Local Politics

Thursday, Apr 17 2014 06:30 PM

Salas' staffers departures stun so close to primary

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Assemblymember Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, recently addressed the media at the newly reopened Delano Community Correctional Facility. Delano Police Department Corrections Cmdr. Joe Pilkington is left; Delano Chief of Police Mark DeRosia is right.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Two employees have resigned from the office of Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, this week, prompting an accusation from a former staffer's spouse of "unethical" behavior.

Their departures come less than two months before the June 3 primary -- though Salas is sure to finish in the top two and go on to the November general election. He faces two Republicans in June in the Democratic-heavy 32nd Assembly District.

Salas' district coordinator, Willie Rivera, a Bakersfield councilman who represents the southeast, left Tuesday to start a new position in Bakersfield the following day with the Corporation for Better Housing.

The assemblyman's senior field representative, Elva Lopez Martinez, left on Wednesday.

They join at least three other staffers who have left Salas' office since voters elected the former Bakersfield Ward 1 councilman -- Rivera's immediate predecessor -- in November 2012.

On Thursday, Martinez's Facebook status still indicated she worked for Salas.

In two Facebook posts Wednesday, her husband, Tony Martinez, a retired community relations specialist for the Bakersfield Police Department, indicated his wife's departure may not have been routine.

"Wow....just got a text from Elva Lopez Martinez that she had had enough and was leaving her job effective immediately!" Martinez wrote. "What is happening in Assembly member Rudy Salas' local office that in one year, two directors, two field (representatives) and now Elva have left the local office. ... "

In a second Facebook post, he added: " ... Hanford and Sacramento staffers also sitting on the bubble or have given notice. Listening to stories can only think of one word...Unethical......and so it begins!!"

The posts were removed from Facebook Thursday morning, and Tony Martinez declined to discuss the situation, saying in a Facebook message he was "being advised not to say or post anything further."

In an interview, Lopez Martinez -- a former field representative for state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter -- said she had only returned to work for Salas April 1 following a five-month stress leave.

"My doctor just pulled me off the work because he said if I kept going at the pace I was going, I was going to have a heart attack," Lopez Martinez said. "A lot of times these members that we elect, they make these employment laws and they don't follow them. They work their staffs to the bone."

Asked if that was why she left, Lopez Martinez declined to respond because she was "in the process of seeking legal advice."

Three other employees have tendered their resignations to Salas -- himself a former Florez staffer -- during his 16 months in office.

Two are part-time field representative April Hernandez and full-time scheduler Veronica Alarcon, according to Jon Waldie, chief administrative officer for the California State Assembly.

Their exact dates of employment were unavailable late Thursday.

The third is Chris Chamberlain, Salas' former district director, who worked for Salas from his swearing-in in December 2012 to October 2013, when he resigned to pursue a teaching career.

Chamberlain declined to discuss his time with Salas or to comment on recent turnover at the Assembly office, and said he had signed a non-disclosure form when he left.

Salas' press aide, Jillian Rice, also declined to discuss the recent departures.

"Unfortunately, we're not really -- since it's a personnel matter -- we're not really allowed to discuss that," Rice said.

Rivera described his parting with Salas as amicable, and said while politics "can take a great toll on someone and I think if you've been doing it for many, many years, the promise of something that might enable you to enjoy a Saturday or a Sunday is appealing," staffers know they're not signing up for a 9-to-5 job.

Candi Easter, chair of the Kern County Democratic Central Committee, said she was "completely stunned" by the news.

"I don't even know what that's referring to," Easter said of Martinez's "unethical" Facebook post, adding, "Salas worked for Dean Florez for many, many years. I would think he would know how to act. I would think he would know how to behave."

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