Santa Ana City Manager David Cavazos last week refused to sign an ethics pledge presented to him by the city clerk and city attorney, saying he was “jumped” by the request and calling it “very inappropriate.”
In 2008, city voters passed a measure that extended council member term limits and also required city leaders to sign the ethics pledge, which calls on officials to act with integrity and avoid conflicts of interest, among other guidelines.
But Cavazos says the “code of ethics and conduct” document isn’t intended for the city manager, so he didn’t sign it. And, he said, because it was not something meant for him to sign, it would be inaccurate to say he “refused” to sign it, which could indicate he was acting in some kind of insubordinate manner.
“I didn’t refuse to sign it. It’s designed for the City Council, and if you read the ethics statement, it says this is not intended for use by the city manager… that’s just a falsehood,” Cavazos said. “It was jumped on me. It was very inappropriate.
“It was a situation where it was like, why don’t you sign the one for the military, the one for the astronauts, the one for the CIA… I don’t want to sign something that wasn’t designed for me.”
The reason why this is such a big deal is the city has launched an investigation into Cavazos’ dating relationship with a city employee, as well as several undisclosed allegations of misconduct.
Government ethicists have called the relationship a conflict of interest that could also open the door to lawsuits against the city. But Cavazos defended the relationship in a memo to Mayor Miguel Pulido as appropriate because it doesn’t violate any “federal, state or city rule or statute.” He also said the employee isn’t a direct subordinate.
This is the second time in as many weeks that city officials have tried to get Cavazos to agree to new ethics rules. Earlier this month, before the City Council approved his contract extension, Pulido asked for the contract to include a “morality clause” that would bar Cavazos from dating city employees. The council majority shot down Pulido’s request.
In the “scope” section of the ethics pledge, it says it applies to the “Mayor and members of the City Council, and to all members of the boards commissions, and committees appointed by the City Council or the Mayor or the Mayor and City Council, including any ad hoc committees.” It also states the code “shall only apply to these officials and members acting in their official capacities and in the discharge of their duties.”
The code also requires the signer to be “scrupulously avoiding” the kinds of “social relationships and transactions that may compromise, or give the appearance of compromising, objectivity, independence, and honesty.”
City Clerk Maria Huizar said she had gone through the records and found that no other past city manager had signed the pledge. There were no records of any city clerk or city attorney signing the pledge either, she said.
And although the pledge has been around for years, she and City Attorney Sonia Carvalho only last week decided to sign it. Both Huizar and Carvalho were in the room when Huizar asked Cavazos to also sign the document.
Carvalho didn’t return a reporter’s phone call seeking comment.
Huizar said Cavazos had never mentioned to her that he felt “jumped” by the request to sign the pledge, or that he felt it was inappropriate. “He said he had his attorney look at it, and his attorney advised him it wasn’t required of him to complete,” she said.
And although Huizar hadn’t signed it in the past, said she saw no problem doing so.
“At the same time, if I have nothing to hide, why not sign it?” Huizar said.
Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek