By Jason Henry
West Covina will pay City Manager Chris Chung $440,000 to retire early after the council decided they no longer wanted him to lead.
Chung, who was appointed by a previous council in December 2012, signed a separation agreement with the city this week that stipulates that he will receive 18 months of compensation — a combination his $195,000 salary and benefits — to leave before his contract expires in 2016. Chung will get $180,000 on Dec. 24, followed by $260,743.49 on Jan. 6.
In exchange, the city, which would have paid 12 months of severance if it had fired him, gets a waiver of his right to sue them, according to City Attorney Kimberly Barlow.
Chung, the city’s former redevelopment director, was seen by some as the last remnant of a council that residents largely voted against last year. The council this year also dismissed long-standing City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman. Chung’s dismissal was predicted last year by the outgoing City Council, which tried to change his contract during one of its last meetings to include 18 months of severance and language that made a non-renewal of his contract the same as firing him. The attempt to protect Chung drew outrage, and the matter was tabled.
Lloyd Johnson, an activist and a council candidate for 2015, said Chung needed to go so the city could move forward.
“The old regime is gone, and Chris was part of that,” Johnson said.
Chung did not return calls for comment, but he released a statement through the city.
“It has been an honor and privilege to serve the City of West Covina over the past 16 years and I wish to thank all the hard-working and talented city employees who have dedicated their lives to make West Covina the great city it is today and will further be in the future,” Chung stated. “West Covina will always be in my heart.”
The decision for him to retire early came after months of closed-door evaluations, according to Councilman Mike Spence.
“I think it’s important that all of us agreed it was a step in the right direction,” Spence said. “It’s something that needed to take place.”
Spence said he and his colleagues agreed that they wanted their city manager to reflect the current council, not the city’s past leadership.
Mayor Fred Sykes, who has long clashed with Chung, said he wished Chung the best and that the city intends to move forward in a “positive direction.”
“When you’re losing staff and the city seems to be having trouble, we simply thought that we had to bite the bullet and take a new direction,” he said. “The previous council really put us in a tough spot with mismanagement and so forth, now we have to work hard to get things back on track.”
Sykes referenced recent claims by two former department heads who blamed Chung for low morale in City Hall when asked about the dismissal. The state controller this year also launched a comprehensive audit of West Covina’s books, citing questionable financial reports.
Sykes said poor voter turnout and a lack of civic engagement in the city is to blame for any problems the city is having.
“We need people to be more directly involved and participating so that in the future things will hopefully go smoother and healthier,” he said.
The city is already looking for an interim city manager to lead while it searches for Chung’s replacement. Barlow said she expects to call a special meeting about the position “soon.”