Four members of the Tulare County Democratic Central Committee who were removed or had their voting rights stripped, have been reinstated following a California Democratic Party review of the TCDCC’s actions.
An eight-page finding by the CDP’s Compliance Review Committee issued March 16, states the procedure used to remove the four TCDCC members — Albert Aguilar of Tulare, Annette Guadagnin of Visalia, Susanne Gundy of Visalia and Suzanna Aguilera-Marrero, a former congressional candidate — was inconsistent with both the state
party’s bylaws and those of the TCDCC. Further, TCDCC representation on the Democratic State Central Committee and its Executive Board was suspended until the members are reinstated with full rights to participate and the TCDCC has officially notified the California Secretary of State. The TCDCC voted to reinstate the four.
Rules not followed
Yet, tensions appear to remain high among local party leadership, and the two sides continue to disagree about why the members were removed or had their rights revoked. Of the four, only Aguilera-Marrero was allowed to continue attending TCDCC functions, but without the ability to fully participate.
What all parties involved agree upon is the notices for the meetings at which the TCDCC acted were not properly presented. The first action to change the status of those involved took place at a meeting held Oct. 22, 2014 and noticed on Oct. 14, 2014. The notice, however, did not contain the agenda for the meeting, meaning those affected and the other members of the TCDCC did not know the issue would be discussed.
“They were reinstated because of a technicality,” said TCDCC Chair Ruben Macareno. “We didn’t send out the announcement in time.”
The CDP’s report also states the also TCDCC violated its own bylaws by failing to provide proper notice and not following its own procedure for removal of members. Additionally, the CDP reports the charges levied against the four members by the TCDCC — including attempting to “harm the Central Committee,” its reputation, well-being and work, among a long list of other alleged violations of TCDCC orders and confidentiality — were too vague, containing no descriptions of specific actions of the individuals in question or the dates on which the alleged wrongdoing occurred. Further, the TCDCC unfairly placed the burden of proof on those accused of misconduct, the report said, requiring them to “show just cause why they should not be removed. …”
Refusal to participate
When the four members being considered for sanction refused to participate in the TCDCC’s attempt to remove them or their voting rights, the Executive Committee erroneously assumed the four had given up their right to due process by failing to appear for trial, the CDP finding states. The four were officially sanctioned by the TCDCC at a meeting held Jan. 22, 2015, however, the CDP found that meeting was also incorrectly noticed. The notice was distributed just one day prior to the meeting, and the agenda contained only a reference to an executive session to discuss a confidential matter.
“We (the four accused) came to the meeting in October. At the beginning, … before going on the agenda, (Jack Gonzalez, vice chair of the TCDCC and chair of its Credentials Committee) announced the Credentials Committee had suspended us immediately, that we could not speak, ask questions, even members of the public were put on a gag order not to talk about the suspensions,” said formerly removed member Susanne Gundy, “We were not allowed to see the evidence. We weren’t allowed to have an attorney present. We declined to appear.”
The four accused were not even aware their status was to be decided at the Jan. 22 meeting, Gundy said.
“We just happened to show up,” she said. “I got that agenda the morning of the meeting. We didn’t even know what it meant.”
The four again declined to participate in the trial to decide their status as TCDCC members.
Aguilera-Marrero, a Tulare resident who ran an unsuccessful Democratic campaign for the 22nd Congressional District in the US House of Representatives in 2014, said although her voting rights with the TCDCC were suspended Oct. 22, 2014, she did not receive official notice of the charges against her until Feb. 2 of this year.
“I thought my due process was violated,” she said. “Before I can defend myself, I have to know what I’ve done. I never got a copy of these charges until February second.”
The two sides in the conflict continue to maintain two very different stories about why the four were singled out for sanction. The charges levied against all four by the TCDCC include attempting to hampering the Committee’s work and damaging its reputation. Other charges leveled individually include sharing TCDCC official business with nonmembers, distribution of confidential financial information, harassing TCDCC members, disrupting meetings, failing to follow confidentiality orders and recording TCDCC meetings without disclosure.
According to Gundy, the four were sanctioned because they raised questions about the TCDCC’s finances and its reports to the state.
“What happened is as a result of a few meetings prior to (the Oct. 22 TCDCC meeting), (suspended TCDCC alternate member Albert Aguilar) looked into the financial statements. Al requested back reports and found irregularities.”
Those included errors in accounting, as well as late reporting of monthly financial statements to the Secretary of State, she said.
“It was like lack of accountability,” Gundy said. “There wasn’t good accounting. The reports weren’t filed in a timely basis.”
In response, a special meeting to review the finances was called, and the four members later sanctioned were in attendance.
“A month or so later, we were all suspended. Is that a coincidence?” Gundy asked. “The four of us who asked questions were suspended. They said you’re standing in the way of normal business by asking all these questions.”
Source of errors
Macareno, however, said the inconsistencies were minor, citing a 9-cent error in one case, and said the tardy financial reports were made mostly before he assumed the TCDCC chair.
“Any little inaccuracy becomes a big deal with an agenda,” he said. “Trust me, we don’t have that much money. Everything can be accounted for.”
In the wake of that meeting, the TCDCC has addressed the issues raised, Macareno said.
“We’ve hired an accounting firm to be our treasurer,” he said.
Macareno lays blame for much of the late financial reporting at the feet of former TCDCC treasurer and suspended member Guadagnin, who suffered a stroke in June of 2013, after accepting the position in May of that year.
“Half of my chairmanship there was (late reporting),” Macareno said. “We had a lot of fees.”
Citing her failing health, Guadagnin resigned as treasurer in September, 2013. The TCDCC Executive Committee, she said, refused to accept her resignation, forcing her to forward her resignation directly to the CDP.
“They (the TCDCC) fought it,” she said. “I had to submit it to the state.”
Following her resignation, Macareno assumed the treasurer position in addition to holding the chair. At the Oct. 22 meeting, TCDCC member Grace Calderon was elected treasurer for the body, but TCDCC did not submit notice of that change to the Secretary of State’s office within the required reporting period, Guadagnin said, meaning Macareno remains in that position. Guadagnin also said she handed over all the TCDCC’s financial documents to Macareno in September of 2013.
“I turned the reports over to him Sept. 25, 2013. He didn’t pick them up until October,” she said. “All they had to do was file the report. They’ve always tried to pin that on me.”
Guadagnin, who is also a member of the Tulare County Grand Jury, said she and the others involved will continue to press for an investigation into TCDCC’s finances.
“They filed one report at least a year late,” she said. “They were out of balance every month. All we wanted to do was get the errors fixed and go on. That’s when he (Macareno) started writing changes and removed us.”
While Macareno said the TCDCC’s bylaws have not been altered as the removed members and others have claimed, Guadagnin said the TCDCC bylaws have been changed this month. She also claims the TCDCC has not provided information about how its business was conducted while she was under sanction.
“I want the agenda, the minutes and treasurer’s reports while I was expelled. They have not supplied that,” Guadagnin said. “They do a lot of things behind the scenes. (At the most recent meeting) they wanted to have $2,000 or $4,000 approved for attorneys costs, but wouldn’t say what it’s for. They won’t be transparent with the members. I want to know, and as a member I have a right to know.”
The ongoing lack of transparency, she said, left little choice but to ask for outside intervention. When appealing to the CDP to remove the sanctions against them, those accused also called for an investigation of Macareno for his conduct as chair. The CDP declined to do so, as such action would be outside their legal reach, its report said.
“We’re going to file a complaint with the Secretary of State,” Guadignan said. “There are financial irregularities with the Committee.”
Conflict of personalities
Macareno maintains the charges leveled against him are the result of a personality conflict among the membership and that he continues to have the full confidence of the TCDCC.
“I have unanimous support of the Committee,” he said. “It’s just personality problems with more than one person. If they don’t like me, there’s not much I can do about that. I’m true to my convictions.”
And, he feels the actions of those sanctioned were not in line with the best interests of the TCDCC and its membership, but said the TCDCC will not appeal the CDP’s decision or make another immediate attempt to remove those previously sanctioned.
“I still feel very strongly about that. They purposefully went out to undermine the Central Committee. That’s what the trial was all about,” Macareno said. “There won’t be another attempt (to remove members). But, if we find another reason, we won’t hesitate.”
Despite apparently lingering bad feelings on all sides, those involved seem ready to return to business as usual.
“We’re going to move forward as a committee,” Macareno said. “We’re going to do what we need to do. We all want the same thing in the end.”
Gundy echoed that sentiment.
“I feel good to be back,” she said. “I want to know what’s going on. Having a viable central committee is very important.”