By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE — A first battle over Mayor William Lantigua’s $255 million budget proposal took shape yesterday when City Councilor Daniel Rivera alleged that Lantigua would put political operatives in the eight or so new jobs his budget creates and said all new hires should be cops hired off a Civil Service list.
Rivera’s proposal put Lantigua’s hiring practices at the center of this year’s budget debate, as it was last year when Rivera attempted to eliminate the position of a public works foreman who is one of Lantigua’s political lieutenants.
Rivera, the chairman of the council’s budget committee and a candidate for mayor, said the city needs new cops more than it needs road and street crews at the Department of Public Works. Lantigua has placed several of his political lieutenants at DPW and this year is asking for a net of five new positions — four laborers and a carpenter — in the department at a cost of $216,000, not including benefits.
“Past performance is an indication of future performance, especially at DPW,” Rivera said about Lantigua’s recent hires. “There are (workers) there he hired who don’t have the skill set. They’re just people that help in campaigns and don’t have any qualifications.”
Lantigua could not be reached yesterday.
Lantigua last year named his receptionist, Jorge Jaime, as DPW’s parks foreman, and named Joel Chalas as roads foreman. Both men are active in Lantigua’s political organization. Jaime also accompanied Lantigua on at least one of his recent trips to the Dominican Republic and last year was subpoenaed by the grand jury investigating corruption in the Lantigua administration. Jaime last year earned $51,504, the city’s payroll shows. Chalas earned $74,570.
Another man Lantigua appointed and promoted at DPW, parking attendant Justo Garcia, was charged last week with skimming thousands of dollars from the Museum Square garage.
Garcia, who is Lantigua’s campaign photographer, has pleaded not guilty. He earned $46,370 last year.
Rivera last year tried unsuccessfully to remove funding for Chalas’s position from the budget. He said he will propose eliminating the job again, along with Jaime’s job, at a budget committee meeting tonight. Cutting the two jobs, as well as the eight new jobs Lantigua is proposing for next year, would save $485,000, enough to hire seven cops, Rivera said.
“The shenanigans (Lantigua) does to put people in positions he wants them to be in — that alone should be enough to not give him more positions to mess around with,” Rivera said. “(The new DPW jobs) are positions that only the mayor will have a say in hiring — which is fine, if you expect the mayor to hire qualified people.”
He noted that Lantigua would have less influence over hiring in the Police Department, where officers have to pass a Civil Service exam and make it through the Police Academy, than at DPW.
Police Chief John Romero said he’d welcome any new cops, but would not comment on Rivera’s proposal about how to fund them.
“We certainly would want to add to the number of positions, but I don’t think it’s my place to say where that money should come from,” Romero said.
Lantigua has proposed hiring another police sergeant and patrol officer next year, which would bring the number of sworn officers to 123. Rivera’s proposal would bump the number to 130. The number of officers peaked at 161 in 2008, then dropped to 110 on July 1, 2010, under Lantigua’s first budget.
Acting Public Works Director John Isensee said he needs the five new jobs Lantigua has included in his budget proposal and would oppose cutting them.
The budget committee will consider cuts to Lantigua’s budget tonight, then send the document to the full council for a public hearing later this month.