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Before you go any further, you should read Nick Gerda’s story in today’s Voice of OC. Gerda interviewed the three members of the former Council majority — David Benevides, Vince Sarmiento, and Sal Tinajero — who were caught flat-footed on vacation between Christmas and New Year’s Day when Mayor Miguel Pulido called a taboo-breaking special meeting at which he and his co-conspirators could and did suspend City Manager David Cavazos for alleged misbehavior. Gerda’s interviews show that while Benevides and Tinajero are staying strong in their refusal to fire Cavazos, Sarmiento seems to be bending a bit.
Michele Martinez, the Councilmember who switched from the previous majority to the (ad hoc or longer) majority on the December 28 vote, had an understandable motivation for doing so: Cavazos had previously and (Martinez says) falsely accused her of sexual harassment. (Yes, an outside investigator had backed up Martinez’s claims and — without disagreeing with them — I see little reason to credit their finding. Investigators know which side butters their bread.) Sarmiento has a better reason for going along with the putsch, if he does so: Cavazos is going to cost Santa Ana a lot of money in exchange for doing nothing while on suspension.
While Tinajero and Benevides are taking a principled position that Perfidy Should Not Pay, Sarmiento may be taking a practical position that, when the damage has already been done, the best thing to do is to protect the taxpayers.
Consider a somewhat analogous hypothetical situation: if Pulido had shot a man to death inside of the Mayor’s office, giving the appearance that he did so while exercising his official duties, it would make some sense to help the Mayor wrap the dead body in a blanket and carry it over to the parking structure near Eddie West Field. Then they could pretend that the altercation happened there, thus saving taxpayers the liability that they would incur if Pulido had shot the man while in performance of his official duties. (Note: I only said “somewhat analogous hypothetical situation.”)
Yes (the logic goes), what Pulido had done was reprehensible and all, but why should Santa Ana taxpayers suffer for what he did? What’s done (for) is done (for), fiscal considerations dictate that the body has to be moved to prevent additional municipal financial losses — and God knows that Pulido henchman Jose Solorio doesn’t have the upper body strength necessary to move a corpse. So the responsibility for protecting the taxpayers falls upon Sarmiento to make things right — uh, righter.
It may seem like I’m making light of the motivation that Sarmiento signals in Gerda’s piece — because I am — but there truly IS sometime to the logic of “finishing the deed” in this case, however unpalatable it may be. While Tinajero and Benevides (and Cavazos, and those liable to join Cavazos on the way out of the door) may blame Sarmiento for his post-facto complicity, it does make some sense. Pulido and Solorio’s wretched little plan worked, so let’s get on with life.
I wouldn’t totally blame Sarmiento for doing that. I’d blame him for something else: FOR NOT GETTING A GOOD PRICE FOR DOING THE DEED!
By “a good price,” I do not mean Sarmiento profiting for himself, of course; that’s a Pulido/Solorio sort of move. I mean a good price FOR THE PUBLIC. In other words, Sarmiento should be the fifth vote for terminating Cavazos and saving Santa Ana some bucks ONLY IF he gets certain agreements. I’ll offer some examples:
- Sarmiento and Martinez are the only members of the Committee that will recommend a permanent replacement for the City Manager position.
- Martinez and Sarmiento agree that neither will vote for a City Manager candidate without the other’s support.
- The Santa Ana Police and Pulido have to agree that they will not target Martinez, Tinajero, or Benevides in 2018. (I’m not sure what the “non-Mayoral term limits” situation is in Santa Ana right now and the city’s web site is not particularly informative. I presume that they are all eligible to run. If not, this analysis changes accordingly.)
- Mayoral term limits remain in place — and Pulido must depart his office on schedule.
- Limits on benefits given to police over the next two years.
- Continuation of any Cavazos policies involving document retention and perhaps a bit more.
If Sarmiento got all of that — maybe even just most of that — then I wouldn’t be rankled by his selling out Cavazos, who, it must be admitted, does have a pretty honking big compensation package. Then he’d be protecting the taxpayers from a perpetual Cavazos bill and from Pulido, Solorio, and Other Guy.
Essentially, the idea is to get Martinez back into the fold. She has had her revenge against Cavazos — and, if the police agree to laying down the threat of doing a “Roman Reyna” against her in 2018 — she doesn’t have to worry about pleasing them. Change those two things and she doesn’t have to travel down a fatal (for her political career) path of becoming the Lucille Kring to Solorio’s Kris Murray — “on the team,” yes, but slated to be the first tossed overboard at the first sign of trouble.
Some may be surprised that I’m promoting the sorts of nasty behind-the-scenes deal-making that I usually deplore. I’m a little surprised myself — but when you’re up against thugs like Pulido and Solorio, and the deciding vote belongs to a vacillating maiden like Martinez, then I can see the benefits of playing hardball.
If the people that must agree to such a deal — Martinez and Pulido should suffice — refuse to do so, then, to switch back to my gruesome analogy, leave the bleeding corpse of Cavazos’s contract in Pulido’s office, soaking into the rugs, creating a fearsome stench, until he’s finally willing to get rid of it.
“Perfidy Must Not Prosper” — that’s the slogan and that’s the spirit. Sarmiento can let them win the Battle of Cavazos, but he should not help them win to larger war to turn back Santa Ana Spring.