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Home / News / Politics / San Bernardino addresses City Hall renovation, fired finance director

San Bernardino addresses City Hall renovation, fired finance director

by Joe Taglieri
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San Bernardino officials responded Friday to allegations by the now former finance director that a proposed City Hall renovation will cost more than what the city can afford.

“During the public comment portion of the (May 15) City Council meeting, Barbara Whitehorn, former San Bernardino Director of Finance and Management Services, stated that she was terminated earlier that day for stating in a memo that the cost of the City Hall renovation was beyond what the City could afford,” according to a city statement.

“However, contrary to Whitehorn’s claims, the renovation project has yet to be designed, and construction costs have yet to be determined,” officials said. “Construction cost estimates and project financing options will be presented to the Council during future meetings.”

Whitehorn described herself as a “whistleblower” during an at times emotional address to the council.

“I am no longer in the employ of the city of San Bernardino after being threatened today of having information damaging to my career released into the public domain,” Whitehorn said. “And then after saying, ‘Please do so, Mr. City Manager, because you’ll have to fire me before doing that,’ he said, ‘Well, oh, I’ll just fire you without cause.’ So I was fired today as your finance director.”

Whitehorn said the City Hall renovation has ballooned from $80 million to $120 million, exceeding the limits of San Bernardino’s municipal budgets in the coming fiscal years, “and that number is nowhere to be seen on this agenda. … The city does not have that money.”

According to the city, Whitehorn was an at-will employee who was terminated for cause because of “financial issues that were unrelated to the City Hall project,” the statement said.

City officials also said that two items removed from the council agenda on May 15 pertaining to the renovation will return to the agenda June 5.

“The remodeling of our City Hall is a complicated project with complicated financing, and many details,” San Bernardino Public Information Officer Jeff Kraus said in a statement. “Council meeting rules require the adjournment of the meeting by 10:00 pm, and under certain circumstances, by 10:30 pm. It was determined that there was not enough time for the Council and members of the public to view the presentation, hear public comment, ask questions, and fully deliberate the issue in the time remaining.” 

The renovation project had also been bumped from the May 1 meeting due to time constraints, officials said. The council was to receive a briefing on the first steps of the City Hall renovation project, and possibly authorize staff to explore the project further to lay the groundwork for discussions at future council meetings.

“There were no funding or financing decisions being proposed by City staff,” officials said. 

Built in 1972, San Bernardino City Hall was designed by architect Cesar Pelli. It was named one of the 49 most outstanding city halls in the United States by the American Institute of Architects.

The building has been closed and unoccupied since 2016 because of earthquake-safety concerns.

City Hall. | Photo courtesy of the city of San Bernardino

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