Part 1 of a series of articles
Tuesday, following continued public outcry, Pasadena Finance Director Andrew Green and Public Works Director Siobhan Foster were “fired without cause” according to William Boyer, Pasadena’s Public Information officer. City Manager Michael Beck made the decision after the two directors allowed $6.4 million dollars to be embezzled on their watch.
Former DPW employee Danny Ray Wooten, 51, is accused of embezzling $6.4 million from a City Hall fund generated by a surtax on residents’ electricity bills. The funds are supposed to be used for beautifying the city by undergrounding utility lines. Wooten allegedly funneled $3.5 million from the fund to Altadena-based contractor Tyrone Collins, and $2.8 million to two church organizations associated with Wooten. He is also accused of giving his former assistant, Melody Jenkins, more than $40,000 of the stolen money.
Green and Foster were among city department heads that received pay raises from Beck in December.
Wooten, Collins and Jenkins are scheduled Wednesday to appear in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Wooten is being held on $1.75 million bond. Collins is being held on $500,000 bond. Jenkins was released on bond last week.
This, however, isn’t the fist scandal involving the pairing of Beck/Foster.
Foster’s career in Riverside began as a management assistant in the City Manager’s in 1990. She eventually made the Public Works Director despite not having the traditional engineering background that the role usually requires.
Foster served as the Head of the Department of Public Works of Riverside—the same position she held until yesterday in Pasadena—from 2005-2011.
While acting as Assistant City Manager of Riverside from 2001-2008, Michael Beck oversaw Siobhan Foster for the three of the years that she worked as the Public Works Director of the large, Inland Empire city.
Beck had hand-picked Foster from a search panel meeting which provided her credentials along with two other candidates in 2011. This search panel was not open to the public and notes from the meeting were seized by the city at the end of the process.
According to his City of Pasadena official biography, Beck’s responsibilities in Riverside included, “oversight of Riverside Municipal Airport and the city departments of Community Development, Public Works, Public Utilities, and Parks, Recreation and Community Services. His crowning achievement was the development of the financial plan and implementation of the transformative $1.8 billion Riverside Renaissance program – 30 years of public infrastructure investment in just five years.”
Photos by Terry Miller
Activist Jason Hunter, worked for the City of Riverside as a “Utilities Resource Principle Analyst,” a complex title whose duties included, “Doing the purchasing of Riverside’s natural gas and electricity at a wholesale level. Tens of millions of dollars a year,” Hunter described. He claims that the Riverside Renaissance program was able to work so successfully because the City of Riverside was playing, what he called, “credit card roulette,” to make certain funds seem like they were better off then they actually were.
Hunter alleges that Riverside would routinely overcharge on a utility—like a sewer service—and then loan the excess money from that utilities fund to the General fund, “They’d over-collect and then loan the principle back to the general fund in order to complete projects ahead of schedule,” in short, “They were using our sewer fund as a piggybank,” he claims, “And now Riverside is currently auditing its sewer fund; where Siobhan Foster was the overseer.”
Because of these allegations, Hunter claimed that, “Pasadena really needs to look into its inter-fund and inter-agency loans. We’ve spent almost two years turning over every executive in the city. It’s a shame what’s happening in your town, because these are the same people we just got rid of.”
Hunter also claims that through a “four-pronged attack” designed to consolidate more power to City Officials, the City of Riverside was effectively able to run itself, “like a crime family,” he said, “like [the City of] Bell.”
Part one to this strategy was to, “shut up the whistleblowers,” by paying them off. Hunter claims that when he was fired from his role with the city he was denied his due rights as a classified employee, “I was fired for no reason,” he claims, “Other than I was asking questions.” The city said that it would discuss the matter of his termination with him in court, during which time Riverside ran up $200,000 in legal fees, “They tried to grind me into dust using big-shot lawyers,” he says, “But I’m an engineer. I went to MIT. All I did was go point-by-point on misuse of public funds and violations of utilities rules and practices. They were stealing millions.” So what was the outcome? “They settled with me,” Hunter says. Court documents show Hunter received $190,000.
The second prong to this four-part “attack,” Hunter claims, involved bullying and intimidating any people who opposed this new ruling agenda. The Mayor and City Manager of Riverside (who just retired) would allegedly bring up ethics charges on members of the City Council in order to pressure them to, “stop looking into things,” in relation to the sewer fund. “And when an employee would make a complaint against an executive, the same executive would go to HR and pay for an investigation into the employee. Then, the executive would file a complaint against the employee to, “get rid of them”,” claims Hunter.
Sherri Stevens, who was laid off as Vice President of the Pasadena Management Association—which is a Union for Managers—saw many Pasadena Managers leave between the years of 2011 and 2012. “This was done allegedly to save the city budget,” she said, “The city manager [Michael Beck] hand-picked the people who were gonna get laid off. He’ll deny it but that’s what he said in a meeting in front of the Pasadena Management Association’s lawyer.”
When asked whether the allegations that the Wooten Embezzlement Scandal sounded legitimate or not, Stevens explained, “Financial Management Services and Purchasing should have seen what was going on in Danny [Wooten’s] budget. Both go through the public works budget line by line each year. I once pointed out a $1.1 million mathematical error in an agenda report. They were very angry about it. They said, “Mind your own business.” Currently they aren’t under investigation. However the names Brenda Harvey-Williams, administrator and Flo Langilloti, the woman who was “below her,” were mentioned.
Their manager was this guy named Larry Hammond and he is under investigation with the city right now.]”
Stevens explains that while working for the City of Pasadena she also taught night math classes at Hillside school, “I’m one of those people who are really super good at math,” she explained, “I see those kinds of mathematical errors. I turned in 26 Recommendations citing ways the city could save money or make money. Two months later I was laid off.”
When asked why exactly she was laid off, Stevens again stated, “Budget issues,” but after a pause said, “Well, if you made waves, you lost you job. I worked on the Grievance Committee during the period when managers were getting laid off,” Stevens said, “People were getting fired right and left. Probably once a month. I’ve been with the City since 1986 and managers hardly ever got let go before Beck. People would get letters saying that they were gonna get fired. It became a culture of fear,” she said, “It was like the City Manager was trying to break up our [management] union.” When asked if she got a settlement, Stevens said that the Managers who were laid off had to sign a non-disclosure agreement .Part Three to the “Four Pronged Attack,” in Riverside involved the Riverside, “Agenda Committee,” which was a secret committee comprised of the Mayor, the Mayor Pro Tem, the City Manager, City Attorney, and City Clerk would steer discussion and legislation by setting an agenda for City Council meetings and prohibiting certain articles to be discussed outside of that agenda. In essence, the three City Employees who work for the Council: the Manager, the Clerk and the Attorney, gained the power to prohibit the Council from doing its job.
“They cut public discussion out of it,” Hunter said, “They put everything on the consent calendar and in order to get the council to pull something from the calendar to discuss it, you had to petition a member of council to do it on your behalf. Before this measure, any member of the public could pull anything from the consent calendar. They limited public discussion to the three minutes per person in general discussion. Just like Pasadena is now doing,” and this made it easy for, “A lot of dirty deals to slip by without the public even being aware they could discuss it in the first place.”
Prong “four,” of this attack was dependent upon City Hall having influence into the local newspapers so key stories couldn’t make it to the surface.
As stated in his official City of Pasadena online Bio, Beck was in charge of the Department of Public Works (the one managed by Siobhan Foster) and also had oversight of Riverside Municipal Airport, while Assistant City Manager Riverside.
For Beck, holding both these responsibilities makes him directly responsible for the alleged cover up of a 2003 toxic waste spill that eventually cost the life of one city worker, and has adversely affected the health of at least six others.
For more information and for Part 2of this continuing saga, please see our website www.pasadenaindependent.com .
Jennifer Schlueter and Terry Miller contributed to this report