Vacancies in leadership loom for San Bernardino
Within a span of several months, San Bernardino will have a new city manager, a new police chief and a new council member representing its 4th Ward.
There could be even more changes in play for city leaders. Code Enforcement Director Glenn Baude was relieved of his duties in July, and although the council has held several closed-door meetings to discuss his fate, nothing has been announced.
And of course, there's always a chance other city figures could retire, find a new job or end up stepping into some as-yet undiscovered hornet's nest.
At the very least, San Bernardino's next city manager will go to work in a city where politics are played like old-time football - three (or more) arguments and a cloud of dust.
The last city manager, Fred Wilson, left this month to take a job as Huntington Beach's top administrator. Wilson worked for San Bernardino for more than two decades, spending a dozen years as the city's top staffer.
Lori Sassoon, formerly Wilson's assistant, is acting city manager. The City Council has held interviews for an interim leader, and a headhunting firm has been hired to find the next permanent city manager.
Mayor Pat Morris said the next city manager will need to be someone who is experienced, knowledgeable and "accustomed to a challenging policymaking atmosphere, which is what our city offers."
Such a political environment, the mayor added, will require a leader with strength and resilience.
But San Bernardino's reputation for smash-mouth politics won't make it hard to find a new city manager, Morris said.
"I don't think so, and we can't pretend to be anything other than what we are," he said.
In this regard, Morris and 7th Ward Councilwoman Wendy McCammack agreed.
"It depends on how much of a challenge any one given candidate wants to embark upon," she said when asked if San Bernardino's political environment will make it hard to find a new city manager.
McCammack and Morris don't often see eye to eye. Of late, a prominent disagreement between them has been on the question of whether the council should subpoena several city leaders to investigate the management of Operation Phoenix, an anti-crime program that Morris launched in 2006, his first year in office.
Phoenix was thrust into turmoil in early July after community center manager Mike Miller was arrested and charged with child molestation. He is awaiting trial.
Miller's arrest opened the door to revelations of management troubles within the multiagency Phoenix effort.
McCammack has favored 1st Ward Councilwoman Esther Estrada's proposal to subpoena staff members to compel them to provide information about Phoenix. Morris has called the tactic unnecessary, and thus far, a majority of the council has rejected subpoenas.
In late July, Wilson placed Baude on administrative leave before it was revealed that Wilson was leaving for Huntington Beach. The council has discussed Baude's fate behind closed doors, but so far, no announcements have been made as to his future.
Baude is under a gag order from the city, and his attorney, James Curtis, has said that Baude was placed on leave for talking to the media about Phoenix in the wake of the Miller scandal. Curtis could not be reached for comment on this report, and elected officials who were interviewed didn't want to speak about the issue.
Until July, Baude was also Operation Phoenix director. The acting city manager is now in charge of day-to-day supervision of the program and general city business.
Police Chief Michael Billdt has also spent much of the past two years as a key member of the Phoenix effort and is scheduled to retire in March.
Many rank-and-file officers, however, would like Billdt to leave sooner.
The city's police union has taken a vote of no confidence in Billdt, and union president Sgt. Rich Lawhead has called for Billdt to leave office as soon as possible.
Billdt and Morris, however, are close, and neither has given any indication that the chief will surrender his stars before his planned retirement.
Billdt has also expressed optimism that the impasse between himself and the rank and file can be overcome.
Whenever Billdt returns to private life, councilmen Neil Derry of the 4th Ward and Tobin Brinker of the 3rd Ward said the city should wait to hire its next police chief so the next city manager can hire his or her own leadership team.
If Billdt leaves before March, McCammack said former Fontana and Rialto Police Chief Frank Scialdone "would be a perfect example of a great interim chief."
Scialdone is credited by many with rescuing the Rialto Police Department from the brink of dissolution. He and Cal State San Bernardino criminologist Larry Gaines have talked with Billdt and Morris about the possibility of teaming up to provide an outsider's perspective on how to improve the San Bernardino Police Department.
Morris said the search for a new city manager could take about six months.
With Billdt on schedule to leave the Police Department within that general time frame, the mayor said city officials may decide to search for San Bernardino's next police chief before a new city manager is in office.
"That's a discussion that we'll engage in with the council," Morris said.
On the council itself, Derry is scheduled to leave for higher office in December when he takes the 3rd District seat on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.
Derry has made a name for himself as one of the council's more conservative members. He has made law enforcement a priority and has been occasionally critical of Phoenix- related spending. However, he voted on Morris' side when the council took up the issue of subpoenas.
He said he expects an election for his successor will take place in March, which he suggests be accomplished by a mail-in ballot.