Sunday , June 23 2024

Council fires city manager after eight months on the job

San Bernardino has lost another city manager, this time  after only eight months on the job.

Charles Montoya, the embattled city manager of San Bernardino, was terminated without cause during a special council meeting on Wednesday evening. The decision came after he was accused of ‘cooking the books’ and withholding crucial financial information, particularly regarding the cost of renovating the city hall building, by a fellow city employee.

Barbara Whitehorn, former financial director for the city, told the council last week that she was threatened — and later fired — by Montoya for raising concerns about the costs of renovating City Hall.

Montoya was offered the city manager job last October after a contentious nine-month process to replace former city manager Rob Field. That was only after the city had no other choice because their first option turned the job down following leaks from closed session by Councilmember Kimberly Calvin to Treasure Ortiz who then spread the information via social media, at city council meetings, and in a radio interview.

The council’s decision to fire Montoya was met with approval from the public in attendance at the meeting, in fact several candidates running for council in the election this November had called for the council to terminate Montoya’s contract.

James Penman, who is running against Treasure Ortiz in a contested race, had released an open letter to the City Council calling for the immediate firing of Montoya days before the special meeting.   “His (Montoya’s) disrespect of the Mayor and Council (remember his ill-advised public comments about being the one who controls the agenda – even if he incorrectly thinks that he should never have said it publicly), his lack of common sense and timing is indefensible, and his public judgment is demonstrably faulty. Even if there is something more to this than we know, the optics of this are now unsustainable (and this is more than optics).  If you fail to act without delay you will all be blamed for what is coming, and rightfully so.”

Treasure Ortiz was also in favor of Montoya’s firing.  Ortiz had a characteristic improper outburst at a previous meeting criticizing Montoya and calling for his termination and was admonished for her abusive and inappropriate behavior by the usually mild-mannered mayor Helen Tran, who was upset by the temper-tantrum displayed by Ortiz from the audience.

Kim Knauss, a council candidate running against retread candidate Henry Nickel, who had previously been on the council and then defeated for reelection, issued this statement, “As a city council candidate and longtime resident of San Bernardino, I am happy to see the unity amongst our council represented in their unanimous vote. Our city’s leadership needs to uphold accountability and ensure transparency in all aspects of governance.

Moving forward, our council must help reshape the culture at city hall that has contributed to the negative stigma surrounding San Bernardino. I believe this recent step marks the beginning of that journey. Our residents and businesses must trust our city’s leadership to flourish. We want people to desire to live and work here. This necessitates having a culture characterized by transparency, accountability, collaboration, and a genuine passion for serving the community. Despite the challenges, I remain very optimistic about San Bernardino’s future. My candidacy is rooted in this hope for positive and substantial change.”

Deputy City Manager Rochelle Clayton has been appointed as acting city manager.

Clayton, who joined the city April 15, is a San Bernardino native and has nearly 30 years of leadership roles with public agencies in the Inland Empire, most recently as the Assistant City Manager for Menifee in Riverside County.

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