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Fact Check: Ricardo Flores' Work-Politics Balancing Act

Georgette Gomez claims in a mailer that her opponent for City Council District 9, Ricardo Flores, is skipping his job duties in Marti Emerald’s office in favor of campaigning and is still getting paid.

MisleadingStatement: “Ricardo Flores Takes Our Money. Doesn’t Show Up For Work.” – A campaign mailer sent by Georgette Gomez attacking her opponent in the City Council District 9 race, Ricardo Flores.

Determination: Misleading

Analysis: Ricardo Flores is chief of staff to current District 9 Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who is not running for another term. He’s running to replace Emerald and has her endorsement.

Georgette Gomez, his opponent, says in a mail piece that he’s not doing his current job in Emerald’s office yet is still getting paid.

Among other things, the mailer says, “We pay him $116,000 a year, but Flores skips work nearly every day” to campaign.

The implication is clear: He’s campaigning on taxpayers’ dime.

Starting this summer, Flores began working half time as Emerald’s chief of staff, his campaign said and a city official confirmed. That means he works 20-hour weeks instead of 40-hour weeks.

Gomez’s campaign is trying to highlight an irony: In the primary, Emerald endorsed him by saying, “Ricardo Flores is on the job, every day, building stronger communities.” Gomez campaign spokesman Dan Rottenstreich said it’s only fair to show how much work Flores is missing if “his entire campaign is premised on his title, his status and his experience at City Hall.”

But Gomez’s campaign goes too far by implying Flores is out campaigning at taxpayer expense while missing work.

That’s because Flores has taken a corresponding pay cut, so he’s also taking home half as much pay — about $58,000 if he worked the full year at his current hours, not $116,000.

Deanneka Flores, Flores’ wife and campaign manager, said the mailer’s intent was to “distort our sacrifices.”

As the campaign was getting under way last year, Flores did take paid leave time for campaign-related events. So he was not at work and was getting paid, but he was using his own vacation days to do so.

This January, he began taking leave without pay for all activities related to the campaign. Beginning this summer, after he got enough votes in the primary to advance to the November runoff, he began to work half-time.

Traditionally, candidates who already hold office or work in government must be careful about blurring the lines between their political activities on the campaign trail and their civic duties as public servants.

Flores’ decision to cut back his work hours is a way to manage those two tasks, as was the unpaid leave he took earlier this year and paid vacation days he took last year.

Voters must judge if he made the right call – maybe they think Flores never should have taken vacation days to campaign, should work a full day and then campaign on the side or might as well just leave his job entirely to campaign rather than work half-time at a high-profile job.

But we find Gomez went too far in implying that Flores is drawing his full salary while missing work.

Gomez, for her part, has taken a leave of absence from her job as the associate director of the Environmental Health Coalition. Flores should rightly face more scrutiny, since his job is paid for directly by taxpayers and hers is not. But her approach shows just how time-consuming even a local campaign can be.

We find a claim misleading when it takes an element of truth and badly distorts it or exaggerates it, giving a deceptive impression.

The Gomez campaign argues it broke up the sentences and punctuated the mailer in just such a way so that it’s all true. That doesn’t mean it isn’t misleading. While it may be fair to criticize Flores for cutting back his work hours while campaigning, he’s not drawing his full salary while doing so.

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