Controversy surrounds West Covina Councilman

Good morning.
In case you missed this over the weekend, problems surface in West Covina City Hall:

Hernandez at center of controversy
By Ben Baeder, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 11/07/2008 11:46:29 PM PST

WEST COVINA – Politics at City Hall are getting personal.

Over the past two months, a councilman has sought police protection at public meetings, alleging he’s been intimidated by fellow council members.

And two top city staff members filed complaints about the same councilman, with one demanding $3 million and a guarantee he won’t be fired until he is 60.

At the center of all the complaints is Councilman Roger Hernandez, who claims it is his right to manage city employees, questioning the value of their work and their ethics as needed.

“The people elected me to do what I think is right for the city,” Hernandez said. “The ethics of the city staff are my responsibility.”

Hernandez’s complaints about city staffers have upset his fellow council members, he said.

After a closed-session meeting on Sept. 2, Hernandez told the city’s police chief that council members Mike Touhey and Steve Herfert physically intimidated him.

“Mr. Hernandez informed me that for the past several months he has felt very unsafe during closed-session meetings,” wrote West Covina police Chief Frank Wills in a Sept. 10 memo.

Touhey never touched Hernandez but “often invades his personal space and points a finger very close to his head or chest while in an agitated state,” Wills noted in the memo.

Hernandez also said Herfert “made him fear for his personal safety” and threatened to “get” him, according to the memo.

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Hernandez asked Wills that a police officer be present during closed-session meetings.

Herfert and Touhey said nothing close to intimidation ever took place at a closed-session meeting.

Touhey said he and Hernandez have been at several events together since Sept. 2.

“If he was so afraid of me, why does he sit right next to me?” Touhey said.

Herfert said the whole discussion of threats is absurd.

“Every time (Hernandez) has a problem, he basically blames it on someone else,” Herfert said. “We’ve never had (physically) confrontational closed sessions. I’ve never threatened Roger, and he has never threatened me.”

Three weeks after the argument in the Sept. 2 closed session, Community Development Director Chris Chung demanded $3 million related to a claim he made a year ago. In Chung’s complaint, he says he deserves $3 million because of a hostile work environment created by Hernandez.

Chung claims that Hernandez, over the past two years, has publicly and privately criticized development deals overseen by Chung. He also claimed that Hernandez cussed at him.

Chung has diabetes, high blood pressure and an ulcer because of his dealings with Hernandez, said Victor Jacobovitz, Chung’s attorney.

“In this situation, our client’s condition has been drastically affected by the conduct of Mr. Hernandez,” Jacobovitz said. “These are conditions that could shorten his life.”

Hernandez denies harassing Chung. He acknowledges he once cursed in Chung’s presence, but contends he never cursed directly at Chung. He rarely ever talks to Chung, he said.

“Put me on a lie detector test,” he said. “I would gladly take one. I never have talked to a member of city staff like that. Never.”

Then on Oct. 23, Public Information Officer Susan Williams also filed a claim with the city, saying Hernandez has caused her to become physically ill.

In the complaint, she said Hernandez harmed her by naming her when discussing the elimination of the city’s public information officer position.

Along with irritable bowels, hair loss and nausea, the episode made Williams fear she would have a heart attack, she wrote in the report.

Williams, who did not return several calls seeking comment, did not detail how much she seeks from the city.

In an e-mail, she wrote: “It is with great regret that I had to file a claim. However, I have been negatively affected both personally and professionally and feel that I must protect my health, welfare, reputation and stand up for what is right.”

Touhey said Hernandez should go through the city manager when he disagrees with an employee.

City workers are in a union that demands certain protocols, he said.

“There’s still union rights and I respect that,” he said. “You can mention an employee’s job, but you shouldn’t say the name.”

Hernandez said the complaints are an organized attack against him because he often votes against development projects favored by the other members of the council.

Either way, Hernandez has a right to bring up the performance of city employees, said Peter Scheer of the California First Amendment Coalition.

Even naming an employee in the context of budget cuts is most likely legal and acceptable.

“It would seem to me the council member is expressing his or her right to speak,” Scheer said. “And that includes speaking critically about an employee.”

  • Hernandez blows

    Roger Hernandez is ALWAYS in f’n trouble. I can’t say he has always been guilty, but jesus dude, good people aren’t constantly having reviews of their ethics, complaining about co-workers and citing racial bias when someone calls your own ethics into question. You need to get out of WC and go somewhere you fit in better…maybe Tijuana or better yet, for your boy Hugo Chavez

  • HERNANDEZ SHOULD NOT BE MAYOR

    Hernandez Record:

    Employees at the Rowland Unified School District left after Hernandez was elected to the School Board because during his Senior year in High School he was expelled for slapping his girlfriend in the face. He was actually sent from Nogales to Rowland because of this action.

    When elected to the Board, he threatened the former Superintendent at Rowland Unified School District

    When elected to The West Covina City Council he refused to resign from the Roland Board. It took Senator Gloria Romeros state legislative action to get him to understand you cant hold two offices at the same time.

    As a Councilmember he voted to give Mr. Alhassen 3.5 million taxpayer dollars. Within six months he was investigated by the DA for purchasing an SUV from Mr. Alhassen for almost nothing. He claimed he was a good businessman. Within a few months he traded in the car at a value greater than what he purchased it. Subsequently he has been seen at the Alhassen dealership weekly and is always asking for City legal fees regarding the Alhassen lawsuit, now worth over 7 million dollars to the City. Hernandez wants his buddy Alhassen to get a special deal.

    With regards to the DA investigation, he accused Councilmember Touhey of turning him into the DA. It was later revealed that the person who turned him in was actually a person who loaned him money for his campaign and Hernandez refuse to pay him.

    For the first time in the history of West Covina. A Councilman Mr. Hernandez tuitition was paid for by the City of West Covina residents. How did this $10,000+ expense benefit the residents?

    In 2006, Mr. Hernandez was investigated for Hostile work issues related to West Covina City employees. In the report by private investigator Ed McErlain, he found that Mr. Hernandez was guilty of inappropriate conduct by a preponderance of evidence. Nine City employees came forward to state incidences where Mr. Hernandez intimidated them. The City Council censored Mr. Herandez for his actions.

    In 2007 police were called to Mr. Hernandez house after screams from a woman. He resisted arrest and was uncooperative with police. The police questioned a woman at the house and she stated they were arguing. Subsequently Mr. Hernandez blamed Councilmember Touhey for calling the police. This was later proven untrue by a Sheriff Department investigation. Then after his election was in doubt, he charge the West Covina Police Department with falsifying the report. He later, after the election, admitted he was made up the charges.

    In October of 2008 Mr. Hernandez Campaign Manager plead guilty of election fraud. She registered at Hernandez house in West Covina when she lived in LA. Hernandez is also under investigation

    Two West Covina employees have filed claims against the City of West Covina for Mr. Hernandez actions. These lawsuits could cost the City more than 6 million dollars. The City Council must now defend Mr. Hernandez or settle with the employees.

  • Someone Else

    Obviously some people do not READ. If you read the above mentioned article it states “The councilman has a right to speak including speaking critically about an employee.” The two employees in question, one is in a position to be queried by the Council. The other has a position that has the word “public” in the title. If they are having trouble because of thier respective jobs perhaps they should look for work elsewhere.

  • Anonymous

    People telling Roger Hernandez to “Go back to Mexico” or “Go back to Venezuela,” and haters that keep posting the same tired tripe, tell me that the real reason why there’s always a Hernandez controversy has very little to do with Roger and a great deal to do with people who are just plain haters.