The El Monte City Council will hold a special meeting Wednesday to begin a formal censure process against Mayor Pro-Tem Victoria Martinez-Muela over allegations that she improperly accepted financial assistance from a lobbyist to help pay for breast augmentation surgery, an official said Sunday.
Martinez-Muela is accused of accepting $1,000 from lobbyist Sigrid Lopez at a time when state law limited gifts to public officials to $460 from a single source. The councilwoman allegedly did not disclose the payment as a gift or loan on her financial interests disclosure form, as required under state law.
Martinez-Muela did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday, but the Los Angeles Times has reported that she said there was nothing improper about the payment because it had nothing to do with city business.
The scheduled vote arises from an official written request submitted by Councilman Martin Herrera and Councilwoman Maria Morales, and follows last week’s special meeting of the council in which a 3-0 majority decided to move forward with the process.
“The initiation of the formal censure process does not denote a finding by the City Council of wrongdoing. It is an acknowledgment that the allegations brought to light, whether or not they are true, pose a serious threat to the public’s trust in their public officials and must be investigated,” Herrera said.
Herrera says Lopez accused Martinez-Muela in a signed declaration to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office of accepting monetary and in-kind gifts over state contribution limits and failing to report them on required state forms and financial statements. He adds that Martinez-Muela allegedly did not recuse herself from votes to extend the contract of Lopez’s then-employer.
The Times said former El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero submitted a complaint to the DA’s Office about the payment in May. Martinez-Muela called his action an attempt to distract from her raising concerns over a possible conflict of interest in a city security contract and alleged wrongdoing in the awarding of cannabis store licenses, according to the Times.
“Allegations of corrupt elected officials seem to roll off the tongue so readily these days,” Herrera said, “but when they are as detailed as these are, and you have a signed name behind a formal complaint to authorities, you have to take them seriously.”
The city’s censure process requires submitting a written request from one or more council members to the City Clerk. An independent investigation is then conducted to determine sufficient evidence to warrant a formal disciplinary hearing. If a hearing is held, the accused council member is allowed to refute evidence or testimony against them.
After a hearing has been conducted, the hearing officer will submit a report to the City Council with a recommendation, and the council would then decide if an official censure is warranted.