Weeks after applying for the top executive position in San Diego County government, Cindy Chavez’ strong Democratic Party and organized labor credentials vaulted the Santa Clara County supervisor to the top of the list of candidates.
Despite a job description that favored a master’s degree and familiarity with Southern California – two things Chavez does not have – plus public calls for a non-partisan candidate, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors was on the verge last week of selecting Chavez for the $300,000-a-year-plus post. La Prensa, San Diego’s bilingual newspaper, called her “the leading candidate.”
That is, until a sex scandal rocked San Diego politics, adding sudden uncertainty to Chavez’ appointment and to the county board’s slim 3-2 Democratic majority.
Now Chavez’ strengths could prove to be her undoing.
San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher – a Democrat whose wife, Lorena Gonzales Fletcher, served in the California Assembly for eight years before resigning last year to head the California Labor Federation, is a longtime political ally of Chavez, herself a former director of the AFL-CIO South Bay Labor Council – was forced to drop his campaign for California Senate, then announced he would resign from the county board when faced with a lawsuit alleging sexual assault.
Fletcher said last week he would quit May 15, to give him the opportunity to cast the deciding vote for the county’s Chief Administrative Officer, which had been set for May 2.
Without his vote, the board could be deadlocked on any decision with two Republican and two Democrat votes.
Republican supervisors Tuesday called for Fletcher to resign immediately. His successor could be appointed or the seat could be held open until a special election.
Faced with new uncertainties, the board voted unanimously to rehire retiring Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer to stay on until her replacement is hired May 2, at a pay rate of nearly $195 per hour. Robbins-Meyer was set to retire this month after 10 years as CAO.
The search for her successor began after she announced her retirement in October 2022. It could not be determined how soon after her defeat in the November San Jose mayoral election that Chavez applied for the San Diego job. San Diego supervisors and officials have disclosed no information about candidates for the chief administrative officer position.
Final hiring would require a public vote sometime in May.
Fletcher was put on notice of a female employee’s allegations of “unlawful employment practices” on Feb 17, nearly six weeks before he announced he was entering rehab. Fletcher then announced April 1 he would be resigning effective May 15 after admitting to what he called "consensual interactions" with a younger female public employee.
On Tuesday, the San Diego Union Tribune reported that public speakers and supervisors applauded the decision to retain Robbins-Meyer, and added that “chaotic circumstances in county government called for an experienced hand and deft political judgment from the person they ultimately hire to replace her.”
“Her replacement needs to be a nonpartisan person with a solid track record of astutely navigating political minefields,” one speaker said.
One Twitter response to the La Prensa report, said, “Please, no more union cronies. How can we ever move past the Fletchers if we keep electing their minions?”
Supervisor Jim Desmond, a Republican, called on Fletcher to resign immediately, and not wait until May 15.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the Union Tribune reported that he said the board should consider an internal candidate who is familiar to the board and county staff.
“I think we have to take into account the turmoil of last week as we consider a new CAO,” Desmond said. “I think we have to make sure the person is not politically motivated and understands the issues and challenges of the San Diego region and our county.”
Board Chair Nora Vargas, a Democrat, said the board has made no hiring decisions, and warned her colleagues not to disclose their closed-door deliberations, according to the Union Tribune account.
The San Diego Board of Supervisors flipped Democratic in 2020, after years of Republican control. Fletcher’s departure leaves a 2-2 Democrat-Republican split.
Chavez's term as 2nd District supervisor ends in 2024, when she is termed out. She lost in her second bid for San Jose mayor last November to Matt Mahan, a moderate, despite a record level of contributions and spending by organized labor, led by city police and fire unions.
San Diego County government has nearly 20,000 employees, about the same number as Santa Clara County. The county has a population of 3.3 million, compared to 1.9 million in Santa Clara County.
Santa Clara County government has an annual budget of more than $10 billion, with 43% for its hospital system. San Diego County manages no health or hospital system and has an annual budget of more than $7 billion.
So they wish for San Diego to be more like San Jose?
And the connections still find a job for the failures. Susie Schlick from San Diego and Cindy started the destruction here in 1998. looks like they are keeping Cindy’s career on life support. When she clearly is partisan too?
As so many others are fleeing San Jose/SCC, so might Chavez. I don’t blame her.
It sounds like Barrett Tetlow is needed back in San Diego to straighten things out.
Well, Cindy’s departure, San Jose’s loss (?), will soon be San Diego’s loss as well.
San Diego and Coronado are actually making gains on cleaning up vagrant camps and putting homeless transients into shelters and treatment.
This move would turn back any gains that these cities and the county have made properly addressing the self-inflicted crisis.
Is there any way to get Chavez to go to LA, and maybe hang out with the other corrupt politicians like Kevin DeLeon?
Maybe she can go back home to New Mexico?
or better yet she would fit right in with Old Mexico where corruption and politics are synonymous.
Why does Santa Clara County have the same # of employees at San Diego County if San Diego has 74% more people living there?