San Bernardino finance director claims she was fired after raising concerns about costly project

Rob McMillan Image
Saturday, May 18, 2024
San Bernardino official says she was fired after raising cost concerns
San Bernardino's former finance director claims she was fired by the city manager after raising concerns about the cost of a project to renovate the old city hall.

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (KABC) -- The former finance director of the city of San Bernardino is alleging she was threatened and fired by the current city manager, after raising concerns about the potential cost of a project to renovate the old city hall building.

Barbara Whitehorn made the allegations during the public comment portion of the city council meeting on May 15.

"I came back from vacation today, and I was fired today," said Whitehorn, at times tearing up while making her statement. "I am no longer in the employ of the city of San Bernardino after being threatened today (by the city manager) of having information damaging to my career released into the public domain.

"Then after saying, 'Please do so, Mr. city manager, because you'll have to fire me before doing that, he said, 'Oh, then I'll just fire you without cause.'"

Whitehorn alleges that the costs to retrofit the old city hall building are spiraling out of control. The building has sat empty since late 2016 after being vacated over concerns that it could collapse during a big earthquake.

"It's a project that has expanded from $80 million to about $120 million and that number is nowhere to be seen on this (public) agenda. This city does not have that money," she said.

A presentation was made to the city council in January 2024 outlining the process by which city hall would be retrofitted. City manager Charles Montoya said the city is currently incurring increasing costs for leasing space in separate buildings to maintain city services.

"If we don't do this now, sooner or later that building is just going to become a gigantic door stop," said Montoya during the meeting.

He acknowledged when asked by city council members that there is no projected final cost for the project yet.

"The reason we're doing it this way is speed, to get this thing done. Our lease in the city building is up in two years; we don't want to sign another lease where we're just throwing money out the window."

Two days after her appearance before the council, the city released a statement in response to Whitehorn's remarks.

The statement claimed Whitehorn was fired for reasons unrelated to the city hall project and disputed some of her other claims.

"However, contrary to Whitehorn's claims, the renovation project has yet to be designed, and construction costs have yet to be determined," read the statement, attributed to Public Information Officer Jeff Kraus. "Construction cost estimates and project financing options will be presented to the Council during future meetings."

"The City of San Bernardino has confirmed that Whitehorn was an at-will employee and was terminated for cause involving financial issues that were unrelated to the City Hall project."

The statement also said discussion of the city hall project was postponed from that night's council agenda because there was not enough time to consider the matter and hear from the public.