Consejo Discute Posible Cambio de Fecha de Elecciones Locales

October 13, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

COMMERCE- Para eliminar la confusión, la cual podría resultar entre los votantes al tener dos balotas y dos centros diferentes de votaciones para las elecciones de Marzo del 2017, el Consejo de la Ciudad de Commerce está considerando cambiar la fecha de su Elección Municipal General para abril o junio.

El consejo tuvo una reunión especial el miércoles para discutir si el decreto urgente cambiaría la fecha o consolidaría la elección de la ciudad con la elección especial del condado. Esta incluiría una propuesta que pide un incremento de cuarto de centavo a los impuesto para financiar viviendas para los indigentes.

Ninguna decisión fue tomada antes de la fecha de esta publicación, sin embargo, el consejo tendrá que decidir antes del 17 de octubre.

Los supervisores del condado esperan que las 36 ciudades y distritos especiales que actualmente están programados para votar el 7 de marzo, se consoliden a una Votación Especial conducida por el condado.

La consolidación no es mandataria y las ciudades pueden establecer una votación por su propia cuenta si así lo desean.

El Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas dice que las ventajas de consolidar las bolotas son claras.

“Mejorarán la claridad de los votantes, para evadir una duplicación de servicios, reducirá la fatiga de los votantes y promoverá un entendimiento por todo el condado acerca de las elecciones, facilitando y motivando la participación”, él escribió en la medida que pide el cambio.

Mientras que el combinar las balotas puede traer ventajas al condado, los beneficios que Commerce verá no son claros.

La ciudad perdería el control del conteo de sus votantes, significando que los residentes no tendrían idea de quien ganó la noche de la elección, explicó Lena Shumway, secretaria municipal, durante la reunión del consejo el 4 de octubre.

Podría tomar hasta seis semanas para que el condado pueda certificar los resultados de la elección, ella señaló. Commerce tiene la opción de mantener su fecha de votación para el 7 de marzo y no consolidarse con el condado. Sin embargo, esa opción también presenta otros problemas potenciales.

“Si no nos unimos podríamos acabar con dos balotas separadas, tal vez hasta en el mismo lugar”, dijo Shumway al consejo. “Tendríamos a nuestros propios trabajadores en las urnas y el condado tendría los suyos”.

Los residentes de Commerce también podrían enfrentarse con tener que votar en dos lugares separados, uno para la elección del condado y otro para la elección General Municipal.

Para evitar la confusión, el personal le pidió al consejo a que muevan la elección para el 11 de abril. Otra opción sería el moverla para el 5 de junio. Pero a esto se opone Jorge Rifa, administrador de la ciudad, ya que dice que interrumpiría el proceso de creación del presupuesto.

El cambiar la fecha sería más caro para Commerce. El personal de la ciudad calcula que una elección en abril o junio costaría de $50,000 a $55,000 mientras que el consolidarse con el condado, en marzo, costaría cerca de $14,000 de acuerdo a la Oficina de Registros. Shumway también mencionó que el costo del condado podría subir a causa de gastos inesperados.

Otra opción en lugar es de consolidar las elecciones del 7 de marzo con el de la Ciudad de Los Ángeles, quienes estarán eligiendo a la Junta de Administradores del Distrito de Colegios Comunitarios de Los Ángeles. El costo entonces sería dividido y la porción de Commerce bajaría a $30,000.

No obstante, el consejo se mantuvo firme en mantener sus elecciones separadas cuando el asunto fue presentado el 4 de octubre.

“Quisiera decir que estoy absolutamente en contra de esto”, dijo Baca Del Río en respuesta al cambio de fecha.

El concejal Hugo Argumedo les recordó a sus colegas y al personal que cuando las elecciones fueron consolidadas en el pasado, la ciudad perdió el control y los resultados fueron retrasados.

“Deberíamos de mantener el control localmente y mantener nuestras propias elecciones”, él dijo.

La concejal Lilia León cuestionó si es prudente tener una elección en la que los residentes tengan que ir a dos centros de votaciones separados.

“Va a causar confusión”, ella dijo. “Preferiría tenerlas en abril”.

Commerce tiene programado sus elecciones para escoger a su consejo en marzo durante los años impares. El alcalde Iván Altamirano y la alcalde pro tem, Tina Baca Del Río junto con la concejal Lilia R. León son los próximos en ser reelegidos en el 2017.

Officials Discuss FPPC Fines, Apologize

September 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

COMMERCE – Two City of Commerce council members apologized to residents Tuesday for campaign and conflict of interest violations that resulted in each having to pay thousands of dollars in fines.

Mayor Ivan Altamirano and Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio made their apologies during Tuesday’s city council meeting, with each of the elected officials telling residents they’ve learned their lesson and will not repeat the offenses.

“I created these issues for myself,” admitted Baca Del Rio, “I want to apologize to this community for what I have done.”

Baca Del Rio initially faced one of the largest penalties ever issued by the Fair Political Practice Commission, $104,000. According to the FPPC, Baca Del Rio illegally transferred campaign funds to her personal bank account, used a campaign debit card to pay for a kitchen remodel and  repeatedly failed to properly and timely report campaign donations. Under a negotiated settlement approved by the commission last week, Baca Del Rio’s fine was reduced to $55,000, $40,000 of which she was allowed to pay using campaign funds.

On Tuesday, Baca Del Rio said procrastination and not having access to her bank statements were the cause for her late filings, not an attempt to deceive the public.

“This was never my intention,” she tried to clarify. “It was a really bad mistake on my part.”

Altamirano also settled with the FPPC last week, agreeing to pay a $15,500 penalty to resolve multiple late filings of campaign and donation reports claims and allegations that he violated conflict of interest laws when he voted to appoint his sister to the city’s planning commission and for a stop sign to be installed near a rental property he owns.

“I’m a man of integrity,” said Altamirano, inviting any resident who has questions or concerns about what transpired to personally meet with him.

Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio, left, and Mayor Ivan Altamirano, right, discussed their FPPC fines and apologized to residents during the city council meeting Tuesday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio, left, and Mayor Ivan Altamirano, right, discussed their FPPC fines and apologized to residents during the city council meeting Tuesday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Both elected officials blamed their late filings on changes to campaign reporting laws that occurred mid-election, which they said they had not been made aware of.

The apologies, however, did not sit well with residents, including some who said the two council members should have faced harsher penalties.

“Residents, wake up to the corruption going on!” said Charles Calderon, who traveled to Sacramento for the FPPC meeting last week. “The City of Commerce deserves better.”

According to Altamirano, the FPPC’s investigation started shortly after he was elected in 2013. He implied the inquiry was triggered by a complaint filed by a failed campaign competitor.

In an interview with EGP Tuesday, Altamirano defended his role in getting a stop sign installed at the intersection of Fidelia Avenue and Jillson Street – about 150-feet from his rental property. He told EGP that area residents begged him to get the city to install the stop sign to keep vehicles from speeding through the intersection, the only one along Jillson where there was no stop sign.

According to Altamirano, he pushed for the sign for public safety reasons and not to raise the value of his property as alleged by FPPC officials.

“Little did I know it would raise my property value,” he reiterated at Tuesday’s meeting.

Altamirano also defended his sister Julissa Altamirano’s appointment to the city’s planning commission, telling EGP she’s “one of the smartest people” he knows and that she has no qualms about telling him when she thinks he’s wrong.

According to Altamirano, there would be no issue if it weren’t for the $50 a month stipend paid to commissioners, which he says his sister has agreed to donate to the city’s senior center.

The mayor repeatedly claimed he’s been in conversations with the FPPC to determine if the conflict of interest concern would be eliminated by his sister donating the stipend, noting that she’s willing to resign if the FPPC says no.

The planning commission is one of the city’s most powerful civilian bodies. Commissioners make recommendations to the city council on zoning ordinances and request for variances, building and development plans, conditional use permits and other decisions that can green light or kill a project. In most cities, planning commissions wield a great deal of influence.

Because Julissa is the mayor’s tenant and paid him rent for at least 10 years, she is considered a source of income to him, which the FPPC determined to be a violation of the Political Reform Act, which prohibits public officials from voting on matters in which they know they have a financial interest.

According to Altamirano, his case was colored by past FPPC cases, which the regulatory agency’s enforcement officials were obligated to consider even though the issues in those cases were significantly different.

Altamirano emphasized that while Julissa may be his sister, she makes decisions on the board independent of what he thinks. For example, he told EGP, “she voted against the Walmart development and I voted for it.”

He acknowledged, however, that out of precaution if he had to vote today he would not reappoint her.

He went on to say he had reluctantly accepted the FPPC findings: “I could have let this go on but I wanted to put this behind me.”

Last week, Calderon said he was collecting signatures to ask Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to open an investigation into Baca Del Rio, accusing her of abusing her power as an elected official and for continuously violating campaign and conflict of interest laws.

On Tuesday, Baca Del Rio said she was limited in what she could say because of the potential investigation, but went on to tell the audience they should be scrutinizing other councilmembers, specifically naming Councilman Hugo Argumedo.

Argumedo was reelected last year after completing a sentence barring him from holding office for three years after admitting to filing a false affidavit in a lawsuit against the city: Now his fellow council members are spearheading a lawsuit to try to remove him from office over his past conviction.

“If you hold me accountable, you have to hold everyone accountable,” said Baca.

Updated: 10/04/16: Clarifies that the “illegal transfer of funds” and use of a campaign fund debit card for a kitchen remodel are two separate items. 

Oficiales de Commerce se Disculpan Con Residentes y Discuten Multas

September 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Dos miembros del Consejo de la Ciudad de Commerce le pidieron perdón a los residentes de la ciudad en una reunión el martes, por violar leyes de conflictos de interés, resultando en multas de miles de dólares.

El alcalde Iván Altamirano y la alcalde temporal Tina Baca Del Río emitieron sus disculpas, asegurándoles a los residentes presentes que han aprendido su lección y no volverán a repetir las ofensas.

“Generé los problemas yo misma”, admitió Baca Del Río, “y quiero pedirle perdón a la comunidad por lo que he hecho”.

Baca Del Río inicialmente se enfrentó con una de las sanciones más altas emitidas por la Comisión De Prácticas Políticas Justas, $104,000. De acuerdo al FPPC, Baca Del Río ilegalmente transfirió fondos de su campaña a su cuenta de banco personal, usó la tarjeta de debito de su campaña para pagar por servicios relacionados con una renovación de cocina y repetidamente falló en reportar a tiempo y adecuadamente donaciones a su campaña. Bajo un acuerdo negociado, aprobado por la comisión la semana pasada, la multa de Baca Del Río fue reducida a $55,000. De esa cantidad, $40,000 serán permitidos que se paguen usando sus fondos de campaña.

El martes, Baca Del Río dijo que su procrastinación y el no tener acceso a sus cuentas de banco fueron la causa de su tardía en procesar sus donaciones, y no el engañar al público.

“Eso nunca fue mi intención”, trató de clarificar. “Fue un error enorme de mi parte”.

Altamirano también llegó a un acuerdo con el FPPC la semana pasada, acordando en pagar una multa de $15,500 para resolver sus tardanzas en declarar sus donaciones de campaña. Al igual, resolvió las alegaciones que lo culpaban en violar leyes de conflicto de interés por apuntar a su hermana a un puesto en la comisión de planificación de la ciudad. Por último, también se le acusaba de instalar una señal de alto cerca de una propiedad de alquiler que posee.

“Soy un hombre integro”, dijo Altamirano, invitando a cualquier residente con preguntas en reunirse personalmente con él.

Ambos oficiales electos culparon el cambio en leyes de campaña, que ocurrieron a media elección, por sus demoras en reportar sus declaraciones financieras. Ya que dijeron que no estaban enterados de los cambios.

Sin embargo, las disculpas no resonaron con los residentes presentes en la reunión, incluyendo a algunos que dijeron que los dos miembros deberían enfrentarse a cargos más rudos.

“Residentes, despiértense y vean la corrupción que está sucediendo”, exclamó Charles Calderón, quien viajó desde Sacramento para asistir la reunión del FPPC la semana pasada. “La Ciudad de Commerce merece mejor”, agregó.

De acuerdo a Altamirano, la investigación del FPPC, empezó un poco antes de su elección en el 2013. Él implicó que la investigación fue motivada por una queja sometida por uno de sus competidores quien perdió.

En una entrevista con EGP el martes, Altamirano defendió su participación en la instalación de la señal de alto cerca de su casa. La señal está ubicada en la intersección de la Avenida Fidelia y la Calle Jillson, a unos 150 pies de su propiedad. Él le dijo a EGP que los residentes del vecindario le imploraron que hiciera algo para impedir que los vehículos continuaran manejando velozmente por la intersección.

De acuerdo a Altamirano, él insistió en instalar la señal por razones de seguridad pública y no para incrementar el valor de su propiedad, como los oficiales del FPPC reclamaban.

“Ni sabía de que el hacer eso incrementaría el valor de mi casa”, dijo durante la reunión con EGP.

Altamirano también defendió el nombramiento de su hermana, Julissa Altamirano, y le dijo a EGP que ella es “una de las personas más inteligentes” que él conoce. A eso agregó que su hermana no tiene ningún problema en señalar cuando no está de acuerdo con sus decisiones.

Según Altamirano, no habría problema con el puesto que ocupa su hermana sino fuera por el sueldo de $50 que ella recibe cada mes, lo cual dijo que ella ha acordado en donar a una centro de ancianos en la ciudad.

El alcalde repetidamente aseguró que ha estado en contacto con el FPPC para determinar si la decisión de donar los $50 mensuales eliminará la violación de la ley. Si esto no fuera a ser, dijo que ella está dispuesta en resignar a su puesto en la comisión.

La comisión de planificación de la ciudad es uno de los grupos civiles más poderosos. Los comisionarios hacen recomendaciones al consejo respecto a ordenanzas municipales, proyectos de desarrollo y permisos.

Ya que Julissa también ha sido inquilina de Altamirano por 10 años, ella es considerada ser una fuente de ingresos para él. El FPPC determinó esto como una violación de la Ley de Reforma Política, la cual prohíbe a los oficiales públicos a votar en medidas relacionadas con intereses propios financieros.

De acuerdo a Altamirano, su caso fue juzgado con bases de otros en el pasado, por obligación, a pesar de que eran significativamente diferentes. Él también enfatizó que aunque Julissa es su hermana, ella toma sus decisiones independientemente. Por ejemplo, él le dijo a EGP que “ella votó en contra del desarrollo de Walmart al que él apoyaba”.

No obstante, él admitió que por precaución, no votará en la decisión de reelegirla.

“Pude haber dejado que esto continuara pero ya quiero dejarlo atrás”, dijo Altamirano, agregando que aceptó los descubrimientos del FPPC renuentemente.

La semana pasada, Calderón dijo que estaba colectando firmas para pedirle a la Fiscal del Distrito del Condado de Los Ángeles, Jackie Lacey, que reabran la investigación de Baca Del Río. El acusa a la alcalde temporal de abusar su poder como oficial electa y continuamente violar leyes de campaña y de conflictos de interés.

El martes, Baca del Río dijo que estaba limitada a lo que podía comentar por la posible investigación, pero continuó diciendo que también deberían de inspeccionar las acciones de otros miembros del consejo por igual, especialmente las de Hugo Argumedo.

Argumedo fue reelecto el año pasado después de completar una sentencia que le impidió ocupar un cargo público a causa de una declaración jurídica fraudulenta.

“Si me hacen responsable a mí, tienen que hacer responsables a todos los demás”, dijo Baca del Río.

Actualizado: 10/04/16: Clarifica que la “transferencia ilegal de fondos” y el uso de la tarjeta de debito de la campaña para pagar servicios relacionados con una remodelación de cocina son dos cuestiones separadas.

FPPC Approves Penalties Against Commerce Officials

September 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Despite residents demanding harsher penalties, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) today approved reduced fines against two Commerce officials accused of violating campaign-filing laws, among other charges.

The commission approved a $55,000 fine against Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio, who initially faced one of the largest penalties ever issued by the FPPC  over allegations she had illegally transferred campaign funds into her personal bank account, used a campaign debit card to pay for a kitchen remodel and had failed to timely file and properly disclose contributions. Under the agreement, $15,000 of the fine must be paid out of her own pocket, the remainder can be paid using campaign funds and donations.

The commission also approved a $15,500 penalty against Mayor Ivan Altamirano. As EGP detailed in separate story published today, Altamirano is accused of  violating conflict of interest and campaign filing laws, including failing to file and properly disclose financial activity on pre-election campaign statements, late filing of 24-hour contribution reports and for voting on a matter the FFPC concluded he had a financial interest in.

Commere Mayor Ivan Altamirano, pictured above, at a city event earlier this year, is facing a $15,500 fine from the Fair Political Practices Commission. (City of Commerce)

Commerce Mayor Ivan Altamirano, pictured above, at a city event earlier this year, has agreed to pay a $15,500 fine levied by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission. (City of Commerce)

The mayor is accused of using his position to get his sister appointed to the city’s planning commission and to get approval for the installation of a stop sign within 150 feet of his rental property.

The penalty amounts approved by the Commission are the result of negotiations between FPPC Enforcement Division officials and the Commerce elected officials. The recommendation by enforcement officials did not sit well with Commerce residents who asked commissioners to reject the settlements.

“I’m asking that you be a lot more firm,” said Richard Hernandez, a Commerce resident who traveled to Sacramento for the hearing. “Make this case an example, not just for Commerce but all the other cities, show them that you’re not going to show any type of tolerance for their violations.”

Hernandez added that other elected officials are following her, citing Altamirano’s troubles as an example. He told the Commission that Commerce residents had been harmed and deserved justice.

FPPC enforcement staff initially proposed a $104,000 default judgment against Baca Del Rio for 24 different violations of the Political Reform Act. The Act regulates campaign finances, conflict of interests, lobbying and ethics laws.

In a 500-page complaint against Baca Del Rio, the councilwoman was accused of illegally transferring $8,000 in campaign funds to her personal bank account and in a separate transaction using a campaign fund debit card to  pay for a kitchen remodel. Baca Del Rio claimed the transferred funds were reimbursement for a loan she had made to her campaign committee.

Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio will pay a $55,000 fine to the FPPC. (City of Commerce)

Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio will pay a $55,000 fine to the FPPC. (City of Commerce)

According to the FPPC’s Enforcement Division, however, there is no evidence she ever made such a loan.

Baca Del Rio was first elected to the Commerce City Council in 2005, but recalled in November 2008 only to be reelected a year later. She was most recently reelected in March 2013

Altamirano was appointed to the city council in March 2012 to fill the seat left vacant by former Councilman Robert Fierro who resigned after pleading guilty to a felony conspiracy charge. Altamirano was elected for the first time in March 2013.

The 5-member commission heavily discussed Baca Del Rio’s reduced fine during a meeting in August -that had been negotiated that same say – but voted 2-2 to hold the matter over until the full settlement agreement was in writing and available for the Commission to review. Commissioner Eric Casher, who ultimately voted in favor of the settlement, was not present at the previous meeting to cast his vote.

At the time, citing Baca Del Rio’s past problems and delayed response to the current action against her, the commissioners strongly stated they wanted to see all Baca Del Rio’s stipulations in writing before voting, adding they were reserving their right to reject the settlement agreement if not satisfied by its final form.

Today, Commissioner Maria Audero cast the lone vote against the settlement, saying Baca Del Rio had a history of  violating the rules and not reporting contributions, noting that although the Commerce councilwoman was fined in 2011 for many of the same violations, within months of stipulating “she would not do it again” she was again in violation. Audero said she supported issuing a more punitive fine based on her belief that Baca Del Rio had an “intent to disregard” the law.

Commerce resident Charles Calderon also spoke during the meeting, telling commissioners he was disappointed by their decision to approved the reduced penalty for Baca Del Rio, despite her having been fined for similar infractions in the past.

While both Hernandez and Calderon spoke against reduced fines for either of the elected officials, most of their criticism was directed at Baca Del Rio.

According to Calderon’s testimony, a number of residents are collecting signatures to hand over to Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey asking that her office open an investigation into what he called Baca Del Rio’s abuse of power as an elected official, and her continuously violating campaign and conflict of interest laws.

Calderon said the ethics and campaign violations by the two sitting council members have harmed Commerce’s public image, claiming Commerce is now being bundled up with Southeast cities that have had a history of scandals involving politicians accused of corruption.

“Now we’re being compared to the cities of Bell and Vernon.” he told commissioners.

 

Updated: 10/04/16: Clarifies that Councilwoman Tina Baca Del Rio claimed the transfer of funds was repayment for a loan she made to her campaign, and to not to pay for a kitchen remodel as stated in an earlier version of this story. According to Baca Del Rio, it was she who brought her husband’s use of a campaign debit card to pay for services related to the personal kitchen remodel to the attention of the FPPC.

Second Commerce Official Faces FPPC Fine

September 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Less than two months after Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca del Rio faced one of the largest penalties ever issued by the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) for campaign violations, a second city elected official is also facing fines and is accused of violating conflict of interest and campaign filing laws.

Under a negotiated agreement with the FPPC, Mayor Ivan Altamirano has agreed to pay a $15,500 penalty for violating five counts of the Political Reform Act, including failing to timely file and properly disclose financial activity on a pre-election campaign statement, failing to file 24-hour contribution reports and for voting on a matter the FFPC concluded he had a financial interest in.

The proposed agreement will go before the FPPC board today for final approval. The panel will also decide on whether to approve a settlement between the agency and Baca del Rio reducing her fines down from $104,000 to $55,000.

EGP reached out to Altamirano for comment, but he he said via email he would have no comment until the case is closed.

Altamirano was appointed to the city council in March 2012 to fill the seat left vacant by former Councilman Robert Fierro who resigned after pleading guilty to a felony conspiracy charge. Altamirano was elected for the first time in March 2013.

Commere Mayor Ivan Altamirano, pictured above, at a city event earlier this year, is facing a $15,500 fine from the Fair Political Practices Commission. (City of Commerce)

Commere Mayor Ivan Altamirano, pictured above, at a city event earlier this year, is facing a $15,500 fine from the Fair Political Practices Commission. (City of Commerce)

Unlike Baca del Rio, who is accused of using campaign funds for personal expenses, Altamirano is accused of using his position to get his sister appointed to the city’s planning commission and to get approval for the installation of a stop sign near his home.

As in most cities, Commerce council members nominate members to the various city commissions and boards and for the most part the full council routinely approves those nominations.

Altamirano first moved to appoint his sister Julissa Altamirano to the city’s planning commission in November 2012. She was re-appointed in April 2013 and again in April 2015 to serve an additional 2-year term, all the time receiving the $50 a month stipend paid to commissioners.

That’s where the appointment appears to have run afoul of conflict of interest laws, accoring to FPPC.

Because Julissa is the mayor’s tenant and paid him rent for at least 10 years, she is considered a source of income to him, making her appointment a violation of the Political Reform Act, which prohibits public officials from voting on matters in which they know they have a financial interest.

Appointments to city commissions and boards are often viewed as political perks, earning the appointee money, influence or both.

At the April 2015 city council meeting, a Commerce resident questioned how commission appointments are made in the city.

“What exactly does that entail? How is that decided,” asked Sharon Basik. “What are the qualifications” needed to be appointed?

Then-mayor Lilia R. Leon responded that the city council reviews all commission applications, but went on to point out that appointments are often made based on the relationship a potential commissioner has with a member of the council.

FPPC officials have also found fault with Altamirano’s role in getting a stop sign installed within 150 feet of his home and rental property – at the intersection of Fidelia Avenue and Jillson Street – overturning a denial by the Commerce Traffic Commission in 2012.

Undeterred, Altamirano in 2014 submitted his request for a stop sign directly to the city administrator, then directly to the city council at the Feb. 3, 2015 council meeting where he personally entered a motion to reverse the Traffic Commission’s decision. The council approved his motion.

At the time, Public Works Director Maryam Babaki said her department had analyzed the traffic report used by the commission to deny the all-way stop, but using their own set of safety criteria in addition to the report, decided to recommend the stop sign as a way to improve traffic at the intersection.

“This is the only street that does not have a stop sign into Jillson [Street] from Washington Boulevard,” pointed out Altamirano from behind the dais. “There’s a lot of cars that speed through there, they are residential areas,” he added.

Altamirano went on to note that a stop sign had been approved for an intersection near the home of then-Councilman Joe Aguilar.

“I remember Leo [Street] where Councilman Aguilar, his home they didn’t have a stop sign either,” he said.

Then-Councilwoman Denise Robles asked why it had taken so long to get the appeal to the council, to which Altamirano responded that he brought the item back after receiving more complaints from residents. “I said I was going to install a stop sign myself,” he jokingly added.

According to Altamirano, he had also informed the city administrator of other intersections where there was an even greater need for a stop sign.

He argued that the stop sign installation was done to protect public safety, not to improve the market value of his property.

But according to the FPPC’s claim, “Altamirano knew or should have known he had an impermissible conflict of interest.” It goes on to state that “Altamirano made or participated in other decisions regarding improvement projects in the area in which he resides and misapplied the public generally exception.”

The exception allows public officials to vote on a matter if a significant segment of the city population would benefit from the decision.

According to the stipulation agreement, Altamirano “now understands these rules and contends that he will abide by them in the future.”

The remainder of his violations stem from his failure to turn in pre-election campaign statements before his 2013 election and failing to disclose the proper amount of expenditures made during that election. According to FPPC documents, Altamirano and his committee “Friends of Ivan Altamirano” submitted $11,054 in expenses when in fact $14,237 was spent on his campaign.

That year Altamirano also failed to disclose 17 late contributions of $1,000 each, which require 24-hour filings under the Political Reform Act.

“One of the purposes of the Act is to prevent conflicts of interest by public officials,” reads the FPPC’s document. “Another purpose of the Act is to provide adequate enforcement mechanisms so that the Act will be ‘vigorously enforced.’”

In 2011, Altamirano was fined $200 by the FPPC for failing to file a statement of economic interest when he served on the city’s planning commission.

El FPPC Considera Reducir Las Multas de La Concejal de Commerce

July 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A pesar de que se enfrenta a la multa más alta que se ha propuesto en contra de un funcionario elegido en sesión, la alcalde pro-tempore de la Ciudad de Commerce, Tina Baca Del Rio, podría recibir una reducción por medio de un acuerdo con la Comisión de Prácticas Políticas Justas (FPPC).

La multa originalmente dada de $104,000, acumulada por un total de 24 violaciones éticas durante su campaña en contra de la Ley de Reforma Política, podrá bajar a $55,000 si ella admite violar 12 de las 24 infracciones.

Baca Del Rio fue acusada de transferir ilegalmente un total de $8,000 recaudados durante su campaña a su cuenta bancaria personal y de usar el dinero para pagar gastos relacionados con la remodelación de una cocina. Al igual, ella también fue acusada de fallar en archivar las contribuciones y las declaraciones financieras de su campaña en el tiempo debido.

En 2011, EGP reportó que el FPPC multó a Baca Del Rio “después de concluir que sus practicas de archivo demostraban un ‘patrón de negligencia’” y la hicieron responsable de pagar $26,000 dentro de un total máximo de $35,000 en sanciones administrativas.

Durante una reunión del consejo de la Ciudad de Commerce, varios exigieron la renuncia de la también concejal de la ciudad, a noticias de las nuevas alegaciones. Esto, a únicamente dos días de la votación del FPPC en contra o a favor del nuevo acuerdo para Baca Del Rio. La ausencia de la concejal fue evidente, su primera falta a las reuniones desde el anuncio público de sus cargos.

“Tina Baca Del Rio necesita renunciar inmediatamente al concejo municipal”, dijo Charlie Calderon durante la sección de anuncios públicos en la reunión.

Hace unos días, la funcionaria había estado en Sacramento el mismo día en que el FPPC propuso el nuevo acuerdo. Al enterarse de que la concejal estaba en reuniones con oficiales de la división de ejecución, con posibilidades de alcanzar llegar a un acuerdo, el FPPC decidió retrasar la fecha en la cual tomarían su decisión.

En una carta escrita por Baca Del Rio, hacía la Comisión, ella declaró que tuvo temor al recibir la sanción ante la junta del consejo de la ciudad. Ella atribuyó su respuesta demorada a causa de que los reguladores electorales no pudieron encontrar un abogado razonable y calificado para representarla.

“Yo no supe que hacer y no entendí todo de lo que se me estaba acusando”, dijo Baca Del Rio en la carta. “Algunas de las alegaciones sí son ciertas pero hay varias que no son exactas”.

La funcionaria desmintió haber usado los fondos de su campaña inadecuadamente ya que alegó que ella misma pagó de regreso sus préstamos durante la campaña. Según las investigaciones del FPPC, no hay evidencia de eso.

En la misma carta, Baca Del Rio admitió a no seguir los protocolos establecidos por la Comisión para liquidar sus gastos, ya que dijo no haber leído el documento con las instrucciones con cuidado.

De acuerdo a un abogado del FPPC el acuerdo preliminar, que posiblemente reduzca la cantidad de las multas, requerirá que ella acepte 12 de los 24 cargos. La abogada principal del departamento encargado en el FPPC dijo que solamente una de las cuatro alegaciones por el uso indebido de los fondos de campaña serían eliminados. Ella recomendó que la decisión fuera movida para el 18 de agosto cuando tome lugar la próxima reunión para dar más tiempo a la finalización del acuerdo.

“Yo estaba lista para dar como hecha la decisión original de la Comisión dado al historial de este caso”, dijo Jodi Remke, presidenta de la Comisión. Ella señaló que ni ella ni los demás comisionados anticipaban un cambio a última hora.

“La solución debe de ser lo suficientemente firme para no dar cabida a ninguna duda”, dijo Remke.

Sin revelar los detalles del acuerdo preliminar, Galena West, jefa de la división de ejecución, dijo que el departamento favoreció el acuerdo con el fin de aliviar la carga de colecciones.

Los comisionados accedieron a analizar el caso de nuevo en 30 días, pero no antes reservar el derecho de rechazar cualquier acuerdo si determinan que las multas no son suficientes.

En la ciudad de Commerce, Sylvia Muñoz, ex concejal de la ciudad y rival de Baca Del Rio por mucho tiempo, ha preguntado repetidamente si la funcionaria renunciará o no.

“Queremos saber qué planean hacer el abogado o el secretario municipal al respecto”, dijo Muñoz antes de ser interrumpida por la concejal Lilia Leon recordándole que el consejo no está permitido a responder a comentarios públicos.

Las finanzas del concejal Hugo Argumedo también fueron cuestionadas durante la reunión cuando el ex trabajador de los parques de Commerce y ahora bloguero de Mayor Sam, Scott Johnson, leyó una carta de la Empresa de Consultoría Pólitica Leading Edge la cual reveló que Argumedo nunca usó o pagó por servicios de la empresa durante su campaña, como mencionan sus declaraciones financieras. Argumedo aseguró que él personalmente conoce al dueño del grupo empresario y que llegará al fondo de estas acusaciones.

“No estoy seguro a quien usted llamó o quién le dió esa información pero es incorrecto”, le dijo Argumedo a Johnson.

El declarar falsamente el uso de fondos obtenidos durante campañas es una violación de regulaciones electorales.

Argumedo fue elegido a ser parte del concejo por primera vez en 1996 pero se declaró culpable de cargos de un delito menor durante una demanda civil en 2010. Él fue prohibido de ejercer un puesto electoral durante tres años y fue reelecto en 2015.

Baca Del Rio fue primeramente elegida en 2005, destituida en 2008 y reelecta algunos meses después en 2009 y de nuevo en 2013.

Los comisionados del FPPC dijeron la semana pasada que esperan que Baca Del Rio pague por lo menos $55,000 en multas antes de que acuerden a una reducción. Regulaciones electorales prohíben que Baca Del Rio use fondos colectados durante su campaña para cubri las multas asociadas con sus violaciones. Las multas tendrán que ser pagadas con su propio dinero.

FPPC Considering Deal to Lower Councilwoman’s Fines

July 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Despite facing the largest proposed penalty ever against a sitting local elected official, Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio could ultimately see her fine for campaign ethics violations reduced by nearly half under a tentative settlement agreement with the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Baca Del Rio is accused of illegally transferring $8,000 in campaign funds into her personal bank account, using campaign funds to pay for expenses related to a kitchen remodel and failing to file contributions and campaign statements in a timely manner.

Citing Baca Del Rio’s past history of similar violations and fines, the FPPC’s enforcement division proposed fining the councilwoman $104,000 for 24 violations of the Political Reform Act.

As reported by EGP in 2011, the FPPC fined Baca Del Rio “after concluding her filing practices showed a ‘pattern of negligence’ and ordered her to pay $26,000 out of a maximum of $35,000 in administrative penalties.

News of the new allegations prompted calls for Baca Del Rio’s ouster at the July 19 Commerce City Council meeting, just two days before FPPC commissioners were scheduled to vote on the fine recommendation. The councilwoman was noticeably absent at the meeting, the first since the FPPC’s allegations were made public.

“Tina Baca Del Rio should resign from the city council immediately,” demanded Charlie Calderon during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Baca Del Rio was in Sacramento July 21, the same day FPPC commissioners were scheduled to vote on the proposed fine. Informed that the councilwoman was meeting with enforcement division officials and a settlement deal could be in the works, commissioners agreed to push back their decision until later in the meeting.

In a July 18 letter to the Commission, Baca Del Rio states she was scared when served with the FPPC’s accusations before a Commerce council meeting, She attributed her unresponsiveness to election regulators to not being able to find a qualified attorney to represent her that she could afford.

“I did not know what to do and did not understand all of the allegations,” Baca Del Rio writes in the letter. “Some of the allegations were true, but there were also a number of inaccuracies,” her letter claims.

Baca Del Rio denied she misappropriated campaign funds, claiming to have been paying herself back for campaign loans. FPPC investigators said they found no evidence to support her claim.

In the letter, Baca Del Rio also admits to not following the FPPC’s process for challenging or settling the charges, writing that she was unaware she was required to submit a Notice of Defense.

“I did not really read that document carefully,” she confesses.

An FPPC attorney informed commissioners they had reached a tentative agreement with Baca Del Rio under which she would admit to 12 of the 24 charges against her, and pay a significantly reduced fine of $55,000. Only one of the four charges for misuse of campaign funds would be dropped, said Virginia Castillo, senior attorney for the department. Castillo asked the Commission to hold off its decision until their next meeting on Aug. 18, giving staff more time to finalize a formal agreement.

“I was prepared to accept the default decision order based on the history of this case,” responded Commission Chairwoman Jodi Remke, who pointed out that she and the other commissioners were not expecting a last minute settlement given the history of the case.

Commissioners expressed reluctance to allowing a settlement without assurances that the agreement was fully enforceable. In the past, officials in these types of cases would come with check in hand, noted Commissioner Gavin Wasserman.

“The settlement should be firm enough that there is no doubt to it,” emphasized Remke.

Without going into details of the tentative agreement, Enforcement Division Chief Galena West said the department encouraged the settlement because it took the burden off collections.

Commissioners agreed to take up the case again in 30 days, but not before reserving their right to reject the agreement if they conclude the penalties are not strong enough.

Back in Commerce, former city councilwoman Sylvia Munoz – a longtime political rival of Baca Del Rio — repeatedly asked the council and city staff whether Baca Del Rio was going to step down.

“The community would like to know what the attorney or city clerk are going to do about it,” she said.

The questioning prompted Councilwoman Lilia Leon to interrupt Munoz, reminding her that the council is not allowed to respond to public comments.

Councilman Hugo Argumedo’s campaign finances also came under attack during the meeting when former Commerce parks and recreation worker and Mayor Sam blog writer Scott Johnson, read for the record a letter he said was from the Leading Edge political consulting firm stating that Argumedo has never used or paid the firm for services as stated in his campaign disclosures. Argumedo responded to the allegations by assuring the gallery he personally knows the firm’s owner and would get to the bottom of the issue.

“I’m not sure who you called, who provided the information they gave you, but it seems to be inaccurate, it’s wrong,” he said.

Falsely reporting campaign donations or payments for services is a violation of election regulations.

Argumedo was first elected to the council in 1996 but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of signing a false statement during a civil lawsuit in 2010. He was barred from holding office for three years, and reelected in 2015 after his prohibition to holding office ended.

Baca Del Rio was first elected in 2005, recalled in 2008 and reelected a few months later in 2009 and again in 2013.

FPPC commissioners said last week that they expected Baca Del Rio to pay the $55,000 fine before they would agree to final approval of the reduced charges. Election regulations prohibits Baca Del Rio from using campaign funds to pay the portion of the penalties associated with the misappropriation charges; those funds have to be paid out of her own pocket.

Commerce Councilwoman Facing Heavy FPPC Fines

July 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca del Rio is facing the state’s largest proposed judgment against a sitting local official over allegations she illegally transferred campaign funds into her personal bank account and failed to report contributions in a timely manner, among other violations.

The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) is proposing to fine Baca Del Rio $104,000 for some 24 different violations of the Political Reform Act, which regulates campaign finances, conflict of interests, lobbying and ethics. Of those fees, $20,000 must be paid out of her pocket and cannot be funded by campaign monies or donations. Her campaign committee, “Tina Baca Del Rio for Commerce City Council 2013” is responsible for the additional $84,000 in fines, and could seek donations to pay it off.

Lea este artículo en Español: Alcaldesa Interina de Commerce Enfrenta Duras Penalidades de la FPPC

The proposed judgment goes to the FPPC July 20 for final approval. Baca Del Rio’s penalty dwarfs a $40,000 fine levied in 2011 on former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who agreed to a settlement, for failing to disclose free tickets to sports and entertainment events.

Baca Del Rio was reelected to the Commerce City Council in March 2013. She was first elected in 2005 but recalled in November 2008.

Elected officials are required to file routine statements twice a year, and multiple statements prior to an election.

The Mayor Pro Tem was re-elected to office months later in March 2009. She served as treasurer for her campaign committees during the periods in question, according to the FPPC.

(City of Commerce)

(City of Commerce)

The 500-page complaint against Baca Del Rio includes accusations that she used campaign funds for personal use and failed to timely file and properly disclose financial activity on three semiannual campaign statements, one pre-election campaign statement and fourteen 24-hour contribution reports. The document also states Baca Del Rio failed to pay the Secretary of State Office her 2013 and 2014 annual fees.

In the document filed June 30, Baca Del Rio is accused of transferring a total of $8,134 into her bank account between April 2011 and August 2011, claiming to repay herself for a loan made to her campaign committee. According to the FPPC’s Enforcement Division, there is no evidence she ever made such a loan.

Baca Del Rio also admitted in October 2014 her husband accidently used the campaign committee’s bankcard to pay for $1,400 in kitchen remodeling expenses but that he paid the committee back. According to the FFPC, however, she never provided evidence of repayment.

The Commerce City Clerk, the Secretary of State’s Office and a formal complaint referred the case to the FPPC.

Baca Del Rio did not respond to EGP’s call for comment, but in an interview with the LA Times, she claims she was “responsive to commission officials, that the proposed judgment took her by surprise.”

This is not the first time Baca Del Rio has been charged with violating campaign reporting regulations.

As reported by EGP in 2011, the FPPC fined Baca Del Rio “after concluding her filing practices showed a ‘pattern of negligence’ and ordered her to pay $26,000 out of a maximum of $35,000 in administrative penalties.

“Voters in Commerce were ‘deprived of important information’ about a city official’s campaign fundraising and spending habits because she failed to file multiple disclosure documents on time, according to the FPPC’s judgment.

As in 2011, Baca Del Rio’s case was aggravated by her failure to file even after multiple notifications to do so.

In determining its fines, the Commission considers past penalties involving similar cases, and noted in its complaint that “Baca Del Rio had reason to be aware of her filing obligations, as she had been previously fined for failing to file campaign statements.”

According to the FPPC’s report, the purpose of disclosing campaign finance activity is “to ensure that receipts and expenditures in election campaigns are fully and truthfully disclosed in order that the voters may be fully informed and improper practices may be inhibited.”

Baca Del Rio was notified of her violations and provided a summary of the evidence and her right to go before the Commission to determine if she truly violated the Act. She was given multiple opportunities to respond to the report or come to a settlement but failed to respond in a timely manner, prompting the default judgment.

If the commission approves the $104,000 judgment, fines would be paid directly to the state’s general fund.

The FPPC told EPG the commission does not comment on ongoing cases.

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Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

Alcaldesa Interina de Commerce Enfrenta Duras Penalidades de la FPPC

July 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

La alcaldesa interina Tina Baca del Río enfrenta el mayor fallo propuesto por el Estado contra un funcionario local en oficina con alegaciones de que ella transfirió ilegalmente fondos de campaña a su cuenta bancaria personal y no informó de sus contribuciones a tiempo, entre otras violaciones.

La Comisión Federal de Prácticas Políticas Justas (FPPC) propone multar a Baca del Río $104,000 por 24 diferentes violaciones de la Ley de Reforma Política, la cual regula las finanzas de campaña, conflicto de intereses, grupos de presión y ética.

Read this article in English: Commerce Councilwoman Facing Heavy FPPC Fines

De esos honorarios, $20,000 deberán ser pagados de su bolsillo y no pueden correr a cargo de los fondos de campaña. “Tina Baca Del Río para el Ayuntamiento de Commerce 2013” es responsable por los $84.000 cobros adicionales y podría pedir donaciones para pagarlos.

El fallo propuesto se presentará a la FPPC 20 de julio para su aprobación final. La penalidad de Baca Del Río empequeñece una multa de $40,000 impuesta en 2011 al ex alcalde de Los Ángeles Antonio Villaraigosa, quien llegó a un acuerdo, por no revelar entradas gratuitas para eventos deportivos y de entretenimiento.

Baca Del Río fue re-elegida para formar parte del consejo de la ciudad de Commerce en marzo de 2013. Ella fue elegida por primera vez en 2005, pero destituida en noviembre de 2008. Fue reelegida meses más tarde al cargo en marzo de 2009. Se desempeñó como tesorera de sus comités de campaña durante los períodos en cuestión, de acuerdo con la FPPC.

Los funcionarios electos están obligados a presentar declaraciones de rutina dos veces al año, y múltiples declaraciones antes de una elección.

Tina Baca del Río es la alcaldesa internia de Commerce.

Tina Baca del Río es la alcaldesa internia de Commerce.

La queja de 500 páginas contra la alcaldesa interina de Commerce incluye acusaciones de que utilizó fondos de su campaña para uso personal y no presentó sus declaraciones a tiempo ni divulgó actividad financiera en tres declaraciones de campaña semestrales, un estado de pre-elección de campaña y 14 informes de contribución de 24 horas. El documento también establece que Baca Del Río falló para pagar a la Oficina de la Secretaría de Estado sus cargos anuales de 2013 y 2014.

En el documento presentado el 30 de junio Baca Del Río está acusada de transferir un total de $8,134 en su cuenta bancaria entre abril de 2011 y agosto de 2011, alegando que devolvería a sí misma un préstamo hecho por su comité de campaña. Según la División de Cumplimiento de la FPPC, no hay evidencia que demuestre que la alcaldesa interina de Commerce efectuó dicho préstamo.

Baca Del Río también admitió en octubre de 2014 que su marido utilizó accidentalmente la tarjeta bancaria del comité de campaña para pagar $1,400 en gastos de remodelación de su cocina, pero que pagó el gasto al comité. De acuerdo con la FPPC, sin embargo, nunca se demostró evidencia de pago.

Una queja formal ante la Secretaría de la ciudad de Commerce, la Secretaría de la oficina del Estado refirieron el caso a la FPPC.

Baca Del Río no respondió a una llamada de EGP para hacer comentarios, pero en una entrevista con el LA Times, ella dijo que estaba “muy sensible a funcionarios de la Comisión, que el juicio propuesto la tomó por sorpresa”.

Esta no es la primera vez que Baca Del Río ha sido acusada de violar las normas de presentación de informes de campaña.

Según reportó EGP en 2011, la FPPC multó a Baca Del Río “después de concluir que sus prácticas de presentación mostraron un ‘patrón de negligencia’ y le ordenó pagar $26.000 de un máximo de $35,000 en sanciones administrativas.

“Los votantes de Commerce estuvieron ‘privados de información importante’ sobre los hábitos de recaudación de fondos y gastos de campaña de un funcionario de la ciudad porque ella no presentó varios documentos de información a tiempo”, de acuerdo con el juicio de la FPPC.

Tal como en el 2011, el caso de Baca Del Río se vio agravado por su falta de presentación, incluso después de varias notificaciones para hacerlo.

Al determinar sus multas, la Comisión considera sanciones anteriores que envuelven casos similares, y señaló en su denuncia que “Baca Del Río tenía razones para estar al tanto de sus obligaciones tributarias, ya que anteriormente había sido multada por no presentar declaraciones de campaña”.

De acuerdo con el informe de la FPPC, el propósito de divulgar la actividad de finanzas de la campaña es “para garantizar que los ingresos y gastos en las campañas electorales se den a conocer plenamente y con la verdad con el fin de que los electores puedan estar plenamente informados y las prácticas inadecuadas puedan ser inhibidas”.

Baca Del Río fue notificada de sus violaciones y proporcionó un resumen de la evidencia y su derecho a acudir ante la Comisión para determinar si realmente violó la Ley. Se le dio múltiples oportunidades para responder al informe o llegar a un acuerdo, pero no pudo responder de manera oportuna, lo que provocó el fallo por falta.

Si la comisión aprueba la sentencia de $104.000 en multas, estas serán pagadas directamente al fondo general del estado.

La FPPC le dijo a EGP que la comisión no hace comentarios sobre casos en curso.

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Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

 

Commerce: Altamirano Takes Over as Mayor

March 17, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Ivan Altamirano is Commerce’s new mayor following the city council’s annual reorganization Tuesday night.

Accompanied by his family, an emotional Altamirano praised his Cuban mother and Mexican father for deciding decades ago to raise him and his siblings in the “Model City.”

Tina Baca Del Rio, absent from the meeting due to illness, will continue on as mayor pro tem. Outgoing Mayor Lilia Leon’s years of service to the city was recognized with a bouquet of flowers and a plaque.

Altamirano told EGP he plans to act as the bridge between residents and the city when it comes to transparency.

“It’s time to rebuild trust, unity and peace in order to create amazing results for our community,” he said.

He also wants to focus more time on the city’s safety issues, and to work on opening a full-service Sheriff’s station in Commerce, which is currently patrolled by officers assigned to the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station.

“Our city boundaries do not keep crime nor pollution out of our city, so we must work with our residents, neighboring cities, East Yards Environmental Justice and our Sheriffs department to create solutions that will better serve our communities,” Altamirano said.

Newly appointed Mayor Ivan Altamirano and his parents Tuesday at the annual reorganization of the City Council.  (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Newly appointed Mayor Ivan Altamirano and his parents Tuesday at the annual reorganization of the City Council. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Altamirano, 42, started his involvement in city politics in 2005 as a planning commissioner. He was appointed to the council in 2012 to fill the seat left vacate when former Councilman Robert Fierro was forced to resign after pleading guilty to federal conspiracy charges. He was elected for the first time in 2013.

In 2014, Altamirano and fellow council members Del Rio, Leon and former mayor Joe Aguilar survived a recall attempt when backers were unable to gather enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot.

Commerce is a beautiful, well-maintained city, thanks to the efforts of the City Council and staff, Altamirano said. He said the city reminds him of Anaheim, “where Disneyland it located.”

“When I see the Southeast community, in its entirety, it brings me to believe that the City of Commerce is the ‘Anaheim’ of the Southeast area, and it is filled with tremendous potential” said the new mayor, who also recognized city businesses, the Commerce Casino, Citadel Outlets and others, for their contributions to the city.

“I can see a very clear picture of what is possible for the City of Commerce. I can see us creating a beautiful city without harming any of our programs for the residents,” he said enthusiastically.

Per tradition, Leon will continue as mayor at city events through the end of March, while Altamirano will preside over the council responsibilities, according to Commerce Spokesperson Herlinda Chico.

Chico told EGP this is done so the outgoing mayor can participate in “the biggest event in the city,” the crowning of the new Miss Commerce on March 26.

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