By Steven Tavares.
The San Leandro City Council, voted 6-0, to put Zapata on paid leave. Assistant City Manager Jeff Kay becomes interim city manager, the council announced following the nearly two-hour closed session meeting.
In a statement issued by San Leandro Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter shortly after Tuesday’s vote, she acknowledged an investigation into the claims against Zapata is underway and “the City Council was not aware that the City Manager intended to publicly address the allegations in detail,” a reference to a 23-page memorandum Zapata released to the public on Jan. 16 to rebut the claims against him.
“The council determined today that it is best for all parties involved that the City Manager remain on leave until the independent investigation is concluded,” Cutter added.
“The City of San Leandro does not tolerate nor condone harassment of any type. It also believes in due process. The City Manager will remain on leave until the City Council has had the opportunity to review the findings from the independent investigator,” said Cutter.
In a statement issued Tuesday night, Johnson said the council’s action should have taken place after she filed a complaint with the city on Dec. 8. “The city has created additional legal liabilities for itself by allowing him to remain and especially after his twenty-three page rambling letter that made additional false and misleading statements,” said Johnson. “It is wrong, it is unacceptable, and it is unconscionable to use a public office.”
Prior to the council’s closed session meeting, Councilmember Deborah Cox told the public in attendance that Tuesday night’s discussion would not touch on the matters alleged by Davis Street Family Resource Center CEO Rose Padilla Johnson, including claims Zapata engaged in a pattern of sexually-tinged banter, and insisted that meetings on the subject of the city and the Davis Street Family Resource Center be held privately in cars.
This was not entirely the case. San Leandro City Attorney Richard Pio Roda acknowledged the council’s decision was based on the claims currently being investigated, but also, the events surrounding the dissemination by Zapata of his lengthy letter last week.
Tuesday’s action, in addition, to a dizzying last seven days in San Leandro politics, is a significant turn of events for the city and Zapata. By most accounts, Zapata has presided over a period of substantial growth and continuity in San Leandro. Zapata is also viewed positively by those employed at City Hall. But the allegations aired by Johnson have also percolated as rumors around the city for months.
Exactly how members of the San Leandro community, in general, are reacting to this burgeoning political scandal remains unclear. A representative from the influential Alameda Labor Council reiterated a letter sent earlier in the day calling for Zapata to resign. Meanwhile, two former San Leandro councilmembers, Jim Prola and Diana Souza, spoke strongly in favor of retaining Zapata, as did Diana Prola, a San Leandro school board member.
But it was Jim Prola’s comments which were the most surprising. Termed out in 2016, Prola was one of the council’s biggest supporters of Johnson and the Davis Street non-profit. Prola also led the push for the council to choose the Davis Street Wellness Center medical cannabis dispensary as the city’s second permit holder. (The Resource Center and Wellness Center are separate entities, but share Johnson among their board members).
Prola said Zapata is “being treated unfairly” by Johnson and believes the city’s investigation should come to a conclusion before the council takes any definitive action. Prola also shot down a key accusation made by Johnson that Zapata told her “you hold the keys,” a phrase she took as a proposition for trading an intimate relationship for an extension of a $1.5 million loan obligation from the non-profit to the city. Prola said Tuesday that he recalls, as a councilmember, Zapata using the same phrase to him, but in reference to the Davis Street Family Resource Center’s repayment of the loan to move the process forward.
Souza, who was termed out and last served on the council 2014, suggested Johnson was untrustworthy and described being the victim herself of a “Rose Johnson lie.” When asked later about the statement, Souza said Johnson made a series of inaccurate statements about her during the time the Davis Street Wellness Center was seeking a medical cannabis dispensary in San Leandro, including an assertion that Souza was employed by a competing dispensary applicant.