24 November 2007

How Civil Society Returned to South Gate

From Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration, by Sam Quinones (U. New Mexico Press, 2007), pp. 107-110:
Like the PRI in Mexico, Albert and his allies had seemed invincible. But in the end, like the PRI, they folded because there wasn't much left to hold them up. South Gate voted by an eight to one margin to recall Albert Robles and his allies. Some eight thousand voters turned out—small compared to the twenty-six thousand registered voters in town, but four times more than usual. People formed lines twenty deep to vote.

Albert Robles was recalled, along with Moriel, Ruvalcaba and silent Maria Benavides. Elected in their places were Steve Gutierrez, Greg Martinez, and Maria Davila. Rudy Navarro was elected treasurer.

Remarkably, though, the battle still wasn't over. Albert and his allies had succeeded in postponing the recall so that it was held only a few weeks before the regularly scheduled election in March 2003. Six weeks after the January recall, everyone had to run again. It was the fifth South Gate election in five years.

By now, though, Albert Robles's name stained anyone near it. The coffee klatches, Community In Action, the press coverage, and the D.A. investigations combined to arouse the people of South Gate. Neither Albert nor his allies campaigned.

Instead, in their last week in office, Robles and his managers wrote city checks for $2.1 million, mostly to lawyers. South Gate's assistant finance director told the Los Angeles Times that he was forced to take much of the money from the city's rainy-day reserve fund, while Albert, City Manager Jesse Marez, and several attorneys stood over him....

In the weeks that followed the March 2003 election, South Gate showed signs of returning to normalcy. At the first council meeting, Fr. John Provenza declared the first council meeting after the recall to be "a great day for the city of South Gate, a day when we can rejoice in the hope for democracy." Community In Action started up again. The new city council addressed issues like street-sweeping fees and declared one week to be "Always Buckle Children in the Back Seat Week." People who got up to speak at council meetings were not ejected. The council chambers were packed. The high attendance probably wouldn't last long, but I thought it was nice to see nonetheless.

After the election, I dropped by the office of Rudy Navarro, who'd just been elected city treasurer. Rudy was twenty-three. He said he'd just graduated from San Diego State University with degrees in finance and political science. He wanted to go to law school, but for the moment he was the treasurer of a nearly bankrupt city. State auditors were coming to inspect South Gate's books.

"We gave away a house!" he began, still incredulous. "The day after they left office, we stopped a half a million dollars from going out."

The city's payroll had risen from 340 employees to 570 in two years, he said. Contractual landmines were everywhere, and the city would be paying for them for years. The new police uniforms. The attorneys. The police badges. The loans to George Garrido. The $3.2-million Community Services Department that did nothing. South Gate looked like a dictatorship after the dictator had fled.

Still, Navarro had a healthy attitude toward it all. "To me, it's a golden opportunity," he said. "It's tough on six hundred dollars a month, but ... I have this opportunity to do something great, and you can't beat that."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The atmosphere before the "recall era", at the South Gate Police Dept. was very good. Officers were proud to be a South Gate Police Officer and very few Officer left the department to seek employment elsewhere. With a high standard of training only the best survived training. There were always Officers from other agencies trying to get in. The younger Officers gave due respect to the more seasoned veterans and for the most part it was a professional organization.
Referring to "Inside Informants" comment about a few bad apples ruining the whole crop, it is true but the real bad apples are the ones who plunged the city into darkness. Yes Albert Robles is indeed a bad apple but so are the ones who secretly made deals with him such as the Chief, Captains, and some Lieutenants. The current administration made deals with Albert Robles to secure the positions they are presently holding. At some point their relationship soured and the war began. The administration turned to citizens and the Police Officers Association to bail them out.
Their pact was much like the non-aggression pact between Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, which we all know turned badly, resulting in the death of millions of innocent people. In this case many Officers who were simply doing their jobs and the citizens of South Gate are/were the casualty of this war. And just as Adolph Hitler blamed his people for losing the war, Chief Todd and Capt. Richer sued the city after they were promoted for a hostile work environment. They then systematically used their newfound power to purge or tried to purge anyone that did not feverishly help their cause.
The following is paragraph from a letter known as the "South Gate Resister" which was placed in the police mailboxes of the four minority Officers:

And know to address those of you that have decided to cut deals, play along to get along, "just doing my job", or any other bullshit excuse that you come up with to justify helping our enemies. Here's our deal. We know who your are. We will deal with you when we've finished taking out the most putrid of trash first. Then it's your turn. Your traitorous behavior has lent aid and comfort to those who would destroy the rest of us. You have been repeatedly told to cease and desist your assistance to the opposition, but you have chosen to side against your former peers. Look over you shoulder, until you leave this organization. You never know what can happen in this violent world in which we live.

I agree with "Former Loser" in that South Gate needs new leadership. Leadership that has the best interest of the department and the citizenry of South Gate in the forefront of their agenda and not their own self-serving interests.
The city council need to be accountable and fix what they know is broken