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Friday, January 21, 2022

San Bernardino mayor’s condemnation is a slap that may resonate

Scanning the pile in the history room at the Public Library of San Bernardino on Wednesday, December 1, I caught sight of the vivid title of a book: “Into the Jaws of Hell.”

Was that a preview of the attractions to come? Hours later, I went to my first San Bernardino City Council meeting, ready for anything.

Wednesday’s special session, with Mayor John Valdivia facing a censure, seemed like the perfect introduction. After years of marveling at their council meetings, it was time for me to experience the magic in person.

The investigation into the alleged misuse of public funds by the mayor found persuasive evidence. As you may recall from a series of earlier news stories, several former subordinates are suing her for harassment and bullying, and an investigation last year confirmed some of the claims.

Either Valdivia is a toxic figure unfit for office or she is the most misunderstood public official in the Inland Empire.

Trivia note: The last time a city official was condemned was 20 years ago in San Bernardino. That was Jim Penman, the elected city attorney. As if to provide a live history lesson, Penman was in the audience for Wednesday’s hearing and was the first speaker at the lecture. He said that Valdivia should resign.

Later speakers either called Valdivia corrupt and irresponsible or praised him as “a scrapper” fighting to bring business to the hard-luck city.

One developer said that Valdivia was “the first mayor to return my call.” One supporter said that Valdivia “returns our call immediately.”

Must be good Our San Bernardino reporter, Brian Whitehead, manages to get Valdivia on the phone about twice a year. Auto warranty spammers have a better success rate.

My favorite speaker was a self-described pastor who said the mayor couldn’t be a scoundrel because he drives an old Buick and lives in a two-bedroom house, and by the way one of the council’s members “was up to the meetings.” Drunk during.”

Which church should he lead? As the pastor left the lecture, a woman in the audience cried out, “We’ll pray for you!”

Attorney Norma García Guillen presented the case on behalf of the city. Her law firm was hired as a third party to investigate claims related to the so-called VIP reception after a state-of-the-city address and some dubious expense reimbursements.

Some travel and meal dates coincide with campaign events and charities, García Guillén found, meaning that had Valdivia made rounds to raise campaign cash, taxpayers would have footed the bill.

For the reception, the mayor turned it into a private event, inviting only his friends via taxpayer-funded postcards and instructing City Hall to remove the city’s logo from the event’s swag and slap his logo on it. Gave it, García Guillen said.

He also struck up a donor to pay the food cost of $5,000, a contribution Valdivia should have reported within 30 days. He only did so “earlier today”, García Guillén said, calculating that the mayor was “147 days late”.

To be fair, he’s probably been busy returning phone calls.

By the way, Valdivia was on stage as usual for all the comments and arguments. City Attorney Sonia Carvalho said she had advised him to sit elsewhere.

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Next to the lecture will be Valdivia or a representative. I was surprised to see an older man in a billowing shirt, neck wide open, rising from the audience and walking towards the lecture.

It was Rod Pacheco, the mayor’s personal mouthpiece. A former Riverside County District Attorney, it looked like he was ready to present his case to the boy at the barstool next.

Pacheco began by handing out supporting documents to council members. Carvalho said the public should have equal access, explaining that he had told both sides that any material that had to be made available in advance was quickly returned unread.

In his argument, Pacheco claimed that the council had no capacity to condemn his client, that the entire proceedings were “a political assassination” masterminded by Carvalho – et tu, Sonia? – and that Valdivia’s activities were permitted under various exceptions to the laws.

It didn’t matter much, but Pacheco delivered it with emotion.

At the end of the legal debate, the members of the council made clear their displeasure and frustration towards Valdivia.

“I think the evidence speaks for itself,” said Fred Shorrett. “It is not political. We are holding someone responsible for the misuse of public funds.”

“What happens when you let things like this go?” Said Ben Renoso, who said it couldn’t be better if developers could reach Meyer by phone day or night.

The resolution to censure passed 7–0, with Valdivia being the non-voting eighth member of the council. A second resolution to remove him as the city’s representative for the various regional boards also passed 7–0.

Valdivia didn’t say anything, but he paused. Getting a unanimous no-confidence vote may not look good.

A five-minute break was called before the regular meeting, for which people were already entering. Valdivia quickly exited and Pacheco was awarded. When Valdivia returned, he was talking with a velvet rope to a supporter who said the mayor immediately returned his call.

Realizing that I might even go for it, I stood before the mayor to get his attention.

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