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San Bernardino’s new city manager, Charles A. Montoya, addresses skeptics at the San Bernardino City Council’s Oct. 18, 2024 meeting. (File photo by Beau Yarbrough, San Bernardino Sun/SCNG)
San Bernardino’s new city manager, Charles A. Montoya, addresses skeptics at the San Bernardino City Council’s Oct. 18, 2024 meeting. (File photo by Beau Yarbrough, San Bernardino Sun/SCNG)

A week after he fired the city’s finance director, San Bernardino City Manager Charles Montoya may face the same fate.

Late Monday, May 20, the city announced that comes a week after Barbara Whitehorn, the former director of finance and management services, publicly announced her termination and raised concerns about the cost of the planned renovation of City Hall.

According to the , May 22, the council is expected to discuss evaluating, dismissing and appointing a city manager.

It’s been eight months since the council hired Montoya, a veteran public administrator, bringing an end to a contentious nine-month process to replace former city manager Rob Field. Montoya was offered the job Oct. 18 and formally started as city manager on Oct. 30, with a salary of $325,000 his first year.

The council’s planned review of his performance Wednesday is the second such review this year. The council discussed the issue behind closed doors May 1. According to , the council must conduct at least one performance review of his work each year.

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Montoya started under a cloud and was not the council’s first choice for the job.

The council first offered the city manager’s role to former Salinas City Manager Steve Carrigan on Sept. 6. . But according to a legal claim filed by Carrigan against the city, someone on the seven-member San Bernardino council who was opposed to him getting the job leaked the information to Salinas officials, leading to .

After Carrigan turned them down, the San Bernardino council turned to Montoya.

Montoya was formerly the city manager of Avondale, Arizona. At the time he was hired in San Bernardino, he was suing Avondale for breach of contract and defaming his character. In , Avondale Mayor Kenneth N. Weise listed five alleged grounds for Montoya’s firing:

  • Montoya allegedly did not live in Avondale, as required in his contract;
  • He allegedly demanded funds from the city he was not entitled to under his contract;
  • He allegedly failed to make timely payments on a loan he had taken out against his retirement account;
  • He allegedly received tuition reimbursement payments beyond what his contract allowed and without proper documentation or going through the appropriate channels; and
  • He allegedly refused to repay vehicle reimbursement funds that he had been paid in error.

, as of March 27, Montoya was in the process of settling the claim.

Before working in Avondale, Montoya was the city manager of Watsonville, outside Santa Cruz.

He arrived there as a defendant in a lawsuit filed on behalf of two former police detectives in Florence, Arizona, where Montoya had worked for two and a half years as town manager. The . He denied the allegations in 2015.

In his brief time as San Bernardino city manager, a former employee accused him of attempting to blackmail her into resigning.

On May 15, the same day Montoya fired Whitehorn, she attended a council meeting and spoke during public comment period, saying she was speaking “as a whistleblower” about unrealistic costs to renovate San Bernardino City Hall. The building has been vacant since Memorial Day 2017 over concerns that it could not survive a major earthquake. The San Andreas fault line is located just a few miles to the southwest of the building.

Renovations were previously estimated to cost about $80 million. According to Whitehorn that night, the true cost of renovation would be closer to $120 million. The debt on such a project would cost the city at least $10 million a year for 30 years.

“The city does not have that money,” she said.

San Bernardino infamously went bankrupt in 2012, emerging from bankruptcy five years later.

According to Whitehorn, after she raised her concerns about the renovations, Montoya told her to resign — or else.

If she didn’t, she told a reporter after the meeting, Montoya said he would release “career-ending” information about her. Instead, she was fired.

In a statement Friday, May 17, the city pushed back against Whitehorn’s statements, saying she was an at-will employee who was terminated for cause involving financial issues unrelated to the City Hall project.

“Contrary to Whitehorn’s claims,” the city statement reads, “the renovation project has yet to be designed, and construction costs have yet to be determined. Construction cost estimates and project financing options will be presented to the Council during future meetings.”

The council is currently expected to revisit City Hall renovation at its June 5 meeting.

When he was hired in October, Montoya defended himself to skeptical city leaders and community members.

“A lot of what you all read tonight was wrong,” he told those assembled at the Oct. 18 meeting before the council vote. “I’ve always given my heart and soul to every single job I’ve done. And the only thing you’ll find on my record is not even a speeding ticket.

“There’s never a crime, there’s never an indictment, there’s never anything on my record,” Montoya continued. “I would do everything I’ve done all over again.”

The council’s special meeting this week begins at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Feldheym Central Library, 555 W. Sixth St. Public comments will be allowed before the meeting.

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