried out by the Berkeley-based Koff & Associates/Arthur J. Gallagher & Company headhunting firm.
In bringing in McNeely, the council made a fateful commitment that at least some would come to regret. They declared that whoever was to serve in the interim management capacity would not be eligible for consideration in the recruitment of a long-term city manager. Within a few months, McNeely, who had provisionally come out of retirement to take on the temporary assignment, began to warm toward the idea of reassuming the post of city manager on a full-fledged basis. This sparked a division within the city council, with some members wanting to rescind the prohibition against the interim city manager being considered as a candidate for the top city administrative post and others insisting that the city stand by the rules it had set up. Meanwhile, some 67 individuals with varying levels of municipal management experience applied for the San Bernardino City Manager’s post. After Koff & Associates/Arthur J. Gallagher & Company eliminated 44 of those and winnowed the field to 23, the city council carried out remote interviews with those candidates using the Zoom real time video/audio platform.
Meanwhile, Mayor Tran was seeking to have the council give serious consideration to one of the applicants, David Carmany, the one-time city manager of Agoura Hills, Malibu, Pacifica, Seal Beach, Manhattan Beach, La Puente and West Covina. Tran recommended Carmany on the basis of her positive experience with him when she had worked as the human resources director with West Covina from 2019 until 2022, a position Carmany had hired her into after she departed from San Bernardino as its human resources manager following a series of disputes between Valdivia and San Bernardino city employees, including six who sued the city over what they claimed was Valdivia’s abusive treatment of them. Despite Tran’s advocacy for Carmany, he was unable to obtain majority support on the council for his hiring.
Based upon the collective scoring for the 23 candidates interviewed via Zoom, the council chose five for in-person interviews. The leading candidate was Stockton City Manager Harry Black, who previously served as the city manager in Cincinnati, Ohio and prior to that was the finance director of Baltimore, Maryland; a senior aide to Richmond, Virginia Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, the one-time governor of Virginia; the 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; the assistant director of investments for the New York State Insurance Fund; a financial officer within the New York City’s Mayor’s Office Department of Contracts and an employee with the New York Transit Authority. Next in line was Salinas City Manager Steve Carrigan, who had previously served as city manager of Merced, the county seat of Merced County; the city manager of Los Banos in Merced County; the assistant city manager of Sanger in Fresno County; and the economic development director in Stockton.
Ranked third was 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; and a lower-level employee in the governor’s office in New Mexico.
Mayor Tran and six of the seven council members were fully sold on Black, to the point that the city was on the brink of offering him a contract. Before that took place, however, word reached at least one member of the Stockton City Council that Black was a candidate for the San Bernardino job. Unaware that he was a shoo-in for the San Bernardino post and concerned that he was at risk of losing his job in Stockton, Black withdrew his candidacy in San Bernardino.
While Montoya had impressed the city council with his Zoom interview, he fared far less well during the in-person question-and-answer encounter with the San Bernardino City Council, so much so that he had dropped to the bottom of the list of five finalists. Carrigan had proven equally poised and responsive during his face-to-faces exchange with the city council as he had been during the Zoom interview. Meanwhile, Black’s withdrawal from the competition had boosted Carrigan into being the leading candidate. Mayor Tran, First Ward Councilman Ted Sanchez, Second Ward Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra, Third Ward Councilman Juan Figueroa and Fourth Ward Councilman Fred Shorett were convinced that Carrigan represented the best fit of all of the available talent for the city manager’s post. Seventh Ward Councilman Damon Alexander, while not as enthusiastic about Carrigan as the mayor or his four colleagues, was willing to entrust the management of the city to him. Fifth Ward Councilman Ben Reynoso and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Kimberly Calvin were advocating that the city extend the recruitment process to allow further applications and consideration of other hiring options.
While the previous hope had been that the mayor and council would reach a full consensus on the hiring of the next city manager, given that Carrigan was deemed more than adequate by three-fourths of the city’s elected decision-making body, direction was given to extend a contract offer to him. A special meeting of the council was called for August 28, 2023, at which a vote to hire him was scheduled to take place.
Carrigan’s pending hiring was reported by the Sentinel on August 25. Over the weekend of August 26/27, Carrigan, who had previously kept the mayor and seven council members in Salinas as well as that city’s staff members in the dark about his application for the San Bernardino job, informed his political masters and municipal underlings of his candidacy for the city manager’s post in Southern California.
At the August 28 meeting, a smattering of San Bernardino residents expressed reservations about Carrigan. The city council, which was scheduled to discuss and vote on extending the contract offer to Carrigan in a closed session, adjourned into that executive session outside the view and earshot of the public. When it emerged, it was announced, inexplicably, that the council had taken no action.
Nine days later, at the city council’s first regularly scheduled meeting in September on September 6, it voted in closed session to extend the employment contract offer to Carrigan. Though she did not identify him by name, City Attorney Sonia Carvalho, in announcing the action taken that evening seemed to indicate the vote to do so was unanimous, though she avoided specifically saying so. Because state law requires that an employment agreement for a city manager be on a regular meeting agenda and because the September 20 regular council meeting had been canceled, Carvalho said, an employment agreement for the city manager had been placed on the city council agenda for its October 4 meeting, although she again avoided identifying Carrigan by name.
On September 28, even as the San Bernardino city clerk’s office was putting the final touches on compiling the agenda for the October 4 meeting, including the materials relating to the employment agreement with Carrigan, Carrigan contacted Koff & Associates/Arthur J. Gallagher & Company, telling the recruitment staff he was withdrawing his application for the San Bernardino city manager’s post. Carrigan thereupon composed a memo to Salinas city staff, informing it of his intention to remain as Salinas city manager, alluding in that memo to his belief that his future lay in Salinas and a significant element of his decision to remain in Salinas was based on 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.
On October 4, the day that the San Bernardino City Council would have voted on approving Carrigan’s contract with the city that would have provided 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.
Thereafter, on October 18, 2023, Sanchez, Ibarra, Figueroa, Shorett and Tran resolved to hire Charles Montoya. He began with the city on October 30.
While it was the hope of many that with the selection of Montoya the city would at last be in a position to move steadily toward a rejuvenated future well beyond the declaration of bankruptcy it had made in 2012 and its shaky emergence from that status in 2017, a series of events during the new city manager’s first 60 days in office converged to perpetuate the cycle of dysfunction in the city of 222,100.
Montoya, perceiving that a culture of malaise and tentativeness had infested San Bernardino for decades going back to the 1994 closure of Norton Air Force Base and the negative financial impact that had on the community which culminated in the 2012 municipal bankruptcy filing, resolved toward erring on the side of proactivity rather than passivity in his role as city manager. While his can-do attitude was indeed appreciated by members of the city council, at least initially, this approach required that he frequently leap into the breach in circumstances where a more prudent approach would have warranted caution, such that he utilized his own authority toward committing the city to a course of action that traditionally would have been initiated by a majority vote of the city council. In November, Carrigan, despite the consideration that he had of his own volition withdrew his application for the city manager’s job, filed a claim against San Bernardino for $2,231,250 in which he maintained Alexander and Calvin, who are African American and Reynoso, who is of mixed Black and Hispanic parentage, torpedoed his candidacy because he is white. Carrigan alleged one, two or all three council members leaked the information about his application with San Bernardino to members of the Salinas City Council to undo his eventual acceptance of the San Bernardino post, which he maintained was part of “a pattern of” such “unprivileged conduct” by city officials in San Bernardino “designed to destroy the employment prospects” of city manager applicants when elected officials are opposed to such a hiring.
Simultaneously, the city had hired Laguna Niguel-based JL Group to look into accusations made by a city employee whose identity has never been publicly disclosed that Calvin had bypassed the city manager’s office in attempting to get information from that staff member. 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 those direct inquiries, such that Calvin violated the city’s self-imposed rules regarding council members’ communications and direction to city staff.
Figueroa, Calvin, Reynoso and Alexander were due to either run for reelection in the March California primary or leave office at the end of their current terms in December 2024, All four submitted paperwork to both the city clerk and the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters to run for reelection. The registrar of voters, however, upon comparing the signatures of the required endorsers of those candidacies submitted with the filings determined that Calvin’s papers did not have the minimum number of 20 valid signatures by residents of/voters within San Bernardino’s Sixth Ward. Calvin therefore did not qualify for the ballot, which necessitated that she run for reelection as a write-in candidate in March.
In December, without carrying out a competitive bid, Montoya, calculating that the city would need to enhance its financial wherewithal 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, signed a letter of intent with the bond underwriting firm Stifel Financial Corporation, forming the basis of a 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 made the decision to hire Stifel as the city’s financing agent without prior council authorization based on his past experience with Stifel when it had acted in that capacity with several of the other cities Montoya worked for.
Montoya further induced the city council to go along with having JL Group look into the debacle involving Carrigan.
Despite some level of consonance and previous cooperation between Calvin and both Councilwoman Ibarra and Councilman Shorett, by the end of 2023, there was a widening gulf between Calvin in particular on one side of the divide and Mayor Tran and council members Sanchez, Ibarra, Figueroa and Shorett on the other.
Councilmen Reynoso and Alexander, who had not supported hiring Montoya, were less openly critical of the city manager than Calvin, but still found themselves shunted toward Calvin’s end of the San Bernardino political spectrum as Montoya found himself concentrating on keeping that faction of the council in his favor solidly behind him by being more and more solicitous of requests emanating from the mayor and the representatives of the First, Second, Third and Fourth wards than those originating with Calvin, Reynoso and Alexander.
In January, the degree to which the power dynamic was slipping away from Calvin became apparent when at the January 31 city council strategy session she questioned Montoya pointedly with regard to his unilateral decision based on his own authority to sign the letter of intent with Stifel and enter the city into an arrangement with that company without an open bidding process and the rest of the council remained, for the most part, reservedly unquestioning with regard to the topic. Those within the circle of governance in the city seemed to recognize that Calvin’s failure to qualify for the ballot in the then-upcoming March 5 Sixth Ward election had rendered her a lame duck, a political entity on her last legs with virtually no influence. Whatever authority remained to her, that being the bully pulpit of being able to remain as Sixth Ward councilwoman until December with but a single vote among the seven members of the city council, was inadequate to check the advance, or at least it seemed, of Montoya, who held the scepter of municipal administration in San Bernardino firmly in hand.
Things grew worse for Calvin in March, when she was defeated in her quest for reelection as a write-in candidate in the March 5 election. What was more, Figueroa, the one member of the rather loosely-knit Sanchez-Ibarra-Figueroa-Shorett ruling coalition on the council who was up for election this year was handily re-elected, while both Reynoso and Alexander, the two members of the council who had sided with Calvin on many of the issues she had taken up over the course of the more than three years that they had been in office, were defeated in their reelection bids. Calvin is to be replaced in December by Mario Flores, while former San Bernardino City Councilman Henry Nickel, whom Reynoso defeated in 2020, will need to slug it out with Kim Knaus in November to determine who will represent the Fifth Ward from December 2024 until December 2028 and Treasure Ortiz and former San Bernardino City Attorney Jim Penman are slated to compete in the November 2024 run-off to hash out who will succeed Alexander as Seventh Ward councilor.
In April, her political prospects having already sunk to an immeasurable depth, Calvin sustained two further blows. On April 16, the city released the executive summary for and 18 pages of the JL Group’s investigative report into the issues relating to Carrigan’s complaint. That summary 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. At the April 17 city council meeting, the city council voted 4-to-3, with Calvin, Reynoso and Alexander dissenting, to initiate censure proceedings against Calvin for, in the wording of a staff report authored by Montoya, violating “policy, law and fiduciary duty” in her capacity as a city council member. The official rationale given for subjecting Calvin to the ignominy of a censure, which carries with it no reduction or elimination of her authority as an elected official but stands as a public rebuke of her comportment by her elected colleagues, consisted of the information contained in the JL Group’s two investigative reports, the one from December which concluded she had sought information from and communicated with a staff member directly and without going through the city manager’s office to do so and the more recent one which found her responsible for leaks of confidential information relating to the city manager recruitment process.
Ostensibly, Montoya’s status had advanced with Calvin’s diminution. Having been granted by the council majority near autonomy over city affairs, he was structuring city initiatives, projects and policy in accordance with what his best judgment deemed appropriate. The city’s legal counsel, including City Attorney Carvalho, Assistant City Attorney Thomas Rice and the law firm which employed them, Best Best & Krieger, appeared to be on board and in consonance with the direction he was mapping out for the city. Those city staff members who were following his instructions had every indication that their careers were advancing and those city vendors and contractors he favored were prospering.
On May 1, prior to heading off for vacation, Barbara Whitehorn, who had been hired as San Bernardino’s director of finance in February 2021, some 32 months before Montoya arrived as city manager, spoke with the city manager about his proposal to have the city issue $120 million in municipal bonds and then using that money to fund a host of city infrastructure creation and infrastructure refurbishment and upgrading undertakings, city housing authority sponsored projects and other efforts including the seismic retrofitting of San Bernardino City Hall, which had been shuttered, empty and unused since 2017.
To debt service that bond issuance which was to create the revenue stream with which those public improvements were to be financed using the proceeds from the sale of those bonds, Whitehorn told Montoya, the city would need to pull $12 million out of its revenue stream to begin making yearly payments to the bond purchasers in upcoming 2024-25 and the city would thereafter have to devote $10 million annually toward that debt at a minimum starting in Fiscal 2025-26, doing so continuously without respite for the next 29 years. Whitehorn bluntly told Montoya, “The city does not have that money.”
Upon returning from vacation on May 15, Whitehorn learned, Montoya had not integrated what she had told him into his calculations for the future course of the city but had remained committed to pursuing the issuance of bonds to give the city the ability to finance a series of programs Montoya considered crucial. When Montoya told Whitehorn he needed her to begin marching in unison with him and the rest of city staff in applying the long-term fixes and adjustments to the city’s policies that were on his agenda as city manager, she indicated her continuing unwillingness to do so. According to Whitehorn, Montoya sought to pressure her into changing her position by threatening to release, she said, “information damaging to my career into the public domain.” She responded by telling Montoya he would have to fire her to prevent her from opposing the bond issuances as a city employee. She quoted him as responding, “Oh, then I’ll just fire you without cause.”
Indeed, that is what Montoya did, arranging for Whitehorn to receive a pink slip later that day.
If it had been Montoya’s expectation that Whitehorn would simply go gently into the good night, he was startled when, after quietly and without protest having cleaned out her desk and left her office, she returned for that evening’s city council meeting held at the auditorium at the Norman F. Feldheym Library, where she gave the city council a blow-by-blow account of her confrontation with Montoya over the bond issuance proposal.
The matter stewed for a while. The council called for a special meeting on May 22, at 6:30 p.m., one in which the public would be free to offer comment first but after which the council discussion was to be held behind closed doors. Contained on the agenda was a “public employee performance evaluation… public employee performance dismissal [and] public employee appointment” relating to the “city manager.”
Indeed, the council adjourned into a closed session, during which it terminated Montoya without cause on a unanimous vote and then appointed Deputy City Manager Rochelle Clayton as the acting city manager by vote of 5-to-3, with Tran, Figueroa, Shorett, Reynoso and Calvin prevailing and Sanchez, Ibarra and Alexander dissenting.
In taking the action, the city council did so without citing cause, which triggered a clause in Montoya’s employment contract, such that he was provided with a $325,000 severance, it being the expectation of the council that the payment would foreclose any legal action against the city the now-former city manager would have otherwise contemplated engaging in as a consequence of his firing.
There followed a community evaluation as to what had just occurred, one which in some quarters it was believed might result in the city council reconsidering much of its action in recent months. Since November, it had been Calvin who had constantly questioned whether Montoya was the right fit for San Bernardino, whether action he was taking was proper and whether he was exceeding his authority in taking that action. The response of the mayor and four council members had been to dismiss Calvin’s misgivings as her own peculiar wrongheadedness and unwillingness to work as a team player.
Both in the light of Montoya’s exit and the natural progression toward informational fallout over time and the revelation of hidden or suppressed details with regard to backroom operations within Vanir Tower, which since 2017 has substituted as the site for the municipal executive offices located within City Hall, significant elements of the JL Group’s investigation and its conclusion that Calvin was responsible for compromising the confidentiality of the 2023 city manager recruitment effort were undercut.
Lastly and perhaps most significantly, the degree to which, during Montoya’s tenure, an alliance had developed between the city attorney’s function and that of the city manager, one which resulted in the withholding of critical information from members of the city council, has emerged.
Running through the heart of the deteriorating relationships among the members of the city council is Carrigan’s claim against the city to the effect that the African Americans on the city council had formed a cabal that had actively prevented white candidates, including Carrigan, from acceding to the post of city manager for no reason other than that they were white. An examination of the putative evidence to support that assertion, however, makes it problematic at best or discredits it altogether.
In his claim and associated statements and documentation, Carrigan maintains that he was discriminated against by the three African American members of the council, who either singly, independently, in tandem or acting in concert purposefully revealed to those unauthorized to know that he had entered the sweepstakes to become San Bernardino City Manager.
It is now openly acknowledged that the identities of those who had applied for the city manager position were compromised as a consequence of the lack of security maintained by Koff and Associates/Arthur J. Gallagher & Company. This was exacerbated by an employee with Koff and Associates/Gallagher having, apparently, shared with some of the applicants information relating to the other applicants.
Carrigan, in an internal City of Salinas memo dated August 26 which went to at least eight city employees as well as that city’s mayor and six council members, revealed he was competing for the San Bernardino job. Both the Sentinel, in San Bernardino County, and Monterey County Now, a daily on-line publication in Monterey County, in the summer of 2023 reported on Carrigan’s application for the San Bernardino position. The Sentinel did not derive the information from Calvin or any source in San Bernardino County.
The suggestion that Reynoso had leaked Carrigan’s name outside the confines of the city council’s closed door discussions of the candidates for the post and their relative qualifications is controverted by information, known to the JL Group’s investigators, that Reynoso had in the summer of 2023 voiced concern that the identities of the candidates had been compromised based upon indications at that time that information relating to the applicants and their identities had fallen into those unauthorized to have it, resulting in Black increasing his salary demands before he dropped out of the competition.
A third effort to frame one of the African American members of the council with having exposed to the outside world Carrigan’s identity and that of other applicants consists of a narrative relating to Councilman Alexander and his having left a binder containing a synopsis of each of the 67 applicants for the post in a place where individuals either known or unknown accessed it and then made a wider public disclosure of that information. In actuality, however, the circumstance alluded to consisted of Alexander having delivered a keynote speech to the members of San Bernardino Fatherhood, a local organization dedicated to emphasizing the importance of father inclusion and responsible fatherhood, at one of its meetings. Alexander inadvertently left the binder on the podium after his speech. Immediately afterwards, however, Ryan Berryman, San Bernardino Fatherhood’s founder and executive director, saw the notebook, recovered and secured it. Thereafter, he delivered it to Tran. Thus, the binder’s chain of custody did not go beyond Alexander, Tran and Berryman, the last of whom did not read or access its contents beyond ascertaining that the material contained therein was considered confidential and intended for the eyes of Tran and the other members of the city council exclusively.
Information obtained by the Sentinel indicates that JL Group’s investigators did not consider the manner in which Koff and Associates/Arthur J. Gallagher & Company had cavalierly dealt with the information relating to the applicants for the San Bernardino city manager post and did not closely examine indications and evidence demonstrating that an individual or individuals with Koff and Associates/Arthur J. Gallagher & Company had disclosed to certain applicants for the position the identities of other applicants or that Koff and Associates/Arthur J. Gallagher & Company and/or one or more of its employees had manipulated the recruitment process by excluding from the roster of candidates for the San Bernardino city manager’s post applicants the firm or its employees felt would be better considered for city manager posts to be filled elsewhere.
The Sentinel today sought from Jeff Love and Jeff Johnson, the founders and senior executives with JL Group, whether the firm now acknowledges the inaccuracy of the conclusion reached as a consequence of its investigative effort relating to the 2023 San Bernardino city manager recruitment process that Calvin was responsible for the revelation that Carrigan was competing for the San Bernardino job while he was yet employed by Salinas. Neither Love nor Johnson was willing to state that JL Group stands by that conclusion.
The Sentinel further inquired with Love and Johnson as to what nuance was left out of the publicly released executive summary of the investigation/investigation report that would explain why the purported conclusion reached missed taking into account the fashion in which Koff and Associates/Arthur J. Gallagher & Company had failed to secure the information relating to the identities and qualifications of the candidates for the San Bernardino city manager position. The Sentinel asked Love and Johnson how thoroughly the JL Group’s investigators examined Koff and Associates/Arthur J. Gallagher & Company’s communications with the applicants for the San Bernardino city manager position and whether the investigators examined the potential that those communications, or at least some of them, might have compromised the confidentiality of the San Bernardino city manager recruitment process. The Sentinel inquired whether the nature of any of those communications gave rise to the JL Group’s concern about the integrity of Koff and Associates/Arthur J. Gallagher & Company’s methodology in carrying out the recruitment process.
The Sentinel sought from Love and Johnson whether prior to the completion of the JL Group’s investigation into the 2023 San Bernardino city manager recruitment process there was any concern that some internal conflict within Koff and Associates/ Arthur J. Gallagher & Company existed with regard to promoting one or more candidates for the positions they were recruiting over other candidates. The Sentinel expanded that question to whether JL Group, before completing its report, looked into whether Koff and Associates/Arthur J. Gallagher & Company was withholding from some cities the full range of city manager candidates because Koff and Associates/ Arthur J. Gallagher & Company considered some applicants to be better suited for one city rather than another and that this might have accounted for the compromising of the confidentiality of the 2023 San Bernardino city manager recruitment process. The Sentinel also asked Love and Johnson about whether subsequent to the delivery of its investigation report relating to the 2023 San Bernardino city manager recruitment process, its investigators had considered factors relating to the internal conflict within Koff and Associates/ Arthur J. Gallagher & Company with regard to promoting one or more candidates for the positions they were recruiting over other candidates in the 2023 summer timeframe which might have led JL Group to have rethought the conclusion it provided in the executive summary or believe it to no longer be operative.
The Sentinel delivered those questions in writing to Love and Johnson via email and followed up with a phone call to the company at its number, (949) 282-8181. The Sentinel received no written or verbal response. A phone call from the number 1 949 844 4038 did come into the Sentinel on Friday, but upon the Sentinel answering, there was no audible connection. The Sentinel attempted to return a call to (949) 844 4038, thereby encountering a message that the call to that number could not be completed as dialed.
The validity of the conclusions reached by JL Group in its two known investigations as pertain to Calvin are now subject to controversion, given the degree to which the firm was dependent upon both Montoya and the city attorney’s office. Montoya’s enmity toward Calvin is firmly established, giving rise to not just a possibility but a probability that he selectively provided information and documentation to the JL Group intended to cast Calvin in the worst possible light while withholding from the firm information and documentation that might disprove, or cast doubt upon, the contention that she was responsible for revealing Carrigan had applied for the San Bernardino city manager position.
Evidence has now emerged that the city attorney’s office earlier this year was withholding from public scrutiny as well as from the city council information and documentation damaging to Montoya.
Treasure Ortiz, now involved in a run-off for city council in the Seventh Ward, is associated with Calvin both professionally and politically. In 2018, two years before she ran for city council, Calvin founded Akoma Unity Center, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization to provide educational programs, mentoring and resources to Black, indigenous and traditional minority students and their families. Ortiz, a, lecturer in public administration at the University of California at San Bernardino, works part time at Akoma. She supported Calvin in her 2020 run for city council and again in 2024. Calvin lent Ortiz support in her unsuccessful run for Mayor in 2022 and backed her in this year’s electoral effort in the Seventh Ward.
Ortiz made numerous public statements going back more than six months which were critical of Montoya and supportive of Calvin in her questioning of the now-departed city manager’s policies and approach.
On December 12, Montoya signed a letter of engagement with Stifel to have that company serve as the City of San Bernardino’s bond underwriter. On December 20, city staff, at Montoya’s behest, composed a joint city/Stifel interested parties list relating to the issuance of lease revenue bonds to take place in 2024. Montoya; his executive assistant, Debbie Gonzalez; Assistant City Manager Adelia Eveland; Human Resources Director Suzie Soren; Interim Public Works Director Lynn Merrill; Best Best & Krieger, in its capacity as the city’s legal counsel; City Attorney Sonia Carvalho; Best Best & Krieger, in its capacity as the city’s bond counsel; Kim Byrens, a Best Best & Krieger attorney who was to act as the city’s disclosure counsel; Stifel, as the city’s bond underwriter; Mark Reader, Stifel’s managing director in its Phoenix office; Kenneth Cherevka, Stifel’s assistant vice president in its Phoenix office; Sarah Brown, Stifel’s managing director in its San Francisco office; Jordan Kenny-Guyer, Stifel’s assistant vice president in its San Francisco office; Luke Czepiel, an analyst with Stifel; the law firm of Straddling Yocca Carson & Rauth, as Stifel’s legal counsel; Brian Forbath, an attorney with Straddling Yocca Carson & Rauth assigned to work on matters pertaining to San Bernardino’s bond issuances; Phoenix-based NVS, as the consulting engineer to work on projects financed with the bonds issued by San Bernardino and underwritten by Stifel; and Kevin Murphy, NVS’s vice president were all listed as interested parties in the bond issuances to take place. Excluded from that list of interested parties were Mayor Tran and the city’s seven council members, as well as Barbara Whitehorn, who was then the city’s finance director.
In January and February, Calvin’s requests to have the council collectively address Montoya’s self-authorized and unilateral progression toward the issuance of municipal bonds were not gaining meaningful traction.
On February 20, 2024, in the midst of Calvin’s sputtering effort in that regard, Ortiz made a California Public Records request for a copy of the letter of intent signed by Montoya. A response to that request within the 10-day deadline was not forthcoming. Ultimately, after the initial ten-day response time and the 14-day extension of that deadline was exceeded, Ortiz would be informed that the document she had requested did not exist.
Undaunted by the delay and obfuscation, Ortiz on May 1, 2024 filed yet another request under the California Public Records Act seeking a copy of the letter of engagement. The city again delayed beyond the ten-day deadline for replying to such requests. On May 13, Ortiz was provided with a response, which stated, “The city does not possess any responsive documents pertaining to this request,” essentially the same response she had received previously.
On June 4, 2024, 13 days after Montoya was terminated, Ortiz received, two months and 19 days late, a response to her original February 20 public records request in which the signed letter of intent, composed and dated December 4, 2023 and signed by Montoya on December 12, 2023, was included.
The Sentinel has obtained an email thread running from December 4 through December 11, involving an original email from Sara Brown of Stifel to Montoya to which the Stifel-composed letter of intent is attached, which bounces among Montoya’s administrative assistant Gonzalez, Carvalho, and Byrens, with electronic carbon copies going to Soren, Reader, Kerry-Guyer, Czepiel and Eveland. The original email from Brown to Montoya explains that “the underwriter is required to have something from the issuer that indicates we are at the table as underwriter.” The Sentinel has obtained four other email threads among city officials and Stifel corporate officers in which the details of the bond issuing arrangements are discussed. Carvalho and Byrens are participants or recipients in two of those chains.
In none of those email chains are the mayor or members of the city council included.
Carvalho consistently denied or otherwise disavowed any knowledge about Montoya’s engagement of Stifel as bond underwriter. As late as June 5, at the San Bernardino City Council meeting, a day after Ortiz belatedly received the copy of the letter of intent signed by Montoya, Carvalho said she had no knowledge of any signed letter with Stifel.
“I want to briefly respond to comments on the issue that was raised with respect to involvement with the Stifel letter and the PRA [California Public Records Act] request,” Carvalho said. “I just want to tell the council that just because someone says something doesn’t mean its true. I want to look you in the eye and tell you a couple of things. I never, ever attended a single meeting involving the financing or proposed financing of the City Hall set. I didn’t attend those meetings. I didn’t attend Zoom meetings. Someone might have evidence that I was added to a calendar invite, but that doesn’t mean I attended. Up until this morning, I was told – I have evidence of it. I’d be happy to produce it to you, my bosses – that the Stifel letter had never been signed.”
Carvalho then explained that to the extent that she had misrepresented to Ortiz or others that Montoya had not signed the letter of intent, she had only done so because she had relied upon misrepresentations made by others to her.
“When a Public Records Act request is made, even when they’re made about all of you, we ask you in good faith to give us the documents,” Carvalho said. “I work with the city clerk very closely. We review what is produced to us and what people tell us. I don’t go grab your personal phones or say I want to see your personal email, even in times when I might have suspected that some of you did not turn over everything you were supposed to. That is not what we do. That’s not how the process works. Now, if that’s something you want us to start doing, becoming the police and be demanding of everything, we can do that. But, I’m just telling you that’s not the practice. I don’t think that’s our roles to do that. So, up until this morning, there were individuals in this city who were told in person and in writing that that letter had not been signed. I don’t know what more to tell you about that. That’s what we were told. I had no idea there was a Stifel signed letter.”
Documentation obtained by the Sentinel indicates that Carvalho’s firm, Best Best & Krieger, was to serve as bond counsel, and that Carvalho’s colleague at Best Best & Krieger, Byrens, was to serve as disclosure counsel. Typically, a bond counsel collects a fee somewhere between a quarter of a percent and one-half of a percent [.0025 and .005] of the bond issuance. Typically, a disclosure counsel is paid a fee equal to one-eighth of a percent and a quarter percent [.00125 and .0025] of the bond issuance. Thus, if the issuance of $120 million in bonds had proceeded as Montoya intended, Best Best & Krieger stood to collect a fee of somewhere between $300,000 and $600,000 and Byrens stood to make between $150,000 and $300,000.
Puzzling to many was the decision by the city council to release the executive summary and 18 pages of the JL Group’s investigation into the circumstances relating to the 2023 city manager recruitment, particularly given Carrigan’s pending 2.2315 million claim and the conclusion that Calvin – and by extension the City of San Bernardino and its taxpayers – were responsible for identifying him as one of the applicants for the city manager job. Doubly or even triply baffling was why Montoya as city manager and Carvalho as city attorney did not strongly advise the council against making the release, given the likelihood that Carrigan and his legal representatives will seize upon it to strengthen his claim and force the city into a costly settlement.
Over the last several months, Montoya’s motivation in releasing the report – his bitter antipathy toward Calvin – loomed into sharp focus. For him, whatever cost the city and its taxpayers might have to bear in coming to terms with Carrigan was a worthwhile trade-off for being able to completely politically neuter Calvin, who represented, because of her incessant criticism of him, what he considered to be a threat to his continued lucrative tenure as city manager. That, perhaps, explains why he did not intercede to dissuade the city council from releasing the JL Group report.
Carvalho’s motivation in allowing the council to release the report was much more opaque, at least until recently. As city attorney, it is her primary function to ward against any action that might lead toward or compound the city’s legal liability. She understood implicitly and explicitly that the creation of a city document which stated that Calvin had purposefully leaked Carrigan’s name was going to not only shore up his claim but go a tremendous distance toward proving it. That Carvalho went along with retaining the JL Group to investigate the matter at all, then compile what was purported to be evidence of Calvin’s involvement in exposing Carrigan and then doing nothing to prevent the city from making the investigators’ conclusion public stands as a textbook example of what a city attorney should not do. That, combined now with the release of Montoya’s letter of intent, the email chains showing the preparations involving Montoya, Gonzalez, Eveland, Soren, Merrill, Carvalho, Byrens, Reader, Cherevka, Brown, Kenny-Guyer, Czepiel, Best Best & Krieger, the law firm of Straddling Yocca Carson & Rauth, Forbath, NVS and Murphy in preparing for the issuance of the bonds, Carvalho’s repeated denials of the existence of the signed letter of intent and the consideration that Best Best & Krieger as a law firm combined with Byrens stood to reap somewhere between $450,000 and $900,000 upon the issuance of the bonds, explicates why Cavalho acted in league with Montoya in providing the JL Group with documentation and input to implicate Calvin in the compromising of the confidential information relating to the 2023 city manager recruitment effort and the public release of the executive summary which portrayed Calvin in such a negative light.
Rochelle Clayton, who had newly arrived in San Bernardino in April as deputy city manager, a little more than a month later was precipitously moved into the role of acting manager. Among the myriad assignments she inherited from Montoya was moving forward with the possible censure of Calvin. In the chaos that has ensued following Montoya’s departure, it is perhaps understandable that Clayton has left the censure of one of her eight political masters on the back burner. Given the cascade of revelations in the last month – to include some real questions about how thorough of an investigation JL Group actually did and whether it ignored evidence that it was Koff and Associates/Arthur J. Gallagher & Company’s carelessness rather than Calvin’s action which accounted for the series of events that resulted in Carrigan’s firing by Salinas, not to mention the manner in which Montoya had loaded the dice against Calvin when she began militating against him and the city’s bond issuance strategy as it was to be handled by Stifel – there may be a question in Clayton’s mind as to whether the council majority is yet resolved to consider proceeding with the censure process. At any rate, Clayton has not followed through with putting an item before the council to do just that on any of the agendas for the city council meetings she has attended in the capacity of acting city manager thus far.
According to City Councilman Shorett, neither the demise of Montoya as city manager nor the revelations of the past several weeks have undercut his resolve to move forth with the censure process. He said he had no indication from any of his colleagues that they have changed their minds about lodging an official rebuke against Calvin.
“I believe a vote on whether to censure Councilwoman Calvin will take place,” he said. “There was a clear consensus – a majority on the council – to start the process and for good reason. My impression is the votes are there to not only continue and go forward with the vote but to censure her. I can’t actually know that technically, because the Brown Act prevents us from discussing how we will vote on something in advance. I see no evidence of any softening of attitude toward her or the way she has conducted herself. I don’t know the status of where things are now. We gave direction to staff and the city attorney to go forward and the last thing that I heard from her [Clayton] was she indicated it is in the works in the city attorney’s office. As far as I know, that’s where it is. It has not been discussed since because we have been very busy and with the change in the city manager and all of the shake up from that perspective and dealing with other issues day-to-day, this hasn’t been going at a fever pitch, but it is going forward.”
That Calvin was the first, strongest and most vociferous critic of Montoya on the council does not undo or erase the abuse of authority she engaged in, Shorett said.
“I was wrong on Montoya and she was right, it turned out,” Shorett said. “A lot of people said, ‘You better take a look at this guy. He’s got baggage.’ When he started, I thought we would have a good relationship. I wasn’t worried about the past. Now she [Calvin] can say she told me so. I really didn’t see some of the problems. He had hubris. He was egotistical and had a domineering attitude. He also probably tried to get too much done too fast. It took about six months, and we could see he was failing. The council came together and we took the appropriate action. Did it cost us some money? Yeah, it did. Is that better than continuing on with him for another year or two years and having to get around to getting rid of him then? I believe so.”
Shorett remained unforgiving of Calvin, her attitude and the action she had taken, which he said ultimately resulted in the city having to settle on Montoya.
“If we had gone with our first pick and it hadn’t blown up, we would have been in good shape,” Shorett said. “If we had our first choice, Montoya would not have gotten in there.”
Shorett said he was bound by the rules of confidentiality from clarifying whether his reference to the council’s first choice meant Black or Carrigan.
Shorett said he yet accepted the JL Group’s finding that it was Calvin, working in conjunction with Ortiz, who was responsible for compromising the confidentiality of the city manager recruitment effort. He dismissed the suggestion that it was insufficient security with the firm of Koff and Associates/Arthur J. Gallagher & Company or loose lips on the part of its employees that had resulted in members of the Salinas City Council learning that Carrigan was about to leave them in the lurch for San Bernardino. He also rejected any suggestion that Alexander leaving the folder containing the Koff and Associates/Arthur J. Gallagher & Company evaluations of the candidates on the podium at the San Bernardino Fatherhood meeting represented the lesion through which Carrigan’s status as an applicant for the San Bernardino job had escaped out into the wide world. “I do not for one minute believe Damon was the leak,” Shorett said.
“The overwhelming evidence pointed to Kim Calvin as being the source of those leaks,” he insisted. The JL Group’s report on its investigation demonstrated, he said, that Ortiz conveyed the information beyond San Bernardino, resulting in the interruption of the recruitment effort. He said there were other instances of Calvin providing information to Ortiz, including internet postings by Ortiz containing information that could have come from no one other than Calvin.
He alluded to another example, saying “There was one night when we came out of closed session and Treasure Ortiz already had the information we were discussing.” Shorett said he believed Calvin had texted Ortiz the information while they were yet in closed session.
“Those two are as thick as thieves,” Shorett said. “They work together at Akoma. Ortiz supports Calvin. Calvin is Ortiz’s supporter. Look at Treasure Ortiz’s posts. Half of it comes right out of our closed sessions, obviously from Calvin. The JL Group did an exhaustive investigation. They came to the right conclusion.”
With regard to the most recently manifested controversy involving Montoya’s unilateral effort to hire Stifel as the city bond underwriter, Montoya having signed a letter of intent to do just that, the denials that the letter of intent existed followed by reconstituted denials to the effect that the letter had never been signed, the efforts to hide the letter and the most recent production of the letter, showing it was signed by Montoya on December 12, 2023, Shorett said he did not perceive that any of that shed discredit upon Carvalho or Best Best & Krieger.
“Honestly, I didn’t have a lot of information about it,” Shorett said. “I’m a bit confused on who had it and whether it was signed or not. Personally, I have not seen a copy of the document. I was told it was not complete because it had not been signed. I hear now there is a signed copy that somehow was released on a PRA [Public Records Act] request. I have not been intimately involved in any of the discussions relating to that.”
As to Best Best & Krieger, Shorett said, “I support having them as our city attorney. I know a lot of people think we can do better. I am satisfied with their representation. I believe we as a council are satisfied with both attorneys [City Attorney Sonia Carvalho and Deputy City Attorney Thomas Rice, both Best Best & Krieger partners]. I feel I can call them and get the information I need. Best Best & Krieger is the largest and most reliable municipal law firm in the state.”

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