To understand why SAUSD Trustee John Palacio hates Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido so much you have to understand that Palacio is still mad that his best friend and mentor was booted off a local school board some years ago. Wait a minute – I am not referencing the recall of former SAUSD Trustee Nativo Lopez, but rather the fall from grace and eventual resignation of former Rancho Santiago Community College District Trustee Rodolfo “Rudy” Montejano.
Long before Lopez was causing trouble in town, Montejano was the man. An attorney, who graduated from UC Berkeley, like current Council Member Vince Sarmiento and Council candidate Eric Alderete, Montejano was quite the player back in the day – and Palacio was his number one lackey.
But Montejano, like Lopez, disgraced himself and then he left, only to reappear in far-off Indiana. But before we get to that, let’s recap his career, using media references:
- Montejano was first elected to the SAUSD Board of Education back in 1971. By 1985 Latinos could not get elected any longer to that board, according to the L.A. Times.
- By 1988, Montejano was on the Rancho Board and he was in the news again. This time he was cited by the L.A. Times as having recused himself from voting on a contract between the Rancho District and the operators of a swap meet that was at the time being held at Santa Ana College. Montejano was referenced as “an associate of Norton Western Ltd., the private corporation that formerly sponsored the swap meets.” Worth noting was the fact that a non-profit run by Montejano, the Santiago Club, was retained in the contract to “provide security, management personnel, restrooms and sanitation.”
- In 1989, the L.A. Times connected Palacio to Montejano. “John Palacio, a management consultant in Santa Ana, has been named Latino program adviser for the Pacific Symphony, orchestra officials announced this week. Palacio, formerly Latino affairs manager for Santa Ana and an executive assistant to the city manager, will serve as a part-time consultant to the organization to develop musical programs for the Latino community. The orchestra also has created a Latino advisory committee whose chairman is Rodolfo Montejano, a Santa Ana lawyer who was elected to the orchestra board of directors in January.”
- By August of 1990 the wheel were falling off of Montejano’s Cadillac, as the L.A. Times reported “The Orange County Grand Jury is reportedly investigating allegations that Santa Ana attorney and Latino rights activist Rodolfo Montejano tried to improperly pressure City Councilman Miguel A. Pulido Jr. to approve the construction of billboards proposed by one of his clients.” Aha! Palacio’s hatred for Pulido goes all the way back to this incident – which derailed Montejano’s career. Pulido stopped Montejano in his tracks!
- By October of 1990, the L.A. Times had reported more about the investigation into Montejano’s lobbying activities: “District attorney’s investigators have questioned three civic leaders about what they discussed or overheard at a private dinner hosted last year by Santa Ana lawyer Rodolfo Montejano, who is the focus of a grand jury inquiry. The gathering took place on the eve of a rock concert at Centennial Regional Park sponsored by a nonprofit organization led by Montejano and co-promoted by one of his clients.”
- Two Rancho District employees had finally had enough of Montejano, according to the L.A. Times. “Two faculty members from Rancho Santiago College demanded the resignation of college trustee Rodolfo Montejano during a meeting of trustees Tuesday. Philosophy instructor John A. Velasquez and Librarian Douglas Toohey told the board they believe that Montejano is no longer a proper role model for the college and should step down from the post he has held for 19 years.”
- A month later, Montejano cracked. He told the L.A. Times that he was “resigning from the board of an organization that he founded and plans to move to Indiana next year.” He cited health concerns and a desire to “live in a non-urban environment away from crime, drugs, traffic, overcrowding, pollution and congestion, which now dominate our city.” He also announced he was leaving his beloved Santiago Club – which fell apart after he left and no longer exists today.
- But the O.C. Grand Jury wasn’t done with Montejano. Santa Ana Planning Commissioner Donald A. Sizemore, told the L.A. Times that he and former Councilman Ron May were invited by Montejano to a dinner at a Reuben’s Restaurant to discuss whether the city Planning Commission and the council would approve construction of a series of oversize billboards being sought by a firm that the lobbyist (Montejano) represented.
- And in May of 1991, Montejano was making headlines yet again. The L.A. Times revealed that “former Deputy City Atty. Frank Rhemrev leased space in the office suite of Santa Ana attorney Rodolfo Montejano. As a result of this the city attorney’s office had to postpone a trial involving a lawsuit between the city and Councilman Richards L. Norton. And get this – Rhemrev “also handled about 30 zoning and municipal-code lawsuits pending against catering-truck owners who are represented by Montejano.”
- Later in 1991, Rancho Santiago Trustee Charles W. (Pete) Maddox accused fellow trustee Montejano of “unethical behavior in filing campaign financial statements and in his dealings with the college’s now-defunct swap meet,” according to the L.A. Times. Maddox pushed for a Code of Ethics for the Rancho Board that was approved by the Trustees.
- Montejano finished his time on the Rancho Board in September of 1991, according to the L.A. Times. Rancho Trustee Charles Maddox, a former student journalist who dogged Montejano for years, summed up the retiring Trustee’s career thusly: “In terms of the district and the community, I see Rudy’s career as a tragedy,” Maddox said. “We have this brilliant leader with all this talent who, in my opinion, put all of that talent in the wrong direction. What I’ve seen is a man who came from poverty, grew to social prominence then took advantage of those he left behind.” Maddox is especially critical of Montejano’s role in El Mercado, a privately run swap meet that operated for three years in the parking lot of the college’s Santa Ana campus. “Montejano’s involvement in the swap meet was the dirtiest political event ever to take place in Santa Ana,” Maddox charged. The swap meet, which served mostly Latino customers, was operated by the Santiago Club which contracted with Norton Western Ltd., a company owned by City Councilman Richards L. Norton. The Santiago Club, Norton Western and the college split portions of the proceeds earned from the swap meet–an arrangement which Maddox contended was a conflict of interest.
- But the hard times were not over for Montejano. In February of 1992, according to the L.A. Times, “A Superior Court jury Monday ordered retired Rancho Santiago College trustee and local lawyer Rodolfo Montejano to pay more than $1.7 million in damages to a former client who had charged him with fraud and misrepresentation.”
- And the Rancho Board was still dealing with Montejano’s alleged unethical behavior. The Board passed a ban on alcohol for Trustees who were charging dinner meetings to the District. Trustee Charles Maddox “first proposed and wrote the policy after noticing a $2,545 bill at the Antonello Ristorante in Santa Ana for four nights of board activities there in August, 1991. The bill included a $413.75 tab for alcoholic beverages,” according to the L.A. Times.
- Remember how Montejano said he was moving and retiring due to his health? That turned out to be a load of B.S. He never stopped working – he just moved to a different arena, perhaps ahead of the Grand Jury posse that was still going after him. In 2008, Montejano, who has been with the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. for less than a year as director of development, was promoted Monday to the school system’s No. 2 administrative spot, according to an online source.
- Palacio of course never lost touch with Montejano. He included him on an online list of endorsers in 2010.
Palacio is now following in Montejano’s footsteps – which the aforementioned recalled SAUSD Trustee Nativo Lopez tried to do as well. Palacio is backing Santa Ana Councilman David Benavides, who is a hot mess, for the Santa Ana Mayor’s office, and Palacio is also involved in the Nelida Yanez and Mark McLoughlin campaigns for the Rancho Board and the Valerie Amezcua campaign for the SAUSD School Board.
And Palacio is still working the non-profits for his own benefit, as Montejano, his godfather, did. He called himself a “management consultant” after the City of Santa Ana fired him. Today he is involved in HEEF, the Hispanic Education Endowment Fund. You won’t find his name on their financial reports but go to their annual dinner and you will see that he is the man at HEEF. I wonder how much of the corporate loot they rake in every year ends up in his pockets?
He must be doing pretty well as he has a house here in town in the Morrison Park neighborhood, not too far from Santa Ana Council Member Carlos Bustamante’s house. And he maintains a second home in Arizona.
Most folks in town have forgotten about Montejano, but we haven’t. And you shouldn’t either. We can still stop Palacio from becoming the next Montejano – be sure to vote against every single candidate he is supporting, this November.