Montebello group plots recall against 3 officials

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By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

MONTEBELLO — A group of residents upset with the City Council’s effort to remove a city employee and for the treatment of the previous city manager plan to launch a recall effort against Mayor David Torres and two of his allies. 

The recall effort was announced on the steps of City Hall June 22 following allegations made by Public Affairs and Information Technology Director Michael Chee, who said Torres was retaliating against him for a lawsuit he and former City Manager Rene Bobadilla filed last year, accusing Torres of harassment and creating a toxic work environment. 

Chee also announced the filing of a new claim against Torres, and Councilwomen Georgina Tamayo and Scarlet Peralta for voting to eliminate his job from the 2023-24 city budget.  

Chee and Bobadilla filed a suit against Torres when he was a councilman alleging he instigated a hostile labor relationship among city’s leaders and for harassment in person and on social media.  

Edward Franco, a lifelong Montebello resident, said he decided to start the recall campaign against Torres, Tamayo and Peralta for decisions that have pushed the city into legal and fiscal turmoil. 

Franco said Torres’ misconduct led to a $2 million settlement with Bobadilla. 

Franco didn’t provide a timeline for filing recall papers against Torres, Tamayo and Peralta, but said it would be done when a consultant he spoke with advises him to do so. 

“This is something I would not normally do, but I feel it is necessary,” Franco said.

Pushing back against the recall attempt, Torres, Peralta and Tamayo held their own rally with about 60 supporters June 23 outside City Hall. 

Torres vowed to move forward to protect their rights as the allegation brought by Chee and previous claims from him and Bobadilla are investigated.

“I think we’ll be sticking around for a while,” Torres posted on his Facebook page June 24. “Thank you to all those who joined us in solidarity against the threatened recall in person and in spirit.”

Torres’ actions, in addition to complaints from 15 other city employees, led to a third-party investigation conducted by attorney Nancy Doumanian last year. She concluded Torres fostered a toxic staff environment and disregarded city procedures. 

Chee said the new claim accuses the three leaders of wrongful termination and asks for revocation of the motion that defunded his job.

“I believe this is a pure retaliation effort by the mayor and the two other council members to get rid of me because I have been very vocal about his abusive and demeaning behavior for well over a year now,” Chee said in a phone interview. 

Chee said eliminating his position was shortsighted in that it eliminates a vital public information and safety resource from city staff. 

The most recent City Hall turbulence began with a vote June 14 by the City Council majority on a motion to amend the upcoming budget that eliminated Chee’s public affairs post. 

The decision came after Tamayo argued the entire $211 million budget was too heavy on management and should shift to hire rank-and-file employees to beef up the city’s police and fire departments. 

Tamayo’s motion was joined by Torres and Peralta. Councilman Salvador Melendez abstained, while Councilwoman Angie Jimenez stormed out of the chambers in protest and did not cast a vote. 

Jimenez slammed Torres for defunding a position ready to be budgeted and for getting rid of someone dependent on a job to provide for his family. 

“You are in violation of these workers’ rights, David,” Jimenez yelled to Torres while he tried to quiet her. “I hope that these people speak up. David, this is a tyrant move, another labor violation.” 

Tamayo argued funding public affairs was not a priority, the move would represent savings for $200,000, and align Montello with Downey, Rosemead, Whittier, Duarte, Alhambra, West Covina and Arcadia. 

None of those cities have a public affairs office. 

A memorandum of understanding signed with the Montebello Executive Management Association reserves the hiring and removal of managerial staff to a permanent city manager. 

Before she was appointed acting City Manager, Arnele Salazar asked Torres to clarify his intent to eliminate the position held by Chee starting July 1.

Torres answered “correct,” as Chee witnessed the proceedings inside the chambers. 

Consulted by Salazar before the motion was approved, City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman said the city’s management association accord would weigh-in in a dispute.

The other two occasions managers can legally lose their jobs are when the city finds itself in financial distress, or for lack of work, Chee said. 

A surplus of $629,000 is expected in the projected general budget of $73.3 million for next fiscal year, so the city is solvent, he contended. 

“This is unchartered territory,” Chee said. “It’s unclear what would happen to my position.” 

Last week, the city of Santa Fe Springs announced the hiring of Bobadilla as its new city manager. Bobadilla had resigned from Montebello in May after being on medical leave for undisclosed causes since January, a few weeks after Torres was elected mayor by his council colleagues during the council’s annual reorganization.

Jimenez blamed Torres for Bobadilla’s expensive severance package. She praised the former city manager for devising a plan to lift the city from fiscal insolvency, and for hiring TopGolf to modernize the golf course. 

Torres has asked for an independent investigation into Doumanian’s investigation last year. He received support from Peralta and Tamayo, while Melendez voted no.  

Doumanian’s investigation was initiated by last year’s council, which included Jimenez, Melendez and Kimberlee Cobos-Cawthorne. 

As a result of that investigation, Torres was stripped of his authority appoint to commissioners and to represent the city at conferences. 

But last November, Tamayo defeated Cobos-Cawthorne in her reelection bid, and the new council majority voted to restore his full rights. 

Torres claims the previous administration denied him due process and postponed discussions to flesh out details that should have been addressed in the course of public meetings. 

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