San Bernardino Welcomes New City Manager Amid Controversy

San Bernardino Welcomes New City Manager Amid Controversy
Charles Montoya, Watsonville city manager, relies on his background in finance to understand the full scope of the city’s operations. (Dan Coyro/Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Introduction:

San Bernardino has a new city manager, but the appointment comes with a cloud of controversy. In a 5-3 vote during a City Council meeting on October 18, Mayor Helen Tran and the council officially offered the city's top administrative position to Charles A. Montoya, who is set to begin his role on October 30 with an annual base salary of $325,000. Despite pushback from the public and questions surrounding Montoya's past, Mayor Tran hailed the vote as a "new beginning" for the city.

A New City Manager:

Charles A. Montoya, the newly appointed city manager, arrives in San Bernardino after serving as the city manager of Avondale, Arizona. This hiring concludes a nine-month search to replace the former city manager, Rob Field, who stepped down in January. In the interim, Charles E. McNeely took over the role.

Controversy Surrounding Montoya:

Montoya's appointment is not without controversy. In December 2021, the Avondale City Council terminated his employment, listing several alleged grounds for his firing, including claims that he did not meet residency requirements, demanded unauthorized funds, failed to make timely loan payments, received excessive tuition reimbursements, and refused to repay vehicle reimbursement funds paid in error. Montoya responded by suing the city of Avondale, Mayor Kenneth N. Weise, and the vice mayor for breach of contract and defamation, leading to ongoing legal disputes as of the time of his appointment in San Bernardino.

Previous Controversies:

Before his role in Avondale, Montoya served as the city manager of Watsonville, California, where he was embroiled in a lawsuit filed by two former police detectives who accused him of covering up corruption. Montoya vehemently denied these allegations. Additionally, his departure from Watsonville with time remaining on his contract raised questions in 2018.

Not the First Choice:

Montoya was not the city's initial choice for the city manager position. Salinas City Manager Steve Carrigan had been offered the role earlier in the fall but withdrew from the search process. Carrigan was subsequently fired by the Salinas City Council on October 3, adding another layer of complexity to the selection process.

Public Concerns:

The appointment of Montoya faced criticism from members of the public and even some council members. Concerns were raised about the vetting process and the decision to hire a candidate with multiple terminations for cause in his past. Critics called for a reevaluation of the selection process and voiced their dissatisfaction with the city's choices. Supporters, on the other hand, urged giving Montoya a chance to prove himself in the new role.

Montoya's Response:

Montoya defended his reputation and qualifications during the meeting, stating that the allegations against him were baseless. He emphasized his clean record and expressed his commitment to the role, vowing to do everything in his power to serve San Bernardino effectively.

In conclusion, the appointment of Charles A. Montoya as San Bernardino's new city manager comes with a mix of hope, controversy, and skepticism, as the city embarks on a new chapter under his leadership.

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