by Nick Miller, Ben Adler and Julia Mitric
Sacramento State placed the director of its California Senate Fellows program at the state Capitol on “indefinite leave” this Wednesday.
The university’s announcement comes on the heels of accusations that David Pacheco, who oversees the program, failed to report Sen. Tony Mendoza’s alleged improper conduct with a female student Fellow when he became aware of it.
In response to the university’s handling of the incident, dozens of Capital Fellows Program alumni are signing a letter asking to investigate, and possibly terminate, Pacheco. They also want Sacramento State to look at how employees report sexual harassment and misconduct complaints.
The letter is addressed to university President Robert Nelsen and Steve Boilard, executive director of the Center for California Studies, which oversees the Fellows program. It says alumni were “disturbed” by reports that Pacheco did not help the young woman after she was “propositioned multiple times by the Senator as she was applying for a job in his office.”
“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,” it reads. “We also request the university review its policies and procedures and ensure that all employees abide by them.”
Tam Ma, a former fellow who now works on policy issues for Health Access California, called Pacheco’s alleged response to the young Fellow “completely inappropriate.” In the past, she’s recruited Fellows for the program and even recommended people for positions at Sacramento State.
“My expectation in doing all this is the program does everything it can to promote and protect the Fellows, and act quickly when something goes wrong,” she said.
“It seems like they failed to do that in this situation.”
Steve Hansen, a Sacramento city council member and former fellow who signed the letter, said he and his fellow alumni were “furious” upon reading reports about the young woman. “I was very disappointed to read that the director of the Fellows program tried to shut this up and make it go away,” Hansen said.
A colleague of the Fellow said she told Pacheco that Mendoza, a Los Angeles County Democrat, invited the female staffer to his home and offered to drive her to the Cache Creek Casino Resort and spend the night with him.
When Pacheco heard this, the colleague says, he told the Fellow to wait and see if she could get a job in Mendoza’s office, instead of reporting the lawmaker’s misconduct to the university.
Mendoza has said he would never knowingly abuse his authority or intentionally put an employee in an awkward or uncomfortable position, and apologized if he did.
William “Skip” Bishop, Sacramento State’s Title IX coordinator, explained that Fellows are university students, and that they are instructed to report complaints regarding harassment to his office or campus police.
“We know that students typically report to someone else, such as a favorite professor, residential life staff, coach, or others. Those employees have been trained to immediately report complaints to my office,” Bishop wrote in a statement.
Sacramento State’s Center for California Studies has sponsored the California Senate Fellows program since 1973, according to the program website. Today, there are fellowships in both the Senate and Assembly, as well as in the judicial and executive branches.
The program is highly competitive and chooses only 18 Senate fellows for full-time, 11-month positions that begin each October. Each fellow works in a member’s office and helps with everything from penning press releases to analyzing policy.
Fellows must be at least 20 years old and hold a four-year degree. They earn a monthly stipend of $2,627 in addition to health benefits. Students also receive graduate-degree units at Sacramento State. The Center is currently soliciting Senate fellows for the 2018-19 session; this application is due February 12 of next year.
Meanwhile, Senate and Assembly offices are interviewing the current 2017-18 class of fellows this week.
Bob Moffitt and Linnea Edmeier contributed to this report.
Editor’s Note: The Capital Fellows program is run by Sacramento State, which holds the license to Capital Public Radio.