“We’re here to address the racist comments spewed at Amy Malone at the city council meeting on October 18, and to hold the City of San Bernardino, its Council, and the people in power, accountable,” NAACP President Chache Wright confirmed at a November 1, press conference facilitated by Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (C.O.P.E.) and held at the Feldhym Library in San Bernardino.
The NAACP, C.O.P.E., and others are seeking to have the San Bernardino City Council reaffirm its 2020 resolution declaring racism a public health crisis.
“We’re holding this press conference today to let them know and to let the community know, that we’re not going to go silently,” Wright declared, explaining his intent to create a united front and action to combat racism in the city.
“We are aware that when issues happen to Black people, it affects all of us,” he said while assuring, “We are not making this a Black and brown issue.”
“I’m demanding that our city leadership do what’s necessary so that we don’t have a lot of people like myself deciding that we’re going to have to take things into our own hands,” he asserted.
“We have not, because we ask not,” former California Assemblymember Cheryl Brown declared. “We have to tell them what we want.”
Addressing what occurred at last week’s city council meeting, San Bernardino Mayor Helen Tran said what happened does not define their city. But, Brown countered, “I say what happened, sadly, is a continuation of a long history of deliberate discrimination and racism in the city.”
“We fought back and we won,” Brown continued reflecting on past battles in the city, noting there are now three Blacks on the city council, three Blacks on the school board, and one on the County Board of Education.
Brown argued that the mayor, the Police Association, and some of the council members now want to control the Black city council members through a city manager, “But, we will fight and reclaim our rights by showing up at the council meetings.”
Brown promised the NAACP would contact state and federal agencies on civil rights to investigate what this city was doing to its people.
“On September 16, 2020, the city of San Bernardino adopted Resolution Number 2020-232 affirming racism is a public health crisis with a unanimous vote,” former City Council Member Rikke Van Johnson recalled.
Johnson noted councilmembers Fred Shorett, Theodore Sanchez, Sandra Ibarra, and Juan Figueroa voted for that resolution, but did not attend the October 23, press conference condemning the racist incident at the October 18, city council meeting.
“[Resolution 2020-232] called on the city to actively participate in the dismantling of racism by supporting community efforts to amplify issues of racism and engaging actively and authentically with communities of color throughout our city,” Van Johnson stated recalling its promise.
City Council Meeting Interrupted by Racist Epithets
During its public comment over the selection of a new city manager, at the San Bernardino City Council Meeting on October 18, a speaker Amy Malone was suddenly interrupted by racist epithets shouted out by members of the public attending via Zoom.
Malone, a Black woman, addressing the board as a taxpayer and resident of San Bernardino, said she could not understand how the city council was discussing an unqualified candidate [Charles Montoya] for the position of city manager.
“This city already has a track record of having corruption, we have issues that we are trying to rebuild from, and you are setting someone up for failure,” Malone opined explaining it is about the best interests of the city.
“Somebody shut this Ni**er up… Go home, you… b**ch. Go back to Africa if you don’t like it,” remote voices could be heard interrupting Malone, as she spoke.
Mayor Pro Tem Fred Shorett interjected and asked Malone to wait before she proceeded with her comments.
“Mr. Shorett, I would ask that you apologize first, for what just came through while you’re telling me to wait,” Malone admonished.
“Sorry, that should not have happened,” Shorett responded, adding he could not agree more that it was inappropriate, but It was a technical issue over which he had no control.
“So, to me, that should have been the first thing said to every African American in this place,” Malone objected.
The outburst hung over the spirited public discussion, for the council’s consideration of its new city manager.
Controversial Vote for City Manager
It was clear from the many public members who spoke out against Montoya during the meeting that t the council’s decision to appoint him would lay the groundwork for controversy.
The majority of speakers objected to Montoya’s employment history, which they said reflected a termination for prohibited acts by the City of Avondale, Arizona, a resulting lawsuit, an Arizona Attorney General investigation, and a spotty work history.
Wright objected to the city’s proposed choice of Montoya as city manager explaining the city should not select people with a proven track record of running from place to place.
“I’m very concerned about your candidate tonight,” attorney Tim Prince voiced explaining his concern comes from a letter signed by the City of Avondale in Arizona as to why Montoya had to be fired under their legal fiduciary duties.
Prince listed violating the city charter, directing staff to pay him funds that he claimed from the city, taking a loan against his retirement account, failing to make timely payments, seeking and receiving excess tuition reimbursement funds, failing and refusing to repay vehicle allowance funds that were erroneously dispersed to him.
“ [I]f you ran a business and hired people like this you would go out of business,” Prince stated. “Any attorney worth his or her salt would tell you not to hire this person.
Former City Council Member Rikke Van Johnson explained Montoya should not be the first Latino city manager in San Bernardino because he has not stayed in each city where he was previously employed for a substantial time.
“Danger mayor and city council! Danger! Do the right thing for the residents,” Johnson cautioned about red flags.
“Red flag is right,” Former State Assemblymember Cheryl Brown repeated, questioning transparency with the city’s notice, lack of the opportunity to comment, unique closed session schedule, dubious vetting process, and alleged Brown Act violations. “I say that because it’s about time to hire a Latino city manager, but not with Montoya’s legal issues,” Cheryl Brown said reading her husband, Hardy Brown’s, comments on behalf of the NAACP.
“[The] NAACP calls on you to refrain from hiring this person,” Hardy Brown stressed. “And if the council hires him tonight, it is on you.
Christian T. Shaughnessy encouraged citizens to register and exercise their vote on March 5, 2024, and November 3.
City manager approved amid controversy
Director of Human Resources Susie H. Soren introduced the agenda item recommending the City of San Bernardino authorize the mayor to execute an employment agreement for a city manager with Charles A Montoya, to commence on October 30, 2023.
“Today marks a significant milestone for our city,” said Mayor Helen Tran claiming the appointment results from rigorous deliberation and an extensive selection process.
“With Mr. Montoya as a city manager, I’m confident that we are taking a significant step forward, together we will build a stronger, more vibrant, sustainable, and more inclusive city,” Tran concluded.
Black members of the board did not share Tran’s opinion. “I want to first begin by apologizing for what happened on Zoom. [It is] totally unacceptable, I’m sorry,” Councilmember Ben Reynoso shared, apologizing for council members’ personal attacks. It’s not our job to talk back, we signed up for this job.
“You’ve elected me to deem someone qualified or unqualified, I do not feel that he was qualified for this position,” Reynoso explained.
Reynoso said his recommendation would be to continue with the interim city manager, Charles McNeely, apologizing for the circumstances under which he was leaving.
“I have not received one positive comment for your employment,” Council Member Damon Alexander voiced, explaining, “I can’t do what my ward says I shouldn’t do.”
“I will help you be successful,” Alexander shared, concluding, “But you won’t get the vote here tonight because that’s not what my constituents whom I work for want.”
“I cannot spend your money on hiring someone that I would not hire for my business,” Calvin declared explaining Montoya would not be her choice as our city manager.
Reynoso seconded Calvin’s motion not to choose Mr. Montoya as the city manager.
However, Councilmember Theodore Sanchez countered, “I’ll make a substitute motion to approve the contract.” Councilmember Juan Figueroa affirmed, “I’ll second that motion.”
“Okay, the substitute motion does take precedence,” Mayor Pro Tem Fred Shorett acknowledged, adding, “We will call for the vote on the substitute motion to approve the contract.”
Sanchez, Ibarra, Figueroa, Shorett, and Tran, voted in favor of Montoya with Reynoso, Calvin, and Alexander voting no.
Shorett announced, “The motion passes by three with councilmembers Reynoso, Calvin, and Alexander voting in opposition.”
“And again, welcome. Mr. Montoya,” Shorett said, “I think you’ve got your marching orders.”
With the motion passing, interim city manager McNeely thanked the city council and the city staff for the opportunity to serve the community he loves.
The new city manager, Montoya, was then introduced to the audience.
“I have always given my heart and soul to every single job I’ve ever done,” Montoya assured, claiming he does not even have a speeding ticket on his record.
“We filed a lawsuit with the Attorney General’s office,” Montoya acknowledged about the allegations against him related to Avondale, AZ, explaining it is now in federal district court, “where we will have our day in court with a jury trial.”
“But the truth of the matter is, I have done a very good job,” Montoya claimed, adding, “I’m honest, I’m decent, and I would do everything I’ve done all over again.”
In the wake of the controversial meeting, the City of San Bernardino issued a statement condemning the racist comments and organized a community stand against racism for Monday, October 23, apologizing for the offensive and unacceptable comments.
The city further explained it was working with the San Bernardino Police Department to identify and investigate those involved for violation of Penal Code 403.
Any individual who willfully disturbs or breaks up a public assembly or meeting can be prosecuted under Penal Code Section 403, classified as a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and fines of up to $1,000.00.
“In the meantime, San Bernardino is continuing to review its remote comment protocols to identify steps that can be taken to prevent this from happening again,” the statement advised.
We will continue to follow this story.