San Benito County supervisors became confrontational over whether to break for lunch at Tuesday’s meeting, with Supervisors Peter Hernandez and Jaime De La Cruz walking out before a discussion on grand jury compensation.
It was an unprecedented and noticeably awkward turn of events for the elected body.
When Board Chairman Mark Medina told officials he wanted to go through two more items on the agenda before taking a lunch break, the exchange began.
“I know you mentioned you want to go through these items,” Hernandez told Medina in the meeting, “but I don’t imagine we’re going to take 10 minutes.”
“No, we’re not, but there’s people sitting out there,” Medina said about residents interested in the grand jury issue. “They’ve been sitting patiently for three hours.”
The regular meeting had started at 9 a.m., with the exchange happening at about noon.
Hernandez told Medina staff by law should get a lunch within a certain amount of time. That’s when Medina started to move on.
“We will discuss the grand jury ordinance and provide direction to staff regarding the grand jury compensation,” Medina said.
“Well,” replied Hernandez, “I’m taking my lunch.”
At that point, De La Cruz joined Hernandez and left the meeting.
“I’m actually going to take my lunch with him,” De La Cruz said.
As the two were preparing to leave, Medina and Hernandez had more words for each other.
“Peter, you’ve worked three hours,” Medina said.
The two went on exchanging words, with Medina finally pronouncing: “OK, Peter – goodbye. Goodbye, Peter.”
“We have staff here,” Hernandez said back. “We have laws. Ask county counsel.”
After leaving, De La Cruz returned within 10 minutes, while Hernandez came back about 30 minutes after De La Cruz.
Other supervisors briefly addressed the confrontation when the board returned from its break for an agendized discussion on whether their jobs should change from part-time to full-time classifications.
“I’m very sorry for what happened today,” Supervisor Jim Gillio said, later adding, “I’m not proud of how we behaved today.”
Supervisor Anthony Botelho said he had “some regret” about the occurrence, adding how he expects professionalism from himself, colleagues and staff. “It was really too bad,” Botelho said.
Medina, Hernandez and De La Cruz spoke about it afterward.
Hernandez said he went into the meeting expecting a “full day of dialogue” with many significant matters on the agenda.
“There has been no real solid structure or expectation from the chair about when that break is going to happen,” Hernandez said. “It’s not just us. It’s also staff. You can’t expect an individual to stay focused by talking for eight hours.”
He said the Friday before the meeting, County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa had sent an email that discussed having food provided during a working lunch to go over closed session items.
“The bottom line is, the expectation was set we were going to have a lunch,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez also noted how De La Cruz needed to take medication with lunch.
De La Cruz after the meeting talked about having a kidney transplant that requires he take medication with food. He explained why he decided to go back after a short time away.
“I said OK, let’s hear this,” he said of the grand jury compensation presentation. “It’s very important, the grand jury presentation.”
Medina said there were residents waiting to talk about the grand jury issue, and he didn’t want them to leave. Medina said he and Hernandez spoke after the meeting.
“Everything’s fine,” he said. “There were no hard feelings.”