By Paul Kruze, Contributing Editor
May 17, 2919 (El Cajon) --In a unanimous vote, the El Cajon City Council on Tuesday approved planning commissioner and businessman David “Phil” Ortiz to fill the seat formerly held by Ben Kalasho. Ortiz edged out three other finalists for the position: Richard Agundez, Anthony Sottile, and Humbert Cabrera.
Other applicants were Gladys “Jo” Alegria, Juan Barajas, Richard Campbell, Margaret Carlson, Estela De Los Rio, James Elia, Mark Jamil, former El Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis, Amanda McGimpsey, Juan Carlos, Mercado, Michelle Metschel, Abraham Muheize, Nancy Wilson, and Steven Woods. Community activist Stephanie Harper dropped out of the race at Tuesday’s meeting. See our prior coverage for highlights on all 22 candidates.
Owner and CEO of New Earth Energy Specialists Inc. and a pastor of Foothills Church, Ortiz is also an active community volunteer. He serves on the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce board of directors and is founding member of the El Cajon Community Clean Up Group. He has a B.A. degree in criminal justice administration from SDSU and a master’s in organizational management with emphasis in public administration.
According to his application with the city, his top priorities are public safety, including making retention of officers a priority, homelessness, including partnering with local organizations and having metrics to determine programs effectiveness, and having a balanced budget plus revitalization and incentivization to build on vacant lots.
Each of the 18 candidates who applied for the position were given two minutes each to formally introduce themselves to the packed El Cajon City Council Chamber. After their introductions, existing councilmembers Gary Kendrick, Deputy Mayor Steve Goble, Bob McClellan, and Mayor Bill Wells pared down its choices to six potential candidates, with four candidates making the final cut. The four candidates were asked questions by the sitting city council on their on their philosophies on how they would govern as a member of the city council.
Kalasho resigned from the council in late March following a tumultuous and contentious tenure that began with his November 2016 election. In an e-mail letter of resignation sent to City Manager Graham Mitchell, he stated that he was tired of battling his fellow councilman. He also had been dealing with a litany of legal battles including a civil suit in which he was accused of fraud, defamation, sexual harassment and posting falsified nude photos of contestant in his privately-run Middle Eastern beauty pageant, which settled immediately before Kalasho;s resignation. His pageant’s nonprofit status was revoked by the state because Kalasho never completed a federal nonprofit registration. Court records indicated he took out numerous false IDs on Facebook that he used to bully and defame various individuals online. He removed his Facebook and Twitter accounts after a lawsuit by activist Mark Lane, rather than comply with a constitutional requirement to not block or remove dissenting views. ECM reporter Paul Kruze and a process server each filed police reports alleging Kalasho threatened them with an attack dog, which he denied. Kalasho filed an unsuccessful complaint with the state alleging harassment and discrimination by the city.
Kalasho would have been termed out of his at-large seat in 2020, so ran against Councilman Kendrick in 2018 in an effort to win a new District 1 seat. Kendrick won by an overwhelming margin.
In a moment of levity, Councilman Kendrick asked Agundez, “If selected, you would be taking the place of a Council member that resigned. How would you be different from that Council member?” which caused the chamber to roar with laughter.
“First of all,” said Agundez who shared in the laughter, “I don’t think that would be too hard,” which caused those in the audience to laugh louder. Agundez evoked a serious tone afterwards saying, “We are human. We all make mistakes. We do. I do my best. By the grace of God I was able to survive the streets, I’ve learned a lot from the streets,” referring to the time when he was employed by the El Cajon Police Department. “But I have a lot of street knowledge. Sometimes that is what it takes,” he said.
During his introduction, Ortiz said to the San Diego Union-Tribune that one of his priorities was to develop a code of conduct for El Cajon Council members, commissioners, and personnel. “A code of conduct will make sure that our elected officials are always mindful that they are representing the city of El Cajon and treating everybody with respect, with honor and dignity.”
Ortiz, 34, who has been previously openly critical of Kalasho, struck a decidedly conciliatory tone when speaking about his predecessor. “I think I was one of the first people to speak out about Councilman Kalasho. He made some bad decisions. I hope that he moves on and comes up on top. I don’t wish him any ill will.”
Ortiz will serve two more years in Kalasho’s at-large term. In November 2020, the recently formed City Council Districts 2, 3, and 4 will be on ballot. Ortiz lives in District 4.
Ortiz’s first council session will be on May 28.
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