South El Monte Talks Audits, Leadership Changes in Scandal’s Wake

No heads rolled at the South El Monte City Council meeting last Tuesday, but not for lack of want. Dozens of residents gathered outside City Hall for the first meeting since Mayor Luis Aguinaga agreed to plead guilty to bribery charges and demanded changes in the city’s leadership.

“Everyone wants you to clean house,” resident Estella Lujan told the dais. “If you can’t do the job, you should resign.”

In addition to the mayor himself, some have called on City Manager Tony Ybarra to resign. The city’s top administrator “allowed the opportunity for this to happen,” said Councilman Joseph Gonzalez.

Gonzalez has also renewed calls for a state audit of “highly suspicious activities,” which he first called for back in September. Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, said he will try to secure a review from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, even though the date to request one has passed. Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, whose district includes South El Monte, also wants to ask State Auditor Elaine Howle to investigate improprieties by city employees. The Board will vote on that Aug. 9.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the council did clarify that Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Olmos would be assuming responsibilities of mayor for the time being. There was outrage when it looked like Aguinaga might be able to carry out some duties from home, but fortunately it was short-lived.

Once Aguinaga enters the guilty plea, he will have no choice but to vacate the position. The options for replacing him were a matter of brief discussion Tuesday.

Other topics of conversation at Tuesday’s council meeting included whether the council should adopt a rotating mayor position, as suggested by Valle Lindo School District board President Richard Angel. City Councilwoman Angelica Garcia-Delgado is also going to introduce an item that would limit council seats to two terms later this month.

Finally, the Council did not address another unnamed city employee who is said to be involved in the bribery scandal. Members warned against open speculation about the person’s identity until more is known.

“We know we have some housecleaning to do,” Olmos said. “If anyone has had a hand in the cookie jar, we’re going to find out.”