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.”
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