By Alex Distefano
The city of Upland is still in recovery mode, after the town’s now-former mayor John Pomierski was named in an 11-count indictment that accused him and others of crimes such as conspiracy, bribery and extortion in early March. Pomierski—in a case that’s involved the FBI, IRS and even DEA—resigned from his post as mayor when the case surfaced.
Now, with Councilman Ray Musser serving as acting mayor, the City Council has adopted a new ethics code policy—something critics say is too late and nothing more than an empty political gesture.
Not so, says the Upland City Council Advisory Committee Chairman Tom Mitchell. He says that this new, stricter code will be different from others, and it will make a difference.
“The problem is that our policy on ethics was not [an] ordinance, [it was] just a simple administrative policy. It was thus inherently weak on enforcement,” Mitchell says. “There were no consequences, and we want to establish this new code as a city ordinance [so that] people will be subject to city sanctions, even legal [ones] if necessary.”
Mitchell acknowledges that that the residents of Upland as well as other Inland Empire communities remain concerned over matters of public distrust and elected officials embroiled in political corruption scandals (read: former Rancho Cucamonga Councilman Rex Gutierrez, former San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus, et al). But Mitchell ensures us that acting Mayor Musser will make positive changes, which will boost confidence and make city matters more transparent.
“Up until the problems started to surface with our former mayor, Ray Musser was the lone voice on the council,” says Mitchell. “And through all these problems we’ve had, similar ‘ethical’ situations are ongoing in parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties.”
In the city of Riverside earlier this year, the City Council approved a new ethics code after several community groups alleged that Councilman Steve Adams had improperly interfered with police department promotions. The complaints against Adams were dismissed by City Attorney Greg Priamos. Under the new code, anyone can file a complaint against any elected official in Riverside, and they can do it online.
Mitchell vows that Upland’s new code will be enforceable.
“This ethics code will be different. It won’t just be an administrative policy, which is like a wish list,” he says. “It will be a legal ordinance with clearly defined legal consequences. Had the former mayor done the same things under this ordinance, he would have gone to court for it—or maybe it would not have happened at all.”
But there are more crucial matters at hand in Upland’s near future, he contends.
One such issue includes whether or not to have Upland run under an elected mayor or appointed mayor system. “Under these two types of local government systems, you can have an elected mayor, like Rancho Cucamonga does or a mayor can be appointed by his council like Chino Hills,” says Mitchell. “The difference between an elected mayor and an appointed mayor is that under an elected mayor, the mayor is given the authority to give citizens positions on committees.”
Another important matter is campaign finance reform. Mitchell says that plans are to make changes in this area.
“We want to limit how much someone can contribute to a campaign,” he says. “For example, in the city of Claremont, they have a $250 limit. But they are half our size. After doing the needed research, we came up with a [contribution] limit for Upland of $1,000.”
Relating to this concept of campaign finance reform, Mitchell also mentioned that there is a need for oversight when it comes to campaign contributors and the influence they may have over elected officials. The overarching idea would be to deter bribery and unethical influence over local officials.
“We want to make it so that if individuals or companies donate more than $1,000 to any elected official, then that council member or mayor cannot discuss or vote on any issues relating to that [donor],” Mitchell says.