San Bernardino Fires City Manager Charles Montoya Amid Controversy

San Bernardino Fires City Manager Charles Montoya Amid Controversy
City of San Bernardino

San Bernardino, CA - In a significant and contentious move, the City of San Bernardino terminated City Manager Charles Montoya during a special meeting held on Wednesday. This decision follows accusations of retaliation from a former employee, raising further questions about Montoya's leadership and the city's governance.

The City Council's unanimous vote to terminate Montoya's contract without cause marks a dramatic chapter in Montoya's short tenure, which began in October of last year. Since his appointment, Montoya has faced considerable criticism from the public, with many questioning his qualifications and decisions.

The controversy reached a boiling point last week when Barbara Whitehorn, the city's former financial director, publicly accused Montoya of firing her in retaliation for raising concerns about the financial implications of the City Hall renovation project. According to Whitehorn, she informed the team managing the renovation that the city would require $10 million annually to cover debt costs—a sum she asserted the city simply did not have.

During the May 15 City Council meeting, Whitehorn passionately addressed the council, emphasizing her commitment to the city's well-being over her personal job security. “So I come to you Council with that information today,” she declared, “because I care about this city more than I care about my job, more than I care about anything else today.”

Whitehorn's allegations added to the growing dissatisfaction among residents and city officials with Montoya's performance. On Wednesday evening, numerous speakers implored the council to dismiss Montoya and seek a more qualified city manager. "It is time for us to move up," stated Dolores Armstead, a concerned resident. "Why is it so hard to get someone credible?"

Mayor Helen Tran and the city council have emphasized the necessity of finding a leader who can navigate San Bernardino through its fiscal challenges and foster community growth. "While we recognize Mr. Montoya's efforts during his tenure, it has become evident that a change in leadership is necessary to move our city forward," Mayor Tran stated in a press release.

The council's decision to remove Montoya underscores the ongoing challenges and discontent within San Bernardino’s municipal government. Montoya’s administration has been marred by disputes over fiscal management and project delays, further straining the city's efforts to recover from financial instability.

In the interim, Rochelle Clayton will step in as city manager while the search for a permanent replacement begins. Clayton, who has served in various administrative roles within the city, is expected to provide stability during this transitional period.

Montoya's departure is the latest in a series of leadership changes for San Bernardino, a city that has struggled with financial instability for years. Despite emerging from bankruptcy in 2017, the city continues to face significant economic challenges, including a substantial budget deficit and pressing infrastructure needs.

Supporters of Montoya argue that his termination is premature and undermines the progress made during his administration. "Charles Montoya inherited a city in crisis, and his efforts to stabilize our finances and attract new businesses should not be overlooked," said one resident during a public comment session at the city council meeting.

However, critics point to several contentious decisions and perceived mismanagement under Montoya's leadership, including delays in key development projects and disputes with city employees over labor agreements. The recent audit revealing discrepancies in the city's budget further fueled concerns about Montoya's stewardship.

As the city moves forward, the search for a new city manager is anticipated to be thorough, with city officials seeking a candidate who can effectively address the city's financial challenges and foster community growth. The emphasis remains on finding a leader who can inspire confidence, build consensus, and implement strategies to secure a brighter future for San Bernardino and its residents.

San Bernardino residents are keenly watching these developments, hoping that this leadership change will usher in a new era of progress and stability for the city. The coming weeks and months will be critical as the city council works to find a suitable replacement for Montoya and guide the city through this period of transition.

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