What were they thinking?
It is a question that someone needs to ask following the Lathrop City Council’s decision to refer questions about Mayor Chaka Santos’ behavior in his role as an elected representative to the San Joaquin County Grand Jury after they had already commissioned and received a detailed report from an independent investigator.
Do they need to hear more of the same? Are they trying to avoid taking action? Or do they simply have no inkling of what to do?
The grand jury will do what the city already paid to have done except probably not as thorough. The big difference, of course, is they might make recommendations on what the City Council should do.
In other words, they want the grand jury to make the tough non-binding call.
We must assume a formal harassment complaint has not been filed. If it has, then the city should be taking some corrective steps to address those concerns just like a private employer is required by law to due instead of passing the buck.
And given the fact Lathrop learned the expensive hard way a few years back about what happens when council members don’t walk the line, if the situation where a worst case scenario it would not being going to a grand jury. In that instance, just two weeks after a city hall employee filed a sexual harassment claim involving a council member the council made a $500,000 settlement. No lawsuit. No grand jury.
And with all due respect to the grand jury, what they come up with has no teeth. They are a valuable resource to give issues a different set of eyes but in the end whatever they recommend doesn’t have to be implemented by the various public agencies they scrutinize.
Also, contrary to what the mayor thinks, going before the grand jury won’t clear his name because what is said to them is behind closed doors. There will be no public disclosure of what he gives as an explanation unless, of course, it suits whatever determination the grand jury reaches.
That brings us back to the four other council members. They missed an opportunity.
This is the fifth time in the past decade that an elected official’s personal interactions with municipal staff have surfaced as an issue. The first go around cost taxpayers $500,000. Subsequent infighting took needed energy away from moving Lathrop forward.
The council needs to adopt clear lines of engagement when it comes to how they treat and interact with staff. It needs to be spelled out in simple and concise terms what powers and authority the mayor has as well as those of individual council members. And it needs to be enforced. It might not hurt to toss in some training about not creating a hostile work environment.
In general law cities, the mayor’s power is fairly limited in California. That hasn’t stopped some elected to such positions to try and act like they are a mayor in a charter law city such as San Francisco, San Jose, or Sacramento. Not helping matters is the fact the general public often has the misconception that the mayor in a general law city is the Wizard of Oz and is able to pull all sorts of levers to run a city unilaterally.
The city manager runs the day-to-day operations. The council makes the key hires and provides the policy parameters and goals. The mayor is one of five council members that happen to run meetings and sign official documents after being authorized to do so by the council acting as one.
It is no secret that Santos has a unique personality. At the same time, harassment is in the eye if the beholder.
That said the council didn’t do anyone - including itself - any favors by passing the buck off to the grand jury.
It makes no sense as they already have been told in detail what the concerns are.
After reading the report they should have mustered up the courage to plot a course of action to correct the situation.
And if they are waiting for the other shoe to drop - the filing of a harassment lawsuit - pitching off to the grand jury will only end up mudding up the situation.
The mayor needs to be held accountable for his behavior, no doubt about it. But at the same time the council needs to be held accountable to and do the job they were elected to do and not pass the buck.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.