May 16, 2024 - Politics

The messy San Diego County exec fight is getting messier

Illustration of San Diego City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A fight over the hiring of the most powerful official in the San Diego County government is only escalating.

Why it matters: The county is set to pick — by the end of the month — between two finalists for its next chief administrative officer, whose duties including controlling an annual budget of more than $8 billion.

Catch up quick: Cindy Chavez — an elected supervisor in Santa Clara County, and the former leader of a Bay Area labor group — last year received a conditional offer for the position, before the board recanted and restarted its search.

Driving the news: A lawyer representing Chavez sent a letter Tuesday threatening to sue over "numerous irregularities" in the hiring process.

State of play: In the letter to Nora Vargas, chair of the county board of supervisors, Chavez's lawyer asked the county to preserve records related to the search and hiring process.

  • The letter alleges a supervisor or associate improperly disclosed confidential information to a third party about candidates and the process.
  • It alleges "at least one" supervisor discussed Chavez's race and ethnicity during the search.
  • A supervisor who previously voted to offer Chavez the job told an external party that she was not qualified for the role, the letter also says.

What they're saying: "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," the letter reads.

The other side: In a written statement to Axios, Vargas said the board followed a transparent process and cannot comment on candidates.

  • "As the nation's 5th largest county, the Board of Supervisors is dedicated to adhering strictly to best practices, including upholding confidentiality laws and policies," she wrote.

Friction point: Both the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council and the San Diego County Democratic Party passed motions endorsing Chavez for the role, but the county board — which has a 3-2 Democratic majority — went another direction.

Inside the room: Crystal Irving, leader of the largest county workers union, said in an Instagram post that Vargas referred to Chavez as "unqualified" in private conversations before the interview process.

  • "Nora started making comments to anyone that asked about the CAO that we needed someone with financial experience… this was widely understood as unsupportive of Cindy," Irving said.

The big picture: The county selected two undisclosed finalists for the role earlier this month, who are due to interview with a 10-person community panel before the board conducts final interviews on May 22.

  • A final decision will be announced June 4.
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