Capitol Alert

Head of Senate fellows program on ‘indefinite leave’ following Mendoza allegations

The director of the Sacramento State Senate fellows program at the Capitol has been placed on “indefinite leave,” the university said Wednesday.

The news comes less than a week after The Bee reported allegations that Sen. Tony Mendoza invited a young woman in the California Senate Fellows Program, who was working in his office, over to his house on at least two occasions to review her résumé and others for an open position and suggested she stay in his hotel room prior to an early morning fundraiser, according to people she told about the Artesia Democrat’s alleged behavior.

The Bee reported that the young woman spoke with David Pacheco, director of the California Senate Fellows program for more than a decade, about the situation.

The fellow told others Pacheco advised her not to take immediate action to leave the office and said he would speak with Jeannie Oropeza, the head of human resources under the Senate Rules Committee. She said Pacheco told her Mendoza might need staff and she could be an option. He advised her to wait and see what happened, according to communications reviewed by The Bee.

Before the story published, Pacheco’s boss at Sacramento State’s Center for California Studies said Pacheco did not report any incidents to him, although university policy requires employees to report any allegation or act of harassment they become aware of.

Pacheco declined to comment on the action.

Sacramento State previously said it is investigating the allegations.

“The University takes its obligations to protect its students and employees seriously, and we are in the process of investigating any violations of University policies,” the university said in a statement. “We require all University faculty and staff to conduct themselves in accordance with federal and state regulations as well as California State University policy.”

Pacheco’s leave was announced as alumni of the Sacramento State Capitol Fellows Program circulated a letter among themselves calling for the university to take action against Pacheco. The letter had not yet been sent to the university when Pacheco’s departure was announced.

“It is encouraging that Sac State finally took action to deal with the situation,” said Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen, who sent an email asking alumni to sign the letter Wednesday. “We still believe the fellowship community needs to understand what procedures are in place to protect fellows and the training for staff to ensure that this sort of incident doesn’t happen again.”

The incident is a textbook case of the inappropriate use of power, Hansen said.

“The response was not according to the HR playbook,” he said. “We want to know for sure that this is being handled appropriately.”

Sacramento State said Pam Chueh, director of the California State Assembly Fellowship Program, will take over Pacheco’s responsibilities in the interim. The university declined to offer additional comment, citing personnel issues.

Hansen, a member of the 2002-03 class of executive fellows, sent the email to alumni of the Assembly, Senate, Executive and Judicial Capitol Fellows Programs administered by Sacramento State. His email included a link to the letter and asked others who may share his concerns to add their digital signatures.

“If it is discovered that Mr. Pacheco’s behavior was in any way reflective of what has been reported, he must be terminated from his employment at the Center for California Studies,” the letter said.

The letter describes the Capitol fellows program as “the start of fulfilling career in public policy for us.” The alumni said they have recruited students to apply and mentored fellows.

“We cannot in good conscience continue to support a program that puts Fellows at risk until these problems are rectified,” they said. “We respectfully ask you to quickly address these problems and help restore the Capital Fellows Program to its full honor.”

The university lists “notable fellows” on its website, including California Attorney General Xavier Beccera, California State Controller Betty Yee and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, among others. It’s unclear who signed the letter Wednesday.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna

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