www.montereycountyweekly.com february 1-7, 2024 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY 15 There are a few common metaphors about the unwieldy nature of government. Andrew Sandoval is familiar with them, but unfazed. “People think of the city as a big ship,” he says. “It’s hard to turn a big ship.” But Sandoval has made something of a lifestyle out of jumping on the ship, grabbing the steering wheel and asking uncomfortable questions. He first got involved when parents were getting obstructed by leaders of Oasis Public Charter School in Salinas in 2017. (While not all of his complaints were substantiated, some major problems were uncovered thanks to his persistence.) In 2021, Sandoval sued Hartnell Community College in a public records case. In 2023, he sued the Soledad Community Health Care District alleging Public Records Act violations, then the City of Greenfield alleging violations of the Brown Act, California’s open meetings law. Over the years, he has become a student of the workings of local government and connected with attorneys specializing in government accountability. He says would-be activists summon him to their causes when they are concerned about retaliation or uncomfortable putting themselves out there. “What’s right is right,” Sandoval says. “If I wait for other people to do things, it may never happen.” Sandoval ran twice for Salinas City Council and won in 2022. And he continues to prod with tough questions from the dais, sometimes ruffling feathers. He raised questions about an emergency authorization for a sinkhole repair last year, arguing there should be a fair and transparent process for going out to bid, or at least for allowing prospective contractors to earn city jobs. When he asked about the nonprofit Salinas Police Activities League, the PAL board eliminated the city’s spots on its board. (As that drama unfolded, California PAL’s director of operations emailed Salinas PAL to ask what was up with this persistent question-asker and wrote: “It certainly sounds like Mr. Sandoval has an axe to grind.”) For Sandoval, it’s not surprising that some of his inquiries are met with some combination of defensiveness or skepticism or derision. As he sees it, he’s just continuing to do the hard work of unearthing corruption. “I don’t see the need to stop being who I am because I’m elected. I’m not here for show,” he says. “Why do we need to fit into this box, now that we’re elected? Now you’re supposed to defend this agency? I give residents information on how to file claims against us…If we can’t have real conversations because it’s too sensitive, how are we supposed to improve?” Sandoval is often the only person meticulous enough to find the discrepancies and brazen enough to share them. Sometimes he finds wrongdoing. Sometimes he finds a vague sense of wrongdoing. It’s certainly not a way to make friends. And that’s where things get tricky. His eyes are now turned toward his colleagues on council. Sandoval has in the past raised worthy concerns about city funds going to the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Monterey County Business Council—an issue because, until a few months ago, two members were employed by those agencies (Steve McShane and Kimbley Craig, respectively; McShane no longer works for the Chamber). Sandoval asked the Monterey County District Attorney investigate Craig and McShane for conflict of interest. (The DA will not take action until the Fair Political Practices Commission concludes its pending investigation into McShane; the FPPC rejected a complaint about Craig.) Sandoval has reviewed years’ worth of city documents and found payments ranging from $30 to $5,000 to those agencies. These line items probably should have been removed and voted on separately—with a member recusing—to avoid even the appearance of a conflict. “I have worked to bring compromise and collaboration to our council despite our differences,” Craig says. “Things like this create divisinesess and conflict. It’s not helpful.” Sandoval wrote to McShane last year: “Integrity, honesty and accountability are crucial to serve the residents of Salinas.” He added that McShane appeared to have violated rules of decorum, including: “Avoid negative comments that could offend other councilmembers.” But Sandoval is also not following the rules of decorum. Sara Rubin is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at sara@mcweekly.com. Move Fast and Break Things What happens when a government watchdog gets elected to serve? By Sara Rubin Party On…Squid keeps time in the sea based on the ebb and flow of the tide, a tried-and-true method. The Monterey County Democratic Central Committee, seeking to restore order after some chaos last year and even an attempted coup to oust the party chair, Karen Araujo, has implemented a new time-keeping method for meetings: shouting out the time so members know to hurry it up. So it was on Jan. 23 that members took up the night’s business—endorsements in the March 5 primary election—promptly at 6:50pm. But first, there was a debate about the process. Only Democrats may seek the party’s endorsement, even in nonpartisan races, like that of county supervisor. That meant smooth sailing for some—Luis Alejo is running unopposed and Wendy Root Askew is the only Democrat in her district. In District 5, there are two Democrats—Alan Haffa and Kate Daniels. Standard procedure means a vote on the contenders; 60 percent is required to earn an endorsement. If no candidate gets 60 percent, there’s a subsequent discussion about a dual endorsement, meaning both candidates can get some love. First came a proposal to do things differently—give members the choice to vote on Haffa, Daniels or an open endorsement from the start. Cue the opposition. “There seems to be a good amount of dysfunction in this organization,” said Cristina Medina Dirksen. “I would really like to restore faith in this organization by following our own rules.” “This is a tailor-made motion to favor Alan Haffa,” said Kilder Fuentes. “I urge everyone to vote no.” Esther Malkin gave a spiel asking everyone to stop with the spiels: “Let’s keep the disruptions to a minimum please, and stop grandstanding.” Finally, they voted to keep the regular procedure. Then came another disruption, when Araujo instructed Amit Pandya to stop recording the recorded Zoom meeting with his phone. “This isn’t a public meeting,” she said. (Squid checked the California Democratic Party rules, which state: “All meetings of the Democratic Party, at all levels, should be considered public meetings, with very few exceptions.”) Cephalopods may not register to vote, much less join a political party, yet Squid joined the Zoom just fine under the impression it was a public meeting. Squid isn’t sure what they might have been concerned about, anyway. Maybe the moment when Malkin interrupted the meeting to see if Steve McDougall was sleeping—turns out he was just leaning back in his chair, frustrated with the party’s antics. Eventually they voted on the prized endorsement, 19-10 for Daniels. It’s a blow to Haffa, long active in the party and a former chair. They went on to talk about a few other items before it was time for updates from the issues committee, of which Haffa is chair. But he’d already left the Zoom. the local spin SQUID FRY THE MISSION OF MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY IS TO INSPIRE INDEPENDENT THINKING AND CONSCIOUS ACTION, ETC. “Why do we need to fit into this box?” Send Squid a tip: squid@mcweekly.com