REGION — The leading candidate to become San Diego County’s new chief administrative officer received campaign contributions last year from embattled Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and his wife, Lorena Gonzalez, records show.
Cindy Chavez, who currently serves on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, was named the “preferred” candidate to replace outgoing CAO Helen Robbins-Meyer, as first reported by LaPrensa. The top executive handles the county’s day-to-day operations, overseeing a $7.15 billion budget and over 18,000 employees.
Gonzalez, serving as the chief officer of the California Labor Federation, donated $1,400 from her state Assembly campaign account to Chavez on April 4, 2022, records show. Fletcher, who has entered an out-of-state treatment facility for alcohol abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder and resigned from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors amid a sexual assault scandal, donated $1,000 to Chavez’s campaign on July 27, 2022.
The San Diego Reader noted the donations in a story published on April 13, 2022, six months before the county’s CAO position was posted.
Campaign filings also show Chavez donated $500 to Gonzalez’s state Assembly campaign in 2013.
Gonzalez and Chavez served in top positions with different California chapters of the AFL-CIO. In March 2009, Chavez was hired as the executive officer of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council.
Gonzalez served as secretary-treasurer and chief officer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO, until she was elected to the California Assembly in 2013. In January 2022, Gonzalez was promoted to secretary-treasurer and chief officer of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.
On June 8, 2022, Gonzalez posted to Twitter about progressive labor candidates leading in San Jose’s municipal elections, writing: “Kudos to my friend Cindy Chavez on the brink of transforming San Jose. And to all the hard work done by Jean Cohen and the South Bay Labor Council.”
Chavez did not respond to a request for comment.
Just a receipt on the “friend” thing. The $1400 Lorena Gonzalez contribution was reported on by @sandiegoreader and I double-checked it myself in the public record. There’s more to say too about those campaign dollars, too, so stay tuned. pic.twitter.com/0GrEvY59BT
— Steve Horn (@SteveAHorn) April 10, 2023
Robbins-Meyer, scheduled to retire on March 31, was rehired for another 180 days after Fletcher announced his resignation from the board on March 29, the same day he was sued for sexual assault and harassment by a former Metropolitan Transit System employee.
A second woman also came forward on March 29, as reported by SanDiegoVille. The former student at UC San Diego alleged Fletcher sexually harassed her during a 2015 trip to Minnesota with his nonprofit, Three Wise Men.
The Coast News sent questions to each sitting member of the Board of Supervisors regarding potential ethical concerns due to the financial connection between Fletcher, Gonzalez and Chavez. Other inquiries included how the initial hiring process was conducted, the number of finalists and any outside influences regarding Chavez’s hiring.
Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, or Chairwoman Nora Vargas, did not respond to The Coast News. However, in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Lawson-Remer said that once a fifth supervisor is seated, the board should pick up with the current candidates.
“We have some great candidates, and my preference would be not to throw that work out,” Lawson-Remer told the UT.
Lawson-Remer did not respond to an email asking about campaign contributions to Chavez from both Fletcher and Gonzalez.
On April 12, La Prensa also reported that the Board of Supervisors will not hire a new CAO until after Fletcher’s resignation, which is scheduled for May 15. Earlier this week, the board unanimously approved a vote of no confidence and resolution calling for Fletcher’s immediate resignation.
During the same meeting, three of the four supervisors, minus Chairwoman Nora Vargas, publicly called for restarting the CAO hiring process due to the scandal.
Vargas released a statement the following day seeking to “pause” the process.
“Our leadership has gone through an extensive search for a new Chief Administrative Officer and this process has been thorough and yielded outstanding candidates,” Vargas said. “However, due to recent events, we must pause this process to ensure fair representation for all SD County residents.”
Supervisor Joel Anderson said he could not discuss the CAO position as those discussions were part of closed sessions, but he favored restarting the hiring process.
Supervisor Jim Desmond, the first board member to call for Fletcher’s immediate resignation, also requested the board restart the hiring process for CAO but declined to comment on Chavez.
“I don’t believe the Chief Administrative Officer should be political,” Desmond told The Coast News. “The CAO should prioritize the interests of the County of San Diego and the people it serves, rather than advancing a particular political agenda or serving the interests of a particular political party or individual. The CAO brings stability and continuity to the county, as they are less likely to be subject to changes in political leadership or partisan shifts in ideology.”
Another candidate for the CAO position is Fletcher’s chief of staff, Paul Worlie, who sources said was not a finalist. Worlie has been Fletcher’s top aide for years, also serving as treasurer of Fletcher’s nonprofit, Three Wise Men.