In what some might see as a controversial move, a Sweetwater police officer of 30 years has been appointed to fill the city’s vacant commission seat.
At Monday’s meeting, Catalino Rodriguez, 68, was chosen by the city commission on a 4-2 vote to take the seat left vacant by Jose Diaz, who was sworn in as mayor on Aug. 12. Also at the meeting, the commission selected Orlando Lopez as vice president of the commission. Commissioner Manuel Duasso was absent.
A total of 13 candidates submitted their résumés, but Rodriguez wasn’t part of that group.
Mayor Jose Diaz said the appointment didn’t reflect “the level of transparency the city wanted,” but that he respected the commission’s decision.
“He is a great person,” Diaz said. “But I think that it was not equitable, the way in which he was nominated.”
Rodriguez, who has survived two battles with cancer, spoke about his plans as a commissioner after being sworn in.
“I want to implement new ways of improving services to the community,” he said. “There are things that I believe should be changed. After 30 years as a police officer, I have seen many things.”
The commission had 90 days from the creation of the vacancy to fill it. Commissioners had been expected to appoint someone to the seat on Sept. 9 but voted instead to postpone the action.
The commission then suggested that any person interested in the seat should submit their résumés and have a background check conducted. It was the first time such a move had been implemented. City rules say the commission must appoint someone to a vacant seat. When he was appointed, Rodriguez quickly handed his resignation letter to Police Chief Roberto Fulgueira, who was surprised by the resignation.
“He kept it hush-hush,” Fulgueira said. “I’m happy. He’s honorable. He has worked for me for 30 years. He has served this city for half of his life and will continue to serve the city in a different capacity.”
During the meeting, candidates who had submitted their résumés were able to speak for three minutes.
Also, community activist and former candidate Deborah Centeno presented 220 signatures from people who were in favor of an election for the vacant seat.
“Unfortunately, we can’t trust in the actual commission” Centeno said.
She said she would start the process of a recall. But Lopez said such an action would have to wait until 2015 — during the next city elections — and noted that commissioners appointing a person to a vacant seat had been part of the city charter for years.
“If she is asking for us to change it, it must be done by referendum, thus taking us through to the elections of May 2015.”
Meanwhile, Rodriguez said he wants to improve transportation services in the city and the way people view Sweetwater.
“I want to change the image of the city,” he said. “I have to find out what my power allows me to. Remember, I have been a police officer, never a politician.”