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Commerce Employee Set to Cash in on City Council Relationships

By Brian Hews 

(Commerce) A group of vocal Commerce activists are criticizing a city job application process to hire a new Public Information Officer claiming that the position was essentially political payback for the current city employee, Jason Stinnett, who was a political consultant to three current members of the city council.

Stinnett, who is the Acting Public Information Officer for Commerce, now appears to be on the verge of receiving a new role in the City that will pay him anywhere from $6,600 to $8,800 per month in salary as well as full time benefit package that includes medical insurance, dental, vision, and retirement.

Jason Stinnett

Jason Stinnett

Stinnett has been a strong force in Commerce area politics for the past number of years and has worked in the past to get current city elected officials Lilia Leon, Tina Baca Del Rio, Ivan Alramirano, and Joe Aguilar into office.

Stinnett in the past has also overseen a local political website www.savecommerce.org.

The web site actively promoted the campaigns for Leon, Baca Del Rio, Alramirano and Aguilar, and others in the past, and criticized outside challengers who have sought public office in Commerce.

“My concern is that this job is not open to anyone with better qualifications from outside of Commerce,” said Jamie Valencia a longtime community activist.  “It appears more like rewarding your political friends who got you elected to office. We need someone who doesn’t have a bias view of the city.”

In an interview with the Commerce Community News, Commerce City Administrator Jorge Rifa was asked if the PIO job was created “specifically for Stinnett.”

Rifa paused and replied: “I understand the question. All I can tell you is it is my intention to basically put a recruitment process as requested by the city council, and I have done that.”

“I will confirm that I will be responsible for deciding who lands the (PIO) job and that includes the final process,” Rifa said.

Rifa did not want to elaborate on Stinnett’s employment at the City of Commerce.  “I have no comment regarding Jason’s tenure other than to say he is our acting Public Information Officer.”

Valencia was direct in his displeasure with Stinnett and the “back room deals that are being cut to take care of him.”

Valencia said, “Jason has a bias view based upon the fact that he ran the campaigns for four current city councilmembers including Mayor Joe Aguilar, Vice Mayor Lela Leon, Councilman Ivan Alramirano, and Councilwoman Tina Baca DeRio. The public has the right to know what’s going on inside city hall and we deserve a public information officer who doesn’t have a political agenda of his own,” Valencia said.

Stinnett did not return three phone calls requesting a comment for this article, and did not respond to an email sent to him this past week.

Stinnett has indicated that he will be a candidate for the Central Basin Water District Board of Directors in 2014 and run against incumbent Art Chacon who is a longtime resident of Commerce.

Valencia said that he is “deeply troubled” by Stinnett’s planned campaign.

“It is obvious that Jason is using his position to leverage his own career in politics.”

Valencia also voiced his dismay regarding a recent city bond campaign that he claimed Stinnett used “heavy handed” campaign tactics.

“My concern is that this past voter approved AA Bond Measure was run with taxpayer funds and that Jason had a role handling that campaign effort,” Valencia said.

“I feel that employees are scared of Jason because the way he helps the city council and the city council protects him.  Jason manipulates city workers,” Valencia said.

Another longtime city employee who has worked for more than 20 years in Commerce, who did not want to be publicly identified for fear of retaliation said, “the city of Commerce doesn’t need a full time Public Information Officer at this time, especially someone with a track record like Stinnett. Jason is the most influential person in Commerce; he is more powerful than all five city councilmembers combined.  He is going to get this job based on his political power, not because he is the qualified,” the source said.

Stinnett is also listed a Vice President of the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees, District #36 for Local 773 Commerce Employees Association. A member of the union, who did not want to be named, said “Jason plays both sides of the fence. Because of Jason, we got a lousy contract for the city workers.”

“Jason is the Robert Rizzo of Commerce,” one other source said. “He isn’t likeable, he is politically savvy, but just watch your wallet.”

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