Shortly after midnight on Wednesday (April 18), National City council member Jerry Cano became the subject of an investigation into whether he violated state law by using his official position to influence a government decision that could benefit him financially. Cano has somehow escaped paying fines for five years for a dozen building code violations at his home.
The tally was 3-1, with Mayor Ron Morrison voting against the probe and Cano recusing himself. Cano left the chamber during the discussion and vote, which came more than six hours after the council convened and early on rejected the idea of moving the Cano matter to the top of the agenda.
The vote also came after members of a local family told the council that city officials forced them from their home on short notice in September, charged them considerable fees, and ordered their dwelling demolished, presenting the bill to the now-homeless ex-homeowners. Building code enforcers had found problems with the concrete foundation there.
First reported March 15 by the weekly Star-News, the Cano matter has since escalated into other allegations of about his treatment of women. His colleague, Mona Rios, who called for the investigation, says Cano retaliated against her by claiming she touched him inappropriately. She hired a lawyer, Cory Briggs, who called the charge "ludicrous." One of the parade of speakers addressing the council read a letter he said Cano wrote to a female city employee apologizing for sexually harassing her. Rios slid her chair at the dais far to her right to distance herself from Cano, who sat next to her on the left. “The city,” she said, “has an obligation to have my name cleared.”
One of Cano's vocal critics, Mark Lane, an investigator for an attorney who is working with the displaced family, calculated that the minimum fine of $100 per day per violation would amount to a bill to Cano of around $2 million.
Cano was first notified about his violations on June 6, 2013. When more than a year went by and Cano still had not secured the appropriate proper permits, the city issued him a final notice of violations on Nov. 25, 2014.
Three years ago, Cano's house had been put in something called recordation, which enables the city to place a lien to collect any debt once the property is sold. Among the projects Cano undertook with no permit were the installations of water lines from the dwelling to the pool, a gas line to an outdoor barbecue, and electrical lines at the back of the house for an outdoor television and sound system.
Lifelong National City resident Gloria Nieto told the council she was disappointed that the 6 p.m. meeting did not start off with Cano announcing his resignation.
“Cano is nothing but bad news,” she said. “...What he did is wrong by not getting the required building permits for his home and not paying his numerous fines. He is very quick in complaining on other National City residents who do not follow these guidelines.”
The council measure calls for an outside counsel to conduct the investigation into whether Cano violated state law, including a government code section, 87100, which reads: “No public official at any level of state or local government shall make, participate in making or in any way attempt to use his official position to influence a governmental decision in which he knows or has reason to know he has a financial interest.”