Santa Ana Mayor Calls Special Meeting in Apparent Attempt to Oust City Manager

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido at a City Council meeting.

Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido has called a special City Council meeting for the middle of the workday Wednesday with a single agenda item that could lead to the ouster of City Manager David Cavazos.

Having failed in an attempt last week to get enough votes to put Cavazos on administrative leave during the final regularly-scheduled council meeting of the year, Pulido appears to be giving it another go during the holiday week when the city manager's three council supporters are out of town.

Councilman Sal Tinajero said he, along with David Benavides and Vicente Sarmiento, will be traveling or out of town during Wednesday’s meeting and that the mayor has refused to move it to next week when they will be back.

“We were informed last night at about 7 o’clock in the evening that the mayor had called for a special meeting,” Tinajero said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

Pulido was privately opposed to the hiring of Cavazos in 2013, and has been at odds with him ever since. Meanwhile, sources close to City Hall say the city's police union, which spent heavily on the successful campaigns of the mayor and new council members Jose Solorio and Juan Villegas, has been seeking to replace Cavazos and Police Chief Carlos Rojas.

Tinajero has claimed for weeks that the police union promised earlier this year to support council candidates only if they agreed to fire Cavazos and Rojas. Pulido, Solorio, and Villegas have not disputed his claims.

“Once again, they need to pay back a bribe,” Tinajero said in an interview Tuesday. “So what they have done is called a meeting at a time when people are on vacation and people are working, to assure that there is no public comment on what is so apparent...[that they are] fulfilling the quid pro quo they made with the police officers association, period.

"These electeds have no remorse and no fear for the law."

Pulido declined all comment on the agenda item or allegations of police union involvement when reached by phone Tuesday afternoon.

But the police union president, Gerry Serrano, indicated in an email that Tinajero was making false claims.

"The police follow the law and a strict code of conduct [and] ethics," Serrano wrote. "If someone is not getting their way they should kindly not make things up or false accusations...We are prohibited from responding on ‘personnel matters’ and the city manager is evaluated by the City Council - no one else."

"In regards to Councilman Sal Tinajero, we endorsed him in his past re-elections and spent over $50,000 in his [prior] reelection efforts, which is more than we spent in support of any of our recent supported candidates.”

Tinajero said he, Benavides and Sarmiento asked if the meeting could wait until next week, on Jan. 2nd or 3rd, after they’ve returned from their travels.

“Can you at least give us the courtesy to be able to make the meeting?” Tinajero said of the request. But “they refused to change the date."

“They preferred to go forward with only four council members, and three of the four were the ones that were endorsed by the [police union].”

The fourth council member is Michele Martinez, who is considered the swing vote on whether to place Cavazos on leave. Martinez has had her own issues with Cavazos, who made allegations that she sexually harassed him, which were later found to be without merit by investigators hired by the city.

Meanwhile, pro-immigration activists, who turned out in force at last week’s regular council meeting to urge the council not to oust Cavazos, are describing Pulido’s move as an “assault to our democracy.”

“It's shocking to see the mayor and his team are persistent in shifting the balance of power away from Santaneros, and they are doing this behind closed doors with last minute scheduled ‘special meetings,’ ” said Roberto Herrera, an organizer with the immigration group Resilience OC, using the Spanish word for Santa Ana residents.

“Acts like these are an assault to our democracy. It's nothing short of a coup; a power grab after the elections to get a choke hold on the city.”

Members of the public will have the opportunity to comment at Wednesday's meeting, which starts at noon, before council members go into closed session.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.