Santa Cruz Council Members Scramble to Challenge Mayor in Administrative Contention Court

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Santa Cruz municipal council members are running against the clock to hire an attorney who can bring a legal challenge against current mayor María Rosa López, accused by the former mayor and a municipal auditor of illegally receiving a ¢70 million payment for a salary bonus known as the “exclusivity clause.”

Municipal auditor Álvaro Moreno said that as deputy mayor from 2010-2016, López received a salary 65 percent higher than it should have been.

López declined to discuss the issue with The Voice of Guanacaste, although in a previous interview she said she has not received the salary bonus since May 2016.

Council members say they “inherited” the problem from previous officials and now must file a challenge before the Administrative Contention Court, which will decide if the payment to the current mayor was legitimate.

Although the auditor filed a complaint in May 2015, council members have only recently begun trying to hire a lawyer. According to the council, a lack of familiarity with the process has caused the delays.

Since May 2, 2016, the comptroller had asked council members to open a legal process with the Administrative Contention Court. The period for them to do that expires on April 23, according to the Comptroller’s Office.

“I think we’re delayed due to lack of experience. We’ve had a lot of things to do, but this week we hope to define who the professional will be,” council president Carlos Acuña said.

The delay also is due to the fact that no attorneys responded to an initial public solicitation, because it required someone with a master’s degree, and the pay was too low to cover the fee of a professional of that level.

Council members met in a special session on March 17 to decide on new professional requirements.

Head of municipal contracting Keylor Jaén Rosales said that through direct hiring, the municipality will hire an attorney with public law experience in the next 10 days.

The Santa Cruz municipality has an ¢8 million budget for the job.

Why Are They Charging the Mayor?

According to the municipal auditor, the Law Against Corruption and Illicit Enrichment in Public Service allows graduates in liberal professions duly registered in a respective professional association to receive an additional payment of 65 percent for exclusivity.

The current mayor is an educator, which is not considered a liberal profession. López claims that because she studied in a master’s program in education administration, she should be considered a liberal professional. However, she does not have a master’s degree, but rather only completed the coursework. She also is not affiliated with a professional association.