Jim Penman (Kurt Miller/the press-enterprise)

BY BRIAN ROKOS
STAFF WRITER
brokos@pe.com

Published: 28 October 2011 04:02 PM

San Bernardino Public Works Director Nadeem Majaj said he’s afraid City Attorney Jim Penman will send armed investigators after him because Penman threatened to raid Majaj’s home and car after Majaj refused to turn over a police report.

Majaj wrote in an Oct. 11 memo to Penman that he believes Penman confronted him over the police report at an Oct. 5 meeting as retaliation for Majaj’s canceling a $2.5 million city contract with Matich Corp., which has contributed thousands of dollars to Penman’s election campaigns.

“In an intimidating tone, you questioned me as to why I terminated the Matich contract and asked when I will restore it. I could not believe what I was hearing and I realized that this meeting was all about restoring the contract,” Majaj wrote. “I believe that it is inappropriate for you or any other elected official to be involved with ‘steering’ City staff toward contracting with one of your major contributors.”

Matich has contributed at least $3,500 this year to Penman’s campaign for a seventh term, according to campaign finance disclosure forms. Matich has contributed at least $6,000 since 2002, according to the California Secretary of State website.

Penman, in an interview, said Majaj was overreacting and that Majaj’s memo, which was obtained by The Press-Enterprise, was politically motivated. Penman would not comment on the allegation that he was retaliating, citing an ongoing investigation. A memo that Penman wrote to City Manager Charles McNeely said Penman’s office is probing Majaj’s delay in turning over the police report.

The police report contains Majaj’s name as well as the names of other public works employees who discussed with police their allegations that Majaj’s predecessor, Randy Kuettle, accepted lavish gifts from Matich Corp. and removed an inspector who questioned the work on one of Matich’s road-paving jobs.

Matich Corp. Vice President Robert Matich said in an interview that those employees either mischaracterized the gifts or were completely wrong. He said his company’s work is legally and ethically sound.

A Police Department investigation determined that neither Kuettle nor Matich committed any criminal wrongdoing.

Majaj wanted to keep the report, sought by Kuettle in a public records request, confidential to protect the witnesses’ identities. The city attorney’s office sought the report to determine whether it could be legally withheld. Majaj said Penman refused to redact his name from the report.

“Your assertion that my name will not be confidential, or protected, troubles me and demonstrates that you are inconsiderate for my safety and the safety and welfare of my family,” Majaj wrote to Penman. He concluded: “If anything adverse was to happen to any of the witnesses, myself or my family, I’m confident that due to your history, clear retaliatory actions, threats, abusiveness towards me, you will become the first subject of a new investigation.”

Majaj, in an interview, could not say exactly what harm he thought might come to him or the other witnesses.

“All I know is I have stopped the flow of millions and millions of dollars,” Majaj said. “And I was being attacked by a person who is known for his fear mongering and intimidation tactics.”

Responded Penman: “The last time I can remember threatening harm to someone was a few seconds before getting my tail kicked on the playground when I was in the third grade.”

MEMO ‘MISLEADING’

The Oct. 5 meeting was held to prompt Majaj to turn over the report, which Majaj kept outside of City Hall. Penman eventually obtained the report with the help of the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office, a memo from Penman to City Manager Charles McNeely shows.

Penman then referred Majaj’s complaint against him to the district attorney’s office. In an Oct. 12 letter to Assistant District Attorney Dennis Christy, Penman wrote that Majaj’s Oct. 11 memo “is replete with misleading, inaccurate, false statements, accusations and conclusions.”

In an interview, Penman said Majaj should not have been offended by being questioned.

“Speaking in general terms,” Penman said, “when we do investigations of possible wrongdoing of city officials, some of the city officials who are not used to having to answer questions often think they should be telling us what questions to ask them and how to ask them.”

Penman added that he believes that Majaj’s memo was designed to discredit Penman, who faces former San Bernardino County Public Defender David McKenna in the Nov. 8 election.

“This is the third election in a row where people under the mayor either directly or indirectly have allegedly written documents that have been leaked to the press, and this year it’s more than an attempt to influence the outcome of the election, it’s an attempt to direct attention away from the fact that the mayor (Pat Morris) is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Penman said.

Morris is president of the San Bernardino International Airport Authority and co-chairman of the Inland Valley Development Agency, which oversees the development of the non-aviation functions of the former Norton Air Force Base. Federal authorities are investigating airport operations and its developer, Scot Spencer. Morris was among those mentioned in search warrants.

Penman and Morris are political archenemies, having opposed each other in a mayoral campaign and on a ballot measure to make city attorney, city clerk and city treasurer appointed offices, a proposition that likely would have put Penman out of a job had it passed. Their feud has included bitter exchanges at City Council meetings.

Morris said through his chief of staff, Jim Morris, that he didn’t know anything about Majaj’s complaint until Penman informed him and the City Council on Oct. 14.

“Sadly, the complaint by the Public Works Director of abusive treatment and threats from the City Attorney is similar to the complaints made by the recently retired Police Chief, and it stands in a long-line of similar complaints from many professional managers who have come and gone in our City over the past two decades,” Pat Morris said in a written statement.

Majaj said in an interview that he did not write the Oct.11 memo to hurt Penman’s chances in the election and that he has never met McKenna.

“I have no connection to any of the politicians,” Majaj said. “All I know is I was attacked by this guy. I’m a public works director, an engineer. For me, it’s not politically motivated.”

Both sides of the Majaj-Penman dustup were argued mostly via leaked documents, with memos stenciled “confidential” delivered to a reporter in a clandestine interview and to the newspaper office by an unknown person.

MCCAMMACK’S ADVICE

Majaj was hired as public works director in November 2010, and Kuettle, who had been interim director for two years, became deputy director under Majaj.

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