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Ontario-Montclair board rallies around superintendent over high pay, housing issues – Daily Bulletin

Ontario-Montclair board rallies around superintendent over high pay, housing issues – Daily Bulletin
Written by Publishing Team

The Ontario-Montclair School Board is spinning wagons to protect its principal following revelations of his more than $700,000 compensation and $331,000 in housing assistance he received as an incentive to live within the community.

Emails and text messages obtained through a public records request paint a picture of an elected council being deeply respectful and loyal to its subordinate. The exchanges indicate that Superintendent James Hammond coordinated media responses to the board and provided talking points for elected officials. He also reminded them not to speak to reporters separately, as it is the policy of the Board of Directors that President Elvia Rivas serve as the spokesperson.

“She has already been in touch and ready to respond to any inquiries that may be made,” Hammond wrote in an email to all five board members.

In another email, board member Sonia Alvarado, who previously worked as Hammond’s real estate agent, joked that the supervisor should meet those questioning his salary “in a boxing ring.” Separately, board member Flora Martinez expressed her disappointment that the supervisor is facing backlash at all.

“I’m so sorry you’re going through this,” she wrote in a text message.

Even the two district unions seemed unwilling to cross Hammond, as the leadership of the Ontario Teachers Association-Montclair and the California School Staff Association reached out to Hammond to warn him in advance that a reporter had called their offices, according to an email from Hammond to the council.

Former Board Member Concerns

Former board member Samuel Crowe endorsed hiring Hammond in 2010. But by the time he left in 2018, he said the board was unwilling to do anything that would be difficult for Mr. Hammond to agree to.

Crowe, who says he chose not to run for re-election in part due to concerns about Hammond’s compensation and influence, claimed that the supervisor’s contracts were rarely discussed before they were approved.

“He was as political as he was honorable,” Crowe said in an interview in November.

The Ontario-Montclair School District has given $331,000 to Principal James Hammond for the purchase of this $235,000 Ontario condo. (Photo by Will Lister, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

The decision relieves the supervisor

Most recently, on December 16 the board took steps to protect Hammond from apparent violations of the loan agreement he had with the district. The trustees voted unanimously on a resolution stating that Hammond had fulfilled his obligations for a $100,000 home loan and $231,000 in principal payments he received from the district to help with a townhouse he bought in 2011. At the same time, the board agreed to a quitclaim deed , which is a legal document that removed the county’s interest in the property that he helped buy and later pay off.

However, Hammond sold the property four years ago. By all accounts, Ontario-Montclair actually lost all of its interest — and any loan guarantees were relinquished entirely later in 2018 — once ownership changed hands, according to four different attorneys consulted by the Southern California News Group. All agreed that the board’s decision appears designed to protect the county and Hammond in the event the payments are challenged.

Hammond sold the cottage for $389,000 in 2017. He made no payments on the loan, which was designed to be fully forgiven if he stayed in the area for 10 years, but was later reduced to eight years. After he sold the home, he collected $114,000 in payments in 2018 and 2019 billed as “repayable principal” remaining on a mortgage and line of credit he took from the city home. Both were to be repaid when Hammond sold the property.

The act has not been registered

The district was unable to provide documents showing that Hammond had formally notified the board of directors of the sale, as required under its loan agreement. Public records suggested that he was apparently able to sell the property without obtaining district approval or repaying what he owed on the provincial loan because Ontario-Montclair had not registered a deed of trust with the province. The quitclaim approved this month also refers to the promissory note and subsequent amendment as “not registered.”

A trust deed acts as a security for a loan by creating the property as a security. While the district could have filed a lawsuit if Hammond defaulted, it has a lower priority on repayment than other debts where the trust was registered, according to Joel Rubin, a real estate attorney. He said that banks would not provide a loan without a legal instrument.

“If it is registered correctly, the district will be required to apply (for reimbursement) during the guarantee,” Robin said.

The documents presented in the records request raised questions about how the bond had been missed for so long. The ownership report for the property requested by district employees in 2013 shows that the trust was not valid at the time when it should have been. That same year, the board approved an amendment to the loan agreement that would place a trust deed behind Hammond’s mortgage and open a new $46,000 line of credit against the property.

Mom in transaction history

However, transaction history obtained from county records in November 2021 shows that the district did not record the act at that time or in the years since.

Hammond and his estate agent should have known about the unrecorded deed when he tried to sell the property and it didn’t appear as a lien. At the December 16 meeting, Hammond declined to answer questions in person and asked a reporter to email him instead. No response to subsequent emails. President Rivas, a spokesperson for the board, also did not respond to requests for comment.

Alvarado, one of the board members who voted to support the resolution and quitclaim, worked as a real estate agent for sale before joining the board of trustees. Nor did it respond to a request for comment.

“No one followed”

Crowe, who voted for the initial home loan but against the principal payments later, said the board’s intent in 2011 was to register the bond as security for the loan, but was originally deferred because the county loan was made months before Hammond formally acquired the property. He remembers seeing a copy of the incomplete deed of trust, but said he didn’t know why the district didn’t file him with the county after the sale ended.

“Probably no one followed it,” Crowe said. “I just assumed it was taken care of.”

Crowe claims that it was Hammond’s responsibility to register the trust on behalf of the board of directors.

The Ontario-Montclair Department of Schools awarded $331,000 to Principal James Hammond for the purchase of a $235,000 Ontario condo. He later sold it for $389,000 and bought this home in Ontario for a present value of more than $1.1 million, according to zillow.com. (Photo by Will Lister, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

The December 16 resolution approved by the board states that Hammond’s sale of the property and his subsequent move to a larger home in the area was “known” and that by agreeing to an unrelated amendment that extended his contract in 2018, the board was The administration actually approved the sale of the property a year ago.

“This Amendment No. 5 excluded all prior discussions and all external evidence implying that the change of family, the basic promissory note, the first and second acts and the indemnity structured to ensure that Dr. Hammond continued to live in the area while his supervisor was investigated,” states the approved resolution.

The original loan agreement stated that Hammond was not allowed to take out additional loans or sell the property without first notifying the board. The decision argues that Hammond’s payments were to motivate him to live in the area and that it did not matter that he moved to a different house.

The resolution states that “the district’s financial interest was not to secure interest in real estate – its concern was to secure what few school districts ever achieve, a long-serving and committed steward of the community he serves”.

The language used in Hammond’s contract in 2015 appears to conflict with the board’s decision as well. It states that the payments were for “principal repayment purposes” on related debts attached to the specific property. It also states that the terms will be “property insured,” which requires registration of a trust deed.

Hammond has recommended the resolution to the board of directors. There was no discussion or staff report at the meeting prior to the unanimous vote.

Crowe, a former board member, scoffed at the idea that Hammond’s move was widely known. He said he learned about it after Hammond had already sold the cottage, though not from the supervisor, but from another employee.

“I certainly wasn’t aware of that,” Crowe said. “Actually, I was surprised.”

Crowe believes that board members at the time did not contest the sale and would have worked to reach an agreement in favor of the supervisor if they had been notified. But this did not happen.

“They didn’t do anything,” he said.

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