The city has so far incurred $57,571 in legal expenses in defending against a retaliation lawsuit filed by public works director Manuel Ojeda, according to municipal records.
Ojeda’s lawsuit filed in 2014 alleged the Jeffery Jones administration retaliated against him for his ties to mayor Jose “Joey” Torres. He alleged he was subjected to ridicule from Jones’ director Christopher Coke and further abuse from lower ranking employees.
Ojeda said the problems started after he was demoted from his post as public works director and made a sanitation inspector.
The city has been fighting the case for the past two years. Municipal officials balked at settling the lawsuit multiple times by paying Ojeda. The council refused to pay $215,000 or $175,000 to settle the case.
“To me it’s just wasteful,” said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman. He said taxpayers are facing yet another tax increase and could ill afford to pay a former director who was re-appointed to the post to settle a lawsuit.
“It all falls on the mayor,” said Sayegh. “The mayor should have seized the initiative, showed real leadership, by telling him [Ojeda] look, ‘I’m going to appoint you to your old position. Please drop the lawsuit.’”
Torres did not return a call for comment.
Torres re-appointed Ojeda to the director post in July 2014 with city council confirmation. Ojeda’s re-appointment came with a $105,000 base salary.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, chairman of the council’s finance committee, disagreed with Sayegh.
“You can’t hold job opportunities hostage,” said Morris.
Ojeda’s lawsuit is being handled by the city’s former law director Susan Champion. Champion served under the previous Torres administration.
In his legal filing, Ojeda also alleged he was given an “outdated telephone,” when the Jones administration handed out cellphones to employees who needed it to perform their duties.
Ojeda did not respond to a message seeking his comments for this story.