Twilight of Serrano – Santa Ana Voters Reject Police Union Overreach.


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Pic from the Voice of OC’s Julie Leopold.

In a rare bright spot in this year’s OC elections, Santa Ana voters, whose politics had been dominated for years by Gerry Serrano’s Santa Ana Police Officer Association (SAPOA), overwhelmingly rejected the police union’s candidates.  Turning down the SAPOA’s chosen mayor Solorio; councilmembers McLoughlin, Contreras, & Mendez; and school board members Aguinagua, Reyes, and Carrillo; Santaneros instead went with candidates who show a healthy skepticism to the greedy union’s demands – Sarmiento for Mayor; Phan, Lopez & Hernandez for Council; and the three SAUSD incumbents.  Santa Ana now has a majority that’s been critical of the unaffordable raise the police union received last year, and supportive of police reform and oversight, and it’s about time.  This article examines the aggressive and controversial union leader, now under Federal investigation, whose reign of influence seems to be coming to an end.

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Gerry Serrano is Santa Ana’s second highest paid public employee. In 2019, he brought home over $504,000 working as a “police officer” and serving as president of the SAPOA.  Today he remains a police sergeant with the Santa Ana Police Department (SAPD) with more than 20 years on the department. Thanks to the union contract and salary raise provided by city council last year, Gerry is released of all his city job duties, is undoubtedly set up with a generous retirement plan, and set to cash in more funds as the year continues. All the while, Santa Ana, a city which has spent years at the mercy of the police union, crumbles in deficit.

But Gerry wasn’t always rolling in cash funds and political power. According to public court documents, Gerry Serrano filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and reported an income of about $92,000.  Already possessing assets of about $1.4 million, Gerry was able to liquidate the majority of his $1.6 million debt, through a financial maneuver facilitated by chapter 7 bankruptcy law. The judge who reviewed Gerry’s case generously granted him safe passage. In the end, Gerry’s case was dismissed, meaning his businesses were totally liquidated. Gerry was able to keep a total of assets close to $700,000, and he came out of bankruptcy court with a clean slate. [See Gerry’s petition for bankruptcy here; the full docket here!]

Bankruptcy is experienced by many Americans – around 700,000 of us file for chapter 7 bankruptcy per year. What is striking however is Gerry treating the city finances the same way he handled his personal finances, blatantly mismanaging while hoping for others to clear up the mess.

The miniature DA, who couldn’t be over 5’2″, had to have been standing on a box.

After being discharged and with his debt erased, Gerry ran into trouble three years later, when he was arrested for driving under the influence in 2011. He refused to take a sobriety test and was abusive with the arresting officer, despite having an open empty flask with him in the vehicle. Gerry was never prosecuted for his drunk driving, and then-District Attorney Tony Rackaukas refused to press charges on him – Gerry went on to film a grateful campaign ad for Tony (right.)

Gerry’s “clean” record helped enable him to take over John Franks Presidency of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association in 2016, an ousting that sparked a legal suit. According to legal documents filed by Franks and his wife Laura, a longtime SAPD officer, documents that we first released last year, the city forced Franks to resign as union president for refusing to participate in an election bribery scheme.  This scheme involved promising $400,000 from the union PAC to council candidates who would pledged to fire then-City Manager David Cavazos and then-Police Chief Rojas.  As a result of this allegation, Franks and his wife became targets for retaliation by current Santa Ana police chief David Valentin and his successor Serrano. The case was “dismissed with prejudice” at the request of Laura Franks on January 20, 2020, meaning both parties involved had reached an agreement outside of court.

Despite the lawsuit, the scheme moved forward, and ultimately succeeded with the ousting of City Manager Cavazos and Chief Rojas. Gerry’s presidency foreshadowed the union’s aggressive turn to politics. One of Gerry’s first priorities as union boss was increasing the share of officers contribution to the union’s PAC, to bolster SAPOA’s monetary influence on local politics. 

This aggressive approach to local politics has defined Gerry’s tenure as SAPOA President. Since his term began, the SAPOA has spent $1,223,997 to influence Santa Ana politics. Leading into 2020, the SAPOA spent $405,000 in total to launch recall campaigns against SAPOA critics Juan Villegas and Cecilia Iglesia, as well as to oppose the recall of SAPOA backer Jose Solorio. The Recall of Ceci was successful, and served as a clear message to the council that the union is not afraid to oppose anyone that goes against them, regardless of their political affiliation. This is especially true of Juan Villegas, an ex-police officer who was initially pushed to run, and was heavily funded by, the police union. At first a rubber-stamp official who voted in favor of everything the union wanted, Villegas began to rebel and vote against measures that were clearly harmful to the city. As a response, the union spent nearly $100,000 trying to get him removed from office.

Currently 5 out of the 7 members of the council have been supported by independent expenditures from the SAPOA (as of this month’s election, make that 2 out of 7!) This pay for play money has led to a chokehold on transformative policies and a further increase on police spending. This was further shown when the council passed a city budget with an additional $3 million increase to SAPD’s budget despite hundreds of public comments asking to defund SAPD and invest in community resources. All of the council members who’ve received support for the SAPOA voted in favor of an increase. Not a surprise when their campaigns received a handbag of expenditures from the union.

SAPOA’s control of city council has also allowed them to influence major staffing decisions for the city. For example in 2017, the newly elected council voted to remove former City Manager David Cavazos and ousted former police Chief Carlos Rojas – and they’re trying to do the same thing again. In the union’s Spring 2020 Publication, the union published an awkwardly written commentary piece titled “Rumors and Camps Organizational Killers,” aggressively trying to tame a significant rumour spreading that SAPOA is trying to remove current Chief of Police David Valentin. This internal feud among the department and association alludes to the aggressive approach police unions take in maintaining institutional control … to the extent of using propaganda to threaten their own members.

We can’t address and pass meaningful changes through the city when the police union and their leadership continues to chokehold democracy. What’s at stake are not only city council seats but staff and leadership positions that impact major city decisions and the livelihood of our residents.

Leading up to this past election cycle, youth leaders and community members made it clear that candidates backed by the police union do not align with community values. Moving forward, we need to continue expose this pay or play money handed to councilmembers in exchange for their backdoor deals and schemes. SAPOA remains by far the largest campaign spender on Santa Ana City Council elections, and the biggest roadblock towards creating transformative changes in our city.

[Postscript – in Gerry/SAPOA’s only success this cycle, their favored Council candidate in the City of ANAHEIM, Avelino Valencia, won overwhelmingly with hundreds of thousands of support from special interests including the police unions of BOTH Anaheim and Santa Ana.  Why were Santa Ana police union dues diverted to an Anaheim race?  A clue may be in the generous support Avelino gave to Gerry Serrano’s spectacularly failed 2018 run for Garden Grove City Council.  How do Santa Ana police feel about this quid pro quo?  Anaheim voters are not too happy with this interference either.]

 


About Zorro

Yes, Zorro is gay. Zorro is gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a Jew in Germany, a Gypsy in Poland, a Mohawk in Quebec, a pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the Metro at 10pm, a peasant without land, a gang member in Santa Ana, an unemployed worker, an unhappy student and, of course, a good government advocate in Anaheim. Zorro is all the exploited, marginalized, oppressed minorities resisting and saying `Enough'. He or she is every minority who is now beginning to speak and every majority that must shut up and listen. He or she is every untolerated group searching for a way to speak. Everything that makes power and the good consciences of those in power uncomfortable -- this is Zorro.