February 4, 2014

Resident urges Merced County board to fire Pedrozo’s assistant

A Merced County supervisor’s attempt to intervene with his assistant’s legal troubles, as reported in a Sun-Star article this week, was a topic of discussion during a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.

A Merced County supervisor’s attempt to intervene with his assistant’s legal troubles, as reported in a Sun-Star article last week, was a topic of discussion during a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.

Speaking during the public comment session, a local radio show host and an unsuccessful candidate for supervisor called the board “broken and dysfunctional,” criticized its silence on the issue and demanded Pedrozo’s assistant be fired.

“If this person is still employed by the county of Merced, they’re exposing us to a great liability,” said Casey Steed. “If there is something not true in this story, the board should speak out.

“It’s too late to say ‘Well, I was a nice guy, and you know I was trying to help somebody out,’ ” Steed continued. “There’s a lot of people that could have used that job. A lot of people that wanted that. And yet time and time again we defended somebody who has eight suspensions on her driving license.”

Pedrozo did not comment on the issue Tuesday.

In previous interviews with the Sun-Star, Pedrozo defended his actions, which included calling the Merced police chief to find out why his assistant was stopped by officers and writing a letter to the judge in her support.

Brenda Valenzuela-Porras, 29, was pulled over by Merced police in May for speeding and cited for an outstanding warrant, driving on a suspended license, and having an expired registration and no insurance. She called her boss, Pedrozo, that night and asked him to speak with the sergeant who stopped her.

Pedrozo spoke to the sergeant but was denied information about the incident. He then called police Chief Norm Andrade. The next month, he wrote a letter on county letterhead, calling Valenzuela-Porras a “safe driver” and requested her license be reinstated.

Valenzuela-Porras’ fines were converted to 195 hours of community service. Despite eight previous suspensions on her driving record, she remained Pedrozo’s assistant.

“We have complaints about a stench in District 1. It’s not the dairies,” Steed said Tuesday. “It will be very interesting to see what the board will do about this issue. Your silence speaks volumes.

“So I would ask that you would investigate this matter,” he continued. “I would ask that you would terminate this person so that we have no more liability as Mr. (James) Fincher (county counsel) has told us.”

Valenzuela-Porras told the Sun-Star she made a mistake by drinking and driving, having apologized to Pedrozo for it. She maintains she never drove a county vehicle while her license was suspended, although county records indicated she checked out vehicles on occasions when DMV records showed she had a suspended license. She maintains she has met all the requirements to get her license reinstated.

Merced County Human Resources Director Marci Barrera firing Valenzuel-Porra isn’t simple.

Although the Human Resources Department can make a recommendation, Barrera said, only Pedrozo can decide to discipline or terminate his assistant because she reports directly to him.

“We can have conversations about it, but we can’t force anyone in the county to do anything,” Barrera said. “We provide advice in conjunction with county counsel on what should be done, but it’s up to the department head. We can’t go out into the departments and discipline other people’s employees.”

Barrera confirmed late Tuesday the county is reviewing its policies related to background checks of employee driving records. County officials did not run a DMV check on Valenzuela-Porras at the time of hire because driving was not a “major component” of her job. She had three points on her driving record at the time of hire, according to DMV records.

Valenzuela-Porras, who has worked for Pedrozo since January 2011, earns $13 an hour and averages less that 20 hours a week on the job. Pedrozo pays her salary from his district’s discretionary funds, a yearly $40,000 allocation each supervisor receives to spend on projects of their choosing.

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