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Calexico Splits Community Services Department
Calexico City Council meets May 20 in council chambers in this screen capture of its regularly scheduled meeting. | COURTESY PHOTO

Legal Threat Has Calexico Re-do its Vote to Split Community Services Department

CALEXICO — After the threat of legal action over a dropped requirement of a college degree for a newly created department head post, Calexico council members requested a reset and the council re-did its vote to separate the city’s recreation and library departments.

It was a confusing bit of political theater that transpired over the course of two council meetings, May 20 and June 3, but it seemed to be what happened outside the initial meeting on May 21 that caused two council members to request the decision from May 20 be scrapped and redone.

Ultimately, the Calexico City Council on June 3 unanimously moved ahead with separating the community services department into two departments and creating two separate department head positions with new salary schedules, among other decisions.

Simple enough. Yes, but not really.

On May 20, the council, by a 3-2 vote, approved cleaving the community services department, too. It also created two new department heads, yet with the caveat that the recreation department manager position no longer require a bachelor’s degree, like every other department head position in the city.

At the time, council member Morris Reisen made the motion and suggestion to drop the college-degree requirement, and council members Rosie Fernandez and Mayor Bill Hodge agreed. Council members David Romero and Lewis Pacheco voted against the decision.

Public Works manager and department head Lilliana Falomir noted before the vote was taken May 20 that because all department heads are required to have a bachelor’s degree, the scale of pay for the recreation department manager should be changed as well. Nothing else was said.

The council remained largely silent to Falomir’s comment, and the vote was taken, seemingly a done deal. But the issue was put back on the agenda for June 3 with no mention of why, and requests to city officials prior to June 3 to explain the reason for the reappearance were not answered.

Hodge explained what happened during an interview June 4.

“The next day after the meeting (of May 20), a couple of city employees approached me, and said it (the decision) would cause tension and problems and the unions would consider suing the city,” Hodge said.

Hodge explained it was the bachelor’s degree requirement, or lack thereof, that was the source of concern, and he said one of the city employees who approached him was the leader of a city collective bargaining unit, Calexico Municipal Employees’ Association President Lorena Minor.

So, Hodge said he contacted Fernandez, and Fernandez and Hodge requested to City Manager David Dale that the whole issue be reconsidered at the next meeting, which was June 3.

Dale said June 6 that he had no idea anyone in the city had threatened legal action and simply thought Fernandez and Hodge had a change of heart on the issue.

By all outward appearances from the discussion at the June 3 meeting, the whole idea of a legal challenge was not even an issue. It was never mentioned, and the decision was done and over within several minutes.

There was a brief mention that the bachelor’s degree requirement had been returned to the recreation department job description, and a change from the previous agenda had been that the salary range was increased slightly, but that’s it. The entire issue was approved 5-0, with nearly no discussion.

Prior to the council’s May 20 decision to divide the community services department, which had long been under the direction of now-retired city Librarian Sandra Tauler, all city department managers were required to have at least a bachelor’s degree.

“We’re watering down this position,” Pacheco said May 20.

The initial and subsequent votes not only approved dividing the departments but creating three new positions total, two full-time department managers and a part-time cultural arts assistant under the recreation department, which will now oversee all activities at the Carmen Durazo Cultural Arts Center.

Under the retooled departments, a library manager will oversee the Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Memorial Library and the Carnegie Technology Center, and the recreation manager will oversee recreation functions and the Carmen Durazo center, according to a new organizational structure prepared by city Human Resources Manager Denise Garcia.

Garcia’s report to the council as part of the May 20 and June 3 agendas stated there was negligible effect on the city’s general fund, “compared to the current structure.”

Lizeth Legaspi presently oversees the library, and the city manager’s executive assistant, Norma Gerardo, oversees the recreation department.

Garcia said May 20 the city would advertise for all three new positions following the decision.

This story is featured in the Jun 11, 2020 e-Edition.

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