by Cynthia De Castro/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES – Larry Formalejo, the first Filipino mayor of the town of Colma near San Francisco, stepped down from his post last week amid accusations of “inappropriate behavior”, after an incident stemming from his son’s DUI arrest in 2006 became public.
City officials have remained tight-lipped after releasing a report Friday calling for an investigation into Formalejo’s alleged misconduct. City Attorney Roger Peters explained that he did not reveal any details about the mayor’s inappropriate behavior prior to the meeting because he wanted to give Formalejo a chance to explain himself.
Having served as mayor since December 2007 only, Formalejo read his resignation letter to City Manager Diane McGrath before a packed Town Council meeting. Formalejo said that in 2006, his son was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. Called to the police station by his son on the night of the incident, Formalejo said he attempted to seek “assistance with the officer in charge on how to help me with my son’s situation.”
It is unclear what Formalejo, who was then a council member, said to the officer after the arrest of his 21-year-old son, Dustin Formalejo. In his letter, he said, “I took some actions that may have been perceived as in conflict with my ethical obligations as a City Councilman at that time.”
Peters said Formalejo may have violated ethical principles, “not criminal in nature,” but that the suspected violation “involved contacts with city employees.” He said he thought resigning was the right thing to do “to avoid any perception of improper behavior.” The council voted to move ahead with an internal investigation, with the possibility of hiring an outside investigator. Peters is expected to report back to the group March 12 with his findings.
“Along the way, I have made some missteps,” Formalejo said. “You should know I have a family and a son I care for deeply. I’m accepting full responsibility for the situation, and I offer my apologies to everyone. I acted as a father who was simply concerned for the well-being of my son. I’m stepping down to avoid causing further disruption.”
Although he resigned from his seat as mayor effective immediately, Formalejo will keep his seat on the Town Council. It is his fourth year on the council and his term expires in November. With what he said was “great sadness and remorse,” he passed his gavel to Vice Mayor Helen Fisicaro.
Located between the cities of Daly City and South San Francisco, Colma is a small diverse community with an estimated population of just 1,280 residents (2004) of which about 50% are Caucasian, 25% are Asian, and 25% are other ethnicities. In Colma, mayors are not directly elected by voters but are selected by the council from among its members.
“I am very sad he resigned. He is the first Filipino mayor and I am just getting to know him,” said Josephine Mirando-Aquino, a member of the Filipino American Association of Colma and one of the many Formalejo supporters who crowded Wednesday night’s council meeting.
Formalejo is the third high-ranking town official that has been embroiled in controversy in the past two years. Last year, former Mayor Philip Lum and former Councilmember Ronald Maldonado were indicted on corruption charges for accepting first-class airline tickets from Lucky Chances Casino owner Rene Medina for trips to the Philippines. They were charged with fraud by the Department of Justice for accepting the tickets and failing to disclose the gifts on an income form. Lum was sentenced to one-and-a-half years in prison, while Maldonado was relegated to six months of home confinement with five years of probation and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.