Leftovers Column: When city managers get political

Leftovers Column: Fuentes hit for political approach
By Tania Chatila and Jennifer McLain, Staff Writers
Article Launched: 07/27/2008 09:29:44 PM PDT

It seems Pico Rivera’s city manager may have committed the cardinal sin in his profession: playing politics.

Of course, that depends on who you ask.

Charles “Chuck” Fuentes says he’s just one of the few city managers who actually admit to politicking.

“Am I more political? I’m the first one to say yes, and that’s a plus,” Fuentes said in an article that ran a week ago in the Whittier Daily News. “Every city manager does what he or she has to do to take care of his majority.”

But if you bring the issue up before ethicists at the state and national levels, they say Fuentes – who worked on President Jimmy Carter’s re-election campaign and

eventually became chief of staff for Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Santa Fe Springs – has got it all wrong.

After all, the job of a city manager is to work for all council members, not just the majority, experts said.

And if Fuentes were to read the code of ethics that the members of the International City Manager’s Association follow, he would see that endorsing candidates – whether on the local or national level – is a big no-no, said Bill Garrett, executive director of the California City Management Foundation.

“The code of ethics says that you don’t play favorites, and don’t involve yourself in the political game,” Garrett said.

By working for all members of the council, the city manager is completing the obligation to serve the interest of the com-

munity, said Martha Perego, ICMA’s ethics director.

“When you have city managers that are more concerned about protecting their jobs and counting votes, then you need to think: Are they serving the long-term interest of the community?” Perego said.

Fuentes is not a member of the ICMA, Perego said.

Nearly 100 years ago, the council-city manager system was formed as a way to keep City Hall staff – the brains behind the requests and wills of council members – from being politicized, according to Garrett.

“It has been set to try to make sure that the manager responds from a professional standpoint, not from a political one,” he said.

That hasn’t always been the case.

South Gate’s former elected city treasurer Albert Robles was convicted of soliciting more than $1.8 million in bribes from bidders on municipal contracts.

According to the Los Angeles Times, three of Robles’ supporters formed a new majority on the City Council in 2001.

With their votes, Robles influenced ranks of city department managers, firing those who refused to do his bidding and promoting those who would, even though his official title granted him no such authority, according to the Times article.

“South Gate is a good example of what can happen when a City Council hires someone purely from a political background, and then tells them, `We want you to run this thing the way we want you to run it.”‘

Of course, some argue politics is inevitable when you are working for, well, politicians.

“Every city manager has to deal with the reality that there is a political component to the job,” said Rosemead City Manager Oliver Chi. “But we must continue to strive in all ways to remain apolitical in our efforts to serve every single council member.”

jennifer.mclain@sgvn.com

tania.chatila@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2477, 2109

www.insidesocal.com/sgvgov

  • Anonymous

    Wasn’t “Politicking” the reason Chuck Fuentes was under investigation for while working at the L.A. City Attorney’s office not too long ago?

    One has to remember that the political game he is playing at taxpayer expense doesn’t work if he doesn’t have at least three willing participants.
    In Pico Rivera he has the Albert Robles equivalents in Mayor Beilke, Mayor Pro-tem Gallegos-Smith and Councilman Archuleta.

  • Anonymous

    Oliver Chi is one to talk. All he does is serve the majority three that is spending Rosemead into ruin.

  • An Elected Official

    Unfortunetly many city managers are loyal to the majority of the city council. They know all too well “IF” they don’t play they pay. The majority are treated like kings and queens. What ever they wish is granted by the city manger and his department heads and staff. They tend to ignor the remaining councilmembers. Even though they are elected by the people who live and vote in that particular city. Do they get involve in city elections? They certainly do. They contribute large amounts of money as do their bussiness partners and friends. They become personally involve in the elected officials family get togethers. They go above and beyond to please the “powers that be”. The code of ethics for city managers gets thrown out the window when self centered unethical city managers come into play. Their only concern is pleasing a few, while holding on to their position at city hall. They creat mistrust, envy and fighting amongst the councilmembers.That is the sad reality.

  • An Upset Resident

    Anyone who really listens to what city managers say and do in any multitude of forums will learn quickly that they are out there to keep their jobs. It is a game of survival. The one that comes to mind quickly is Paul Phillips from Covina. I hope the city council wises up and fires that guy sometime soon because he epitomizes political maneuvering. He even sends letters to the editor of this newspaper where he personally calls out members of the public! That is not only political, it is unprofessional and unethical.

  • Angry Ex-Elected

    It is unprofessional and totally unethical, but who do you turn to for help. Not the city council or the city attorney. They are all part of the “dream team.” More like a nightmare. The District Attoorney’s office could care less. He and his staff pick and choose the cities they want to come after. Mean while the little games and favortizim continues. City manager could care else abouth being politically correct. Many of them continue in other cities or are hired as consultants. Of course you know the old saying, “money talks and b.s. walks’” Just grease a couple of hands. You’ll get the job…it is a given.

  • Retired Councilmember

    I can’t help but agree with the comments on this topic. I too was once a councilmember. It took for ever to be rotated in as the mayor. The city manager went along with the other three councilmembers.We would attended meetings and conferences. He would go out of his way to take them, and their guests to expensive dinners, shows and buy alcohol. He would use the city credit card or pay out of pocket. Of couse the city council would approve the warrent or credit card expense. If he has reciets for dinners, lunches, taxi, or entertainment he would simply be re-inburst. They had the votes to approve their “own” fun away from city hall. It was a fine time that was had by all on the cities dollar. It didn’t matter that it was brought up or addressed. The council would remain quiet while the city manager tried to justify the expenses. Calling them “extra meetings” and what have you. It still continues in many cities. I make it a point to keep in touch with my old political buddies. Things never change. Especially with city manglers!!!

  • http://www.saveourcommunity.us Yankee Bravo

    It must really be annoying to critics of the Rosemead City Council majority, because they keep saying things like, “The majority three is spending Rosemead into ruin,” and yet the city’s reserve is bigger this year than it was last year. Nonetheless, the majority three is still able to provide for things like a Fourth of July parade and concerts in the park.

    A fair-minded person might even be forced to admit that the way the old majority did things must not have been very efficient, because the new majority is able to add events and services that we didn’t have before, and yet the budget is still in surplus.

    Ah, those pesky facts!

  • Anonymouse

    To Retired Councilmember:

    Damn, buddy, did you actually say that the City Manager would be “re-inburst”?? Are you freakin’ kidding me?! “Re-inburst”!? What do you mean, he’s going to spontaneously combust?? Geez, learn to spell buddy!

  • Anonymous

    Re Rosemead Budget: Revenue to increase by 11%, Expenditures to increase by 14% for current budget. How will the City pay for the 3% in expenditures?

  • Yankee Bravo

    Bottom line: The Rosemead’s fiscal balance is still over $21 million in the black. Unfortunately, the old majority “deferred” a lot of maintenance (you know–roads, road signage, sewers, swimming pools, that sort of thing), so as you work your way through the budget, you’ll discover multi-million dollar expenditures to address those past deficiencies.

  • Anonymous

    There use to be a time long ago that city managers were put into a position of trust and confidence. Not any more. They watch their backs all the time and do the council majority bidding. They will not take the time to address it at a council meeting. As long as he has three or four verbal approvals, the city manager will do his deeds. He has lost all credibility, and respect from his staff. Yes, even the staff can see right through a weak city manager. Must be real tuff for a mans ego when he has to take marching orders from young, uneducated, arrogant councilmembers. How can this dude even look himself in the face day after day ? He is a pathetic, desperate loser.

  • Anonymous

    Bitch, Bitch, Bitch that’s all you whiners do, what about how much good Chuck Fuentes has done for Pico Rivera in his short time there. Let’s see the streets are cleaner, graffiti is going away faster than you can say, No More! and crime is way down! I for one don’t care about how he does so many good & productive things to make living in Pico Rivera better, only that he get’s the full support of the council and keeps right on going. Thank you Mr. Fuentes for putting up with all the POLITICAL B.S. and underhanded backstabbing that unfortunately goes along with this thankless job. Not all the residents of this fine city are part of the gang ridden, dirty, corrupt & failed ways of the past.

  • Anonymous

    To whom it may concern,
    While on vacation to So. Cal. from our home in Atlanta, Ga. we happened on to the 4th of July celebration in Pico Rivera,Ca. I can’t tell you how much fun we had, and how safe we felt having the Sheriff & it’s Explorer post all over. The city was clean & gone was a lot of the graffiti and boarded up buildings that I had warned my wife who is not from Ca. about. Not having visited for a few years I was pleasantly surprised to see such progress has been made in a town that was all but left behind in the economic hey days of the 90′s. So I don’t see why a few residents are all worked up about how the present city manager & council are getting it done,who cares! JUST DO IT is a popular slogan for Nike corp. and the right one for Pico Rivera. Anyone who does not agree that Pico Rivera is much better with Chuck Fuentes than before Chuck Fuentes just doesn’t get it or understand what it is to live in a clean , safe & economically fruitful community.
    God Bless Pico Rivera & Chuck Fuentes

  • Anonymous

    What don’t you people like about how the city manager is running the city of Pico Rivera? Cleaner Streets? Graffiti Removal? A Huge Drop in Crime? or replacement of the old corrupt guard who kept us the laughing stock city of the SGV. They can’t laugh at us now as were looking good and doing business as much as ever before. I say, “get on board or GET OUT!” There are plenty of houses available now in other places close by so don’t let the graffiti free doors here in Pico Rivera hit you in the butt.
    sincerely
    Tired of Whiners in Pico