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Politics Report: Chula Vista Councilwoman Explains Bizarre Firing

A City Councilwoman in the South Bay faces heat for her decision to publicly fire an aide.

The Chula Vista Police Department / Photo by Sam Hodgson

A story by Union-Tribune reporter Gustavo Solis lit up social media Thursday night. Chula Vista City Councilwoman Jill Galvez recruited a well-known South Bay journalist, Robert Moreno, to become her aide several months ago only to abruptly fire him, without a severance, in public, at a City Council meeting Tuesday night.

She had just talked about how wonderful Moreno was.

Galvez is concerned about the city’s budget after a campaign last year to raise the sales tax. She told the U-T she wanted to gather as many resources as she could to hire five more police officers and three more firefighters.

“I’m very serious and I can’t think of a more serious way that’s within my span of control to tell you and to tell my constituents that I took Measure A and the public safety staffing imperative very seriously,” she told the Union-Tribune.

This was met with derision, including from us, on Twitter. Because Galvez’s counterparts declined to make a change to the budget. Moreno’s salary will remain unspent in the Council’s budget.

Even if it had been re-appropriated, money saved from firing Moreno would not have been enough money to hire even one officer.

The move against Moreno seemed both cruel and illogical. Galvez made a sacrifice, with someone else’s livelihood, that delivered nothing. So we called Galvez to follow up. Perhaps there was something more going on.

(But even if she had some other reason she wanted Moreno to be fired, that’s quite a strange way to spin it.)

When we spoke, Galvez challenged us to look further into the budget (OK, we will!). Chula Vista raised sales taxes last year in a campaign led by police and public safety concerns. It’s worth follow-up to see how things have changed.

Galvez on what changed since she hired Moreno:

“I thought we were on track to do public safety staffing as promised and we are not,” she said.

On if there’s some other reason she wanted to part with Moreno:

“If money were no object and we were staffing public safety to the level everyone was expecting I would have invested in training and refocusing of purpose for Robert.”

On if she could see how awkward this move looked:

“I would much rather face your snarky tweet than face my neighbors, who will say I lied to them about what I was going to do – which is fix sidewalks, bury power lines and hire police.”

Side note: The move that elicited the snarky tweets has not freed up one cent of the city’s budget to provide her neighbors services or new police officers she mentions. But there is now one less person listening to their concerns.

A mailer from the 2018 campaign in support of Measure A, in Chula Vista, that succeeded in raising the sales tax there.

Now She May Face a Recall

Dave Lagstein, the political director of SEIU 221, which represents about 60 Chula Vista mid-level managers, told us the union was opening a campaign to recall Galvez. The union had endorsed her during her campaign for the seat.

The managers are upset Galvez had also singled out an employee she wanted eliminated within the city budget: Lynnette Tessitore-Lopez, the program manager for Chula Vista’s Culture Arts program. Unlike with Moreno, Galvez could not fire a general city employee outright.

“Councilmember Galvez used the power of her position to retaliate against a union leader who had disagreed with her, and this is unacceptable,” said Michaella Bursalyan, staff director of SEIU 221, in a statement.

Galvez said she didn’t have anything to say about a potential recall. As for Tessitore-Lopez: “I was told that position did a lot more than it actually does,” she said. “My ear is to the ground. I’m not operating in a vacuum here.”

Political Link Round-up

  • Assemblyman Todd Gloria may have guaranteed that short-term vacation rentals play into the San Diego mayoral race, when he voted Thursday against a bill that would severely curtail such rentals in the county’s coastal communities. That draws a sharp contrast with his top rival, Councilwoman Barbara Bry, who championed a city policy that would have likewise severely limited the prevalence of short-term rentals in the city. Vacation rental companies were able to overturn the law after collecting signatures that would have triggered a referendum had the Council not withdrawn its new law.
  • This is the second policy area where Bry in San Diego and Gloria fhave emerged with significant differences. He also supported a state bill to let people ride motorized scooters without a helmet, while she pushed the city to clamp down on scooter companies. (Scooters and vacation rentals: Who says San Diego is a small town?)
  • Juan Vargas, a famously moderate politician, became the first member of San Diego’s congressional delegation to call for President Donald Trump’s impeachment, as first reported by NBC San Diego’s Alex Presha. A month ago, Vargas told Presha he didn’t support impeachment, but now he says the handling of the Mueller report pushed him over the edge.
  • Assemblywoman Shirley Weber is on her way to passing the most controversial piece of legislation in California this year, after law enforcement groups agreed to drop their opposition to her bill to increase the standard by which police officers can justify the use of deadly force.

Do you have a tip or feedback for the Politics Report? Send it to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org.

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