Tuesday, May 8, 2012

(San Joaquin County) Harassment report surfaces against mayor

By Zachary K. Johnson - Recordnet.com -

LATHROP - The Lathrop City Council voted to call in a civil grand jury to follow up on an investigation into allegations that the mayor harassed a city employee.

With a 4-0 vote, the council passed a resolution to direct the city attorney to send a complaint to the grand jury for further investigation and consideration of possible action, including removing Mayor J. "Chaka" Santos from office.

Santos recused himself from the vote, but he joined the audience and took to the lectern with other speakers during public comment. He said he welcomed the probe from the grand jury to both clear his name and to keep a positive light shining on Lathrop.

"If you decide to do so, let the grand jury decide," he said.

A city-commissioned investigation into harassment allegations found that Santos paid too much personal attention to an unidentified female employee, made inappropriate comments to her and, on one occasion, held onto her hand for too long after pretending to lick some rubber bands she had been holding.

Santos is not accused of touching the woman or trying to put his arm around her, but he gave her periodic "fist bumps," sometimes called her "baby," used "weird voices" and said he would take her to Sacramento with him when he became governor, according to the report.

Santos told the investigator said he was joking about becoming governor and had no knowledge of the rubber-band incident, according to the report. The investigator, attorney Margaret Kotzebue, questions the credibility of Santos, noting in her report that "he is simply not credible as a witness due to his nonresponsive answers to my questions, inconsistent statements and failure to recall essential events."

The resolution that passed Monday raised the possibility of removing Santos from office. This is not an authority the civil grand jury has, but it could make a recommendation to the District Attorney's Office, Lathrop City Attorney Salvador Navarete said.

It seemed fishy that the allegations came out during an election year, said Dan Doyle, one of the speakers at the lectern at the Monday meeting. "This all sounds like a witch hunt to me."

Santos was elected to a two-year term as mayor in 2010. After the report was released, Santos told The Record it was "politically motivated." He said that Lathrop City Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal wanted to become mayor and noted it was an election year.

"Dhaliwal isn't being accused. Don't try and create a distraction from the issue," former City Councilman Steve Dresser said.

The four sitting council members made brief statements before casting their votes. "We are doing our job to protect our employees and to protect taxpayers," Dhaliwal said. He also confirmed he was running for mayor.

After the vote, Santos took his seat back and reclaimed the gavel to continue the rest of the meeting.

During a lull, he congratulated Dhaliwal on his candidacy and extended his hand.

"Let's shake hands," Santos said. "We're going to have fun."

No comments: