To say it’s been quite a roller-coaster 35 days for former Medley electrical inspector Bob Ruiz might be understating the issue.
In a Dec. 3 Medley council meeting, Ruiz found himself out of a job when the council voted to terminate him by a split 3-2 margin.
At the town’s most recent meeting this past Monday night (Jan. 7), Ruiz, who was not at either meeting, got his job back.
But Ruiz was not reinstated before a lot of debate between disagreeing council members and Ruiz’s legal representation, who came in the form of District 36 State Representative Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. A vote eventually was taken and it was again 3-2, but this time in Ruiz’s favor.
After allegations of improper compensation that only he collected and not the town was brought to light last month, Vice Mayor Griselia Digiacomo made a motion Ruiz be immediately terminated, prompting the 3-2 vote — with Mayor Roberto Martell and Councilman Jack Morrow voting no.
At that meeting it was alleged that, without any council approval or knowledge, potential contractors approaching the town for permits in the Building and Zoning Department were being charged an extra $350 by Ruiz on top of the regular permit fees — for “expedited” permit fees that were going directly to Ruiz without the town seeing any of the added revenue.
But after a month of reviewing the case, Town Attorney Michael Pizzi reported on Monday night that the problem came from higher up and Morrow was only too quick to point that out.
“Bob (Ruiz) was only doing his job and those checks were being signed off on by the previous administration, which was not doing their job,” said Morrow. “It falls back on the leadership and there was no leadership.”
“I have come here to get my client’s name cleared tonight,” said Diaz de la Portilla. “I feel Mr. Ruiz has been unfairly singled out by a system that clearly needed some fixing and wish to make it abundantly clear that at no time did he ever do anything that would be considered unethical.”
But Digiacomo was holding her ground, much to the irritation of both Morrow and Diaz de la Portilla.
“I have talked to some citizens who have complained to me about Mr. Ruiz that he would only give them his approval if they purchased supplies directly from him at his store,” said Digiacomo. “I thought the agenda item was a discussion on the building department and was not ready to bring this up tonight.”
“I find it very disappointing that an official up on your dais would bring something without any foundation like that up in a public forum,” said Diaz de la Portilla. “I would also inform you that such comments like that can be actionable.”
“As requested, I looked into this issue,” Pizzi said in his written report to the council. “While the Town of Medley does have a fee called an ‘Expedited Permit Fee,’ this fee is payable to the town, and the council has never authorized the entire payment to be made to the subcontractors or inspectors. The fee should be paid to the town and the applicable inspectors should receive whatever percentage as per their agreement(s), the Town of Medley Code or laws provided for.
“Paying the fee in its entirety to the inspector(s) also creates a scenario whereby those who apply for permits may attempt to obtain a favorable inspection by asking for the expedited review. In other words, the contractor could obtain favorable inspections by agreeing to pay extra, not because the expedited review is needed, but because they will get a favorable inspection as the extra income is given to the inspectors.”
Pizzi’s report ultimately concluded that the Medley Code did not provide for expedited permit fees to be paid in their entirety to inspectors and such a practice was ill advised, had been stopped and should not be resumed. Thus the problem at this point had been corrected.
Eventually, Councilwoman Susana Guasch, who had voted in favor of Ruiz’s dismissal in December, seconded Morrow’s motion to reinstate Ruiz and the roll call ensued. Predictably, Digiacomo voted no and Edgar Ayala also voted no. That left it up to Martell to break the 2-2 deadlock and did so with a “yes” vote, meaning Ruiz was employed again.
“Tell Bob he can report to work tomorrow,” Martell said to Diaz de la Portilla as he exited the council chambers.