LATHROP – After nearly four months of waiting for a response from the San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury on charges of harassing city employees, Lathrop Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos can now rest easy.
At least until voters have their say.
On Monday the 19-member panel delivered their findings regarding a complaint filed by the city that alleged Santos had paid too much personal attention to a female city employee in a letter to Lathrop City Attorney Salvador Navarrete. An independent report pieced together by a Walnut Creek-based attorney outlined what appeared to be damning behavior by the first-term mayor, Santos was facing possible charges of willful misconduct that could have led to his removal from office.
Santos was alleged to have called the unidentified female worker “baby” on multiple occasions and promised to take her with him to Sacramento when he became Governor – among a rash of other accusations.
But according to the two-paragraph letter sent to Navarrete, the grand jury will take no action on the matter, instead putting the decision regarding the behavior of the mayor – be it perceived or realistic – in the hands of the voters during this election cycle.
“The entire membership of the Grand Jury reviewed the complaint and after consideration believes that an adequate remedy lies in the electoral process by the voters who may consider an elected official’s conduct,” wrote Foreperson Gary Spaugh. “Therefore, we are taking no action.”
While the news didn’t completely absolve Lathrop’s mayor or determine whether the allegations that were levied against him had merit, Santos viewed the decision as a victory over what he believes are political forces at work to get him off of the dais.
“I’m happy with the turnout – I’m elated – and I’m glad that it’s come to an end,” he said. “It was all political. We’re talking about people that don’t want to see me in the position that I’m in. I’m happy now that we can move forward with what is best for the City of Lathrop and its residents.”
Santos said he was angered when fellow council colleagues brought up the idea of his resignation when his wife suffered a heart attack and flat-lined on the way to the hospital. The mayor tearfully recanted the experience during a council meeting while thanking the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District for all that they did to save her life.
That alone, he says, shows the manipulation and the attempt to get him to give up his seat while the investigation was still ongoing.
“These are the kind of people that we’re talking about,” he said – not offering any other details. “They brought my wife into this. That took it to a new level with me. It was personal before, but that was a new level.”
Two-term councilman Sonny Dhaliwal – who still has two years left before he has to seek reelection – will challenge Santos in November for the mayor’s seat.