Upland election
Mail-in campaign seeks to fill vacant City Council seat
Sandra Emerson, Staff Writer
Created: 07/30/2011 07:07:50 AM PDT

UPLAND – As residents begin to decide which of the 11 candidates running for City Council will get their vote, they may also be thinking of the actions that led to the election being held in the first place.

The new council member will join the current members as they attempt to move past corruption charges filed against the former mayor, which led to the vacant seat.

The newcomer’s presence on the council will also come in the wake of the termination of former City Manager Robb Quincey for breaking his employment agreement and failing to follow council direction.

Former Mayor John Pomierski resigned Feb. 22, eight months after FBI and IRS agents raided his home, City Hall, J.H. Builders in Upland and Venture West Capital in Rancho Cucamonga.

Pomierski and John Hennes, owner of J.H. Builders, were indicted March 2 on federal corruption charges. They are accused of extorting $45,000 in bribes from two Upland businesses, including the now-closed Chronic Cantina, which is suing the city. They pleaded not guilty March 3 in federal court in Riverside.

Hennes was a member of the city’s Building Board of Appeals.

Instead of holding an election for mayor, the council, with the exception of Councilman Gino Filippi, voted to appoint then-Councilman Ray Musser to the position.

Musser’s appointment left a vacancy the council agreed to fill through a special all-mail election. The deadline to mail in the ballots is Aug. 30.

Expecting change

During their encounters with residents during the campaign, the candidates have found there is a desire for change in the way the City Council operates.

Ladan Bezanson, a learning coordinator for Montclair, said the voters are expecting the new council member to be trustworthy, honest and represent the people to the fullest, rather than their own interest.

“Unfortunately, whoever does come in is going to have to take that task on and do it to the fullest,” Bezanson said. “Why I say unfortunately is because it’s not just one person on the council. It’s going to be left to one person to do that work to make that happen for the entire council.”

Elaine Courey, a Bonita Unified School District teacher, said she hopes the whole perception of the council will change with the new member, especially if it is a woman.

“I think that it’s time for a change. Like I said the other night, in the 1990s we had some women on the council. We had some really strong women. I believe we need that balance,” Courey said.

Bob “Bubba” DeJournett, a softball coach, said residents will obviously need to hold the new member to a higher standard.

“It’s got to be to a higher standard beyond and above anything, and work for the community to make this the place it used to be,” he said.

Sam Fittante, former owner of an Upland-based lawn maintenance company, said he still finds it hard to believe that none of the current council members knew what Pomierski allegedly was up to.

“If I would have been a councilman, if I had any inkling of what was going on, I would not be afraid to bring it to light,” Fittante said. “Even if it jeopardized my seat, but I would want the public to be 100 percent aware and nothing to be hidden from them.”

Voters’ mentality this election is “out with the old, in with the new,” said candidate Eric Gavin, software architect.

“I’m hearing a lot of people say get rid of them all. Replace them all. I don’t necessarily agree with that because it’s hard to know how many people were involved and who knew what and who didn’t,” Gavin said.

“I say that when you talk about expectations there is an expectation that this needs to be fixed and dealt with right away and in a very complete manner.”

The city is going through a difficult time due to highly unethical situations that left a perception of corrupt politics, said Dan Morgan, Upland city treasurer.

“I’m not a big huge guy on having people that are networked closely together,” Morgan said. “I think that’s what got us in trouble before. You had a mayor that was very controlling and it got the better of him.”

Steven Roppel, a commercial real estate agent, said he has found that a lot of residents believe there is an “old boys network,” while some seem content with the way the government is.

“I would say many people say that we need to change. Then there are other people I meet that say there’s no need to change that, which surprises me quite a bit,” Roppel said. “I usually try to argue the point you don’t have to accept corruption. You don’t have to accept less than what you really want. You have to demand fair and honest government.”

Debbie Stone, funeral director at Stone Funeral Home, said she believes residents no longer want to hear about the past.

“The past is the past, and we must leave all of it behind us in order to restore our citizens’ pride in Upland,” Stone said.

“We have had so much bad press that it would be nice to hear some kind words about our City of Gracious Living. We must all work together as a team and get things done. In order to help Upland heal, the next council person must have unquestionable ethics, and no hidden agenda.”

Many residents may not realize the extent of the indictment and the web of people involved, said attorney Maureen Sundstrom, but regardless there are mixed views on bringing a new face to the council.

“That seems to go both ways. There seems to be a lot of people in the city that would be more comfortable if somebody connected to the city was on the council – somebody that they know,” Sundstrom said.

“I would hope that there is also a portion of the city employees that support change and know it’s needed to happen in order to restore the trust in the city.”

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