.Supervisor Chavez Threatens to Sue San Diego County

Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez has notified San Diego County’s Board of Supervisors that she is considering “potential litigation” against her Southern California counterparts because of the way she was treated as an applicant for that county’s chief administrative officer.

A letter sent via email on behalf of Chavez by a prominent San Francisco pro-labor law firm cited “numerous irregularities” in the CAO search process, including possibly unfair and discriminatory practices.

The letter asked San Diego supervisors board Chair Nora Vargas to preserve all records related to the CAO job search from January 2023 through the present.

The letter confirmed that San Diego County had made a “conditional offer of employment” to Chavez a year ago but then rescinded it last September. Chavez reapplied for the position in January when the county began a new search process in January, but the county told her last month she was “no longer being considered” for the CAO position, according to the May 14 letter, signed by lawyer B. J. Chisholm of the law firm Altshuler Berzon LLP.

“In light of these apparent irregularities, Ms. Chavez is currently considering her next steps, including potential litigation,” the law firm letter said.

Throughout the 16-month hiring process, Chavez has kept a low profile and ignored all requests for public comment. Her San Diego County supporters, including the county’s Democratic Party central committee, the San Diego and Imperial Counties AFL-CIO Labor Council and individual unions, including the SEIU Local 221, which represents more than half of all county employees, have become increasingly public and aggressive, mounting a vigorous campaign for her appointment, including outdoor rallies, attack mailers, disruption of public meetings and personal attacks on supervisors.

The county concluded an initial round of interviews with at least two finalists last Friday, and was expected to conclude its private interviews on May 22.

“We have received information indicating that Ms. Chavez’s race and ethnicity were subjects of discussion and question by at least one supervisor during the search process,” Chisholm wrote.

The letter requests that Vargas ensure that San Diego County preserve all official records “relating to the search and hiring process for the CAO, from January 2023 to the present,” and official records for individual supervisors and staff for the same time period.

Altshuler Berzon is an influential public interest, pro-union San Francisco law firm that is a prominent member of the AFL-CIO Union Lawyers Alliance. The alliance is a national membership organization of over 2,100 “union-side” lawyers in more than 500 firms and union legal departments around the country.

According to its website, the alliance “facilitates the exchange of information and strategies, mobilizes union-side lawyers in labor movement programs, provides legal education and networking opportunities, and assists ULA members in recruiting and retaining new lawyers and lawyers of color.”

“As a woman of color, Ms. Chavez is familiar with harmful stereotypes that undermine and disparage the qualifications of women of color in leadership roles, and she takes extremely seriously any attempt to undermine her experience, to question her race or ethnicity, or to judge her qualifications on anything other than their merits,” the Altshuler Berzon lawyer wrote in the letter sent to San Diego supervisors.

“We are extremely concerned that information regarding the search and hiring process, including confidential information about the candidates and about the anticipated timing of board action, appears to have been shared by a supervisor or others privy to the information with individuals external to the official process,” Chisholm wrote. “It has also been reported that one Supervisor, who had previously voted to offer Ms. Chavez the CAO position, stated to an individual external to the official process the view that Ms. Chavez was not qualified for the position.”

The lawyer’s letter said “Ms. Chavez is committed to making sure that the community’s interests in a fair and transparent process are protected, and that all candidates for public employment are treated fairly and with the dignity they deserve.”

San Diego County politics had been dominated by conservative, pro-business Republicans for decades, until shifting demographics led to a first-ever Democrat 3-2 majority in 2020.

Chavez had reportedly been the favorite of the Democratic majority of the board last spring. Her appointment was scuttled at the last minute, when a sexual harassment scandal forced the resignation of Supervisor Nathan Fletcher—husband of Chavez friend and political ally, state labor leader Lorena Gonzales Fletcher—and the postponement of the CAO search until after the November election. When another Democrat was elected to fill Fletcher’s seat, supervisors re-advertised the position.

barry holtzclaw, managing editor sanjoseinside
Barry Holtzclawhttp://sanjoseinside.com/
Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with Weeklys Publishing since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.

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