Former EMS director says he was ordered to reduce services

Christopher Maher, Jim Wells County Correspondent

A letter of resignation submitted to the City of San Diego last week by former San Diego EMS Director Sergio Garcia alleged he was threatened by the mayor and a city council member.

The mayor and council member deny those charges.

In his letter of resignation, which was released by the city Thursday following an open records request by the newspaper, Garcia said his reason for leaving the city was that he was "harassed" by Mayor Alonzo Lopez Jr.

"The mayor made it a point to stop at the home of a friend of mine to threaten me and say that he will hurt me and see to it that I leave my position as EMS director," Garcia wrote.

Garcia also alleged a city council member made threatening comments toward him.

"A city council member then tells me that it is not right that I drive a better vehicle than she does," Garcia wrote. "She went further to say that she was going to see that I do not work more than eight hours, five days a week so that I do not earn any overtime."

Although Garcia did not mention the council member by name in his letter, the only San Diego City Council member who is a woman is Janie Lopez, the sister of Mayor Lopez.

Garcia also said that under the instruction of the mayor, the ambulance service was reduced from three ambulances operating at one time to one on Sundays through Thursdays, and two on Fridays and Saturdays.

"Minimizing these services causes the people with emergencies to suffer, a few delayed minutes can make the difference whether a person lives or dies," Garcia wrote.

"Naturally, less personnel and less ambulance runs causes poor service."

Garcia said he was also instructed to limit the number of dialysis patients the ambulance service transported, which limited the revenue to the city.

"My pressure then was that I needed to generate more money for the city, which I did," Garcia wrote. "In 2005, I was responsible for generating more than $500,000 and over $700,000 in 2006. The EMS has been self maintained and then some."

Garcia thanked council members Joe Dan Casas and Ricky Munoz for their support of the San Diego EMS, but said under the current city leadership, he felt the department was moving "backward instead of forward."

When asked about the allegations in the letter Friday, council member Janie Lopez denied she had made those comments to Garcia.

"I never told him anything like that, why would I?" Lopez said. "It surprised me when I read that, it really did."

Mayor Lopez also denied threatening Garcia, although he did say he had requested a criminal investigation into possible misconduct by Garcia in the past.

"They're all false allegations that he's making," Lopez said. "I go by the book, and whatever things he wasn't doing right…I know I had him under investigation. But then (former chief Rogelio Mendez) left and that investigation ended."

In his interview Friday, the mayor did not identify any specific misconduct Garcia may have committed, and declined to explain why the resignation of the chief of police would affect an investigation by the department.

Lopez also denied cutting any overtime for Garcia or other EMS personnel.

"We have definitely gone forward," Mayor Lopez said. "He's the only one who has always gone against me."

The council voted Wednesday to accept Garcia's resignation, and to appoint David Lopez Jr., an employee of the EMS, as the new director.

Calls to Garcia were not returned Friday.