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Commerce City Council, City Attorney Set Up Scheme to Recall Newly Elected Hugo Argumedo


 Council and City Attorney’s actions are in violation of the Brown Act.

By Brian Hews

For the second consecutive City Council meeting, the Commerce City Council along with City Attorney Eddie Olivo, recessed into closed session to discuss the “potential significant litigation” in relation to what can be described as a complaint letter aimed at newly elected and top vote-getter Councilman Hugo Argumedo.

Sources are telling Hews Media Group-Community News that this is the first step by Mayor Lilia Leon, Mayor pro tem Tina Baca Del Rio, and Councilmembers Ivan Altamirano and Oralia Reballo to recall the popular Argumedo.

Failed Commerce candidate John Soria, one of Argumedo’s bitter campaign rivals, submitted the letter just one month after the Mar. 3, 2015 election.

Olivo and the Councilmembers used the “potential significant litigation,” as defined in the Brown Act,  to label the letter so it could be discussed in closed session and out of public scrutiny.

Those very actions, along with not specifically identifying the litigation to be discussed in the Council agenda posted online, places the Council in violation of the Brown Act.

One municipal attorney told HMG-CN that the use of the wording “potential significant litigation” is extremely questionable as is the submittal and consideration of the letter by the Council into a closed session meeting.

“It’s the public’s right to know,” said the attorney, “the letter is not a closed session issue; they also did not adequately describe the litigation in the Council agenda.”

In addition, Argumedo was asked to recuse himself from both closed session meetings because of the “potential significant litigation,” indicating that Argumedo is already somehow a party to the “anticipated litigation.”

Residents told HMG-CN at the April 21 Council meeting that this is a scheme between the City Attorney, the City Administrator and City Council to begin a recall movement against Argumedo.

Soria, who placed last in the election garnering only 10% of the vote, often slammed Argumedo in campaign appearances.

And Soria’s actions during the campaign contradicted his fraud assertions in his letter to Rifa.

HMG-CN was first to report that Soria blatantly lied on his direct mail materials sent to Commerce residents. Soria described himself as a “law enforcement professional” when in actuality he is a dispatcher.

In his campaign, Soria also said he would “be independent” and “distance himself” from past Commerce politics. But weeks before the election, HMG-CN exclusively obtained a photo of Soria with current Commerce Mayor Lelia Leon and Councilman Ivan Altamirano that showed both officials endorsing Soria.

 

Screenshot 2015-04-29 12.38.10

Sources are telling HMG-CN that Leon, Baca Del Rio, and Altamirano will endorse Soria in a recall campaign.

Soria’s letter was addressed to City Administrator Jorge Rifa and also to “City Council,” but the emails under the “City Council” name were not revealed.

Screenshot 2015-04-25 12.07.40

The letter specifically asked that Rifa change the theft and fraud policies of the city so someone who committed a crime against the city of Commerce cannot be elected.

The letter did not specifically threaten litigation.

The letter was extremely well written and contained many legal terms. But when asked by HMG-CN, Soria maintained that he wrote the letter.

Rifa then inexplicably forwarded the letter to the entire City Council and City Attorney Olivo saying, “this email was sent directly to you by John Soria.”

But the email was not originally sent to Olivo.

Rifa went on in a confusing manner saying, “the email addresses were checked and seem to be correct. It may well be that the city firewall diverted them as spam.”


 

Screenshot 2015-04-25 12.09.36

 


 

The Soria letter would have likely been ignored as a swipe at Argumedo, but in a highly unusual and suspect move, Olivo deemed the letter could have “potential significant litigation” and placed the letter under a general closed session on the Commerce City Council agenda item that stated: Pursuant to Government Code §54956.9(b), the City Council will confer with its legal counsel, and take the appropriate action with respect to significant exposure to litigation in four potential cases.

The letter was one of the “four potential cases.”

The closed session agenda entry violated Section 54956.9 of the Brown Act that states:

“If the session is closed…the body [City Council] shall state the title of or otherwise specifically identify the litigation to be discussed.”

The four cases-describing both parties to all the cases-should have been listed in the agenda item, but they were not, violating the Brown Act.

Many residents have questioned what “potential significant litigation” could present itself from the Soria letter.

“This is a letter that should have been read at public comment, they are singling out Argumedo,” said one resident after the City Council meeting. “They want to find some way to get him off the City Council, this is their first shot at it, if this doesn’t work, they will try something else. (City Attorney) Olivo is their puppet he will do anything to keep his job.”

Sources have told HMG-CN that after the April 21 closed session meeting, Mayor Leon, Mayor pro tem Baca Del Rio, and Councilmembers Altamirano and Reballo voted to send a letter to the State’s Attorney General asking for a “review” of the Soria letter.

The vote comes after this newspaper exclusively reported that Mayor pro tem Tina Baca Del Rio was misusing public funds, a felony violation, using the city-owned car while taking a $500 car allowance.

Argumedo has refused to take the $500 car allowance or the allowance for cell phones. “I have a car, the city is very small, I do not need a $500 car allowance, the same goes with my cell phone, I pay for that too.”

Prior to one of two articles, after requesting a comment from Baca Del Rio, in an email to HMG-CN she denied using the city car and taking the $500 allowance and also threatened a lawsuit against HMG-CN.

HMG-CN published the first article Apr. 3, 2015 proving that she did violate the car policy, yet Olivo and Rifa refused to act.

Another public records request by HMG-CN revealed that Baca Del Rio had been taking the car allowance since it was implemented back in Oct. 2014 and was not signing the car out as per the policy.

HMG-CN published the second article Apr. 10, 2015 proving that she did violate the car policy, yet once again Olivo and Rifa refused to act.

Amid all the evidence, Baca Del Rio continued to deny that she took the allowance and even called the HMG-CN article a flat-out lie at the last Council meeting.

Now, HMG-CN has received an email sent from City Administrator Jorge Rifa to all councilmembers on November 8, 2014 once again confirming Baca Del Rio took the allowance from the very beginning, proving that she lied in public at the Council meeting.

The email, addressed to all Councilmembers, stated, “ all members of the Council have notified Finance that you have chosen the automobile allowance and last week you received your first stipend this month of November.  As I understand it you will be receiving the monthly stipend as part of the first payroll period for each month.”

The email went on to admonish councilmembers who had not returned the city-owned car, but neither Rifa nor Olivo did anything to stop them. “By the same token since the stipends are now in effect and adhering to the revised policy approved by the Council, all Council assigned cars should have been returned to the Transportation Department.”

Rifa-email

Former Commerce Councilwoman Denise Robles told HMG-CN, “the city administrator was well aware of the vehicle use policy violation that took place in November and December. I brought the issues to his attention as I personally saw the councilmember (Baca Del Rio) driving the vehicle and saw the vehicle parked at the councilmember’s (Baca Del Rio’s) home and other locations she was attending. This was after the email was issued by the city administrator stating that all 5 council members had chosen to receive the $500 per month stipend and requesting that the vehicles and keys be returned to the city. When I advised the city administrator that one Councilmember (Baca Del Rio) had not returned the car and was still driving it he stated that he could not do anything and that the other council members needed to take care of the issue. Maybe the DA needs to question Jorge Rifa.

Robles went on to slam City Attorney Olivo saying, “good luck on obtaining any information from the city attorney, who is supposed to represent the city and its best interest – but in my opinion and that of many others – he represents those who will ensure he keeps his position as City Attorney.”

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