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Maywood politics include recall effort, restraining order

MAYWOOD — The latest political battles in this financially challenged city are recall efforts against all five city council members, including Mayor Ramon Medina.

City Attorney Michael Montgomery also has filed a restraining order on behalf of Medina to keep City Clerk Gerardo Mayagoitia out of City Hall.

A judge at the Norwalk Superior Court approved a temporary restraining order. The court will decide on March 2 whether the restraining order will be extended.

Mayagoitia has until that date to plead his case.

Mayagoitia said he was informed of the restraining order Feb. 18, but said he has not been served with the restraining order or been told he must appear in court, as of Feb. 21.

Normally the city attorney also would represent the city clerk. However, in this case Mayagoitia must find his own legal representation.

He said the restraining order is an effort by the City Council majority to control the city clerk’s office, which should be neutral and work with all City Council members.

Mayagoitia said he is falsely being accused of threatening Mayor Ramon Medina, City Manager Reuben Martinez and other officials.

“I have nothing to hide,” he said. “[The City Council members] are mad because I speak out against corruption.”

He also said he has sheriff’s deputies that would collaborate his side of the story.

Mayagoitia said the recall effort against Medina is being pushed by the citizens of Maywood and not himself or other political opponents. Medina did not comment on the restraining order or the recall efforts prior to press time.

Mayagoitia and Councilman Eduardo De La Riva have openly criticized the hiring of Martinez, stating that he is unqualified and was only hired because he is a longtime customer of Medina’s auto repair shop. Martinez has no municipal government experience. He was hired after being laid off from his position as a Boeing project manager.

De La Riva would not comment on the restraining order filed against Mayagoitia. However, he said the recall effort against him is being spearheaded by Medina due to his open criticism of the current administration.

“They have hired friends and political allies to lucrative jobs at City Hall without proper job announcements or recruitment efforts,” De La Riva said.

“The reason I am being recalled is because I have exposed corruption at City Hall. I have been a vocal critic of this current majority and their way of handling business.

“[The council majority] even approved a raise for the mayor’s sister, Gloria Viramontes, who serves as the city’s treasurer, although she has no role or responsibilities at City Hall,” De La Riva said.

In addition to Maywood’s political and financial problems, the city also faces legal problems. Former Mayor Ricardo Villarreal reportedly gave up his title in protest of what he saw as violations in open meeting laws, among other things.

De La Riva said he is collaborating with authorities in an open investigation by the district attorney’s office. The district attorney’s office is looking into whether the city violated the Brown Act, which guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in local legislative meetings.

The proponents of a recall are required by law to publish their intentions in at least one newspaper that circulates in the jurisdiction of the official being recalled. Officials being recalled have the right to submit a 200 word maximum response to the city’s elections official. De La Riva and Mayagoitia said the elections official Julia Sylva is not being objective.

Approximately 20 percent of Maywood’s registered voters must sign for the recall to be initiated. The elections official must verify the validity of the signatures and an election must be held to complete the recall.

If the official is not recalled, another recall cannot be filed against the official within six months.

De La Riva said a lack of public interest and voter turnout is a challenge for his opponents and himself. De La Riva plans to run for re-election November 2018 and Mayagoitia plans to run for a position on the city council.

The city’s financial problems can be traced back years and city leaders have not been able to come to a consensus on how to solve them.

In 2010, Maywood was on the verge of bankruptcy and was forced to close down its police department and contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Officials also laid off the majority of City Hall employees and tried to hand over the majority of its administrative responsibilities to the city of Bell. However, those plans underwent significant changes when Bell officials were caught in a scandal that led to criminal charges.

In 2016, state Auditor Elaine Howle reported that Maywood owes roughly $16 million. The debt includes civil lawsuits, unpaid pension obligations and late fees incurred because of late payments  to contractors. The city contracts other entities for the majority of public services.