HAWTHORNE — James H. Mitsch, the city's director of general services and its second-highest-ranking official, has regained control of the Building and Planning departments, prompting the resignation of the city's building director after eight months in the job.
The Building and Planning departments were removed from Mitsch's jurisdiction last January amid reports that his planning director, Jim Marquez, had neglected to disclose a potential conflict of interest. At the time, two city officials who asked not to be named said the move was intended as a rebuke to Mitsch, who was Marquez's boss. Marquez resigned a month later.
City Manager R. Kenneth Jue denied that the move was punitive, two City Hall officials said at the time. Instead, Jue asserted, the move was intended to give Mitsch more time to concentrate on the city's redevelopment projects. Last week, the city manager said restoring Mitsch to control is his way of ending an experiment that did not work.
"Jim was the more experienced," Jue said, comparing Mitsch with Harry Reeves, chief of special services who had been given control of the Planning and Building departments. "I was just trying different things. It was an experiment that was not working."
Suspended 30 Days
But the reinstatement of Mitsch--who in August was suspended for 30 days for not promptly disposing of an engineering business that Jue said posed a potential conflict of interest--has prompted the resignation of Building Director Victor Newton. The reinstatement also was criticized by a longtime planning commissioner, who has resigned for other reasons.
Newton, whose resignation took effect Monday, said that when Jue told him in November that Mitsch would resume supervision of the Planning and Building departments, "that jelled up a decision that I was contemplating for some time."
Ray Sulser, who served on the Planning Commission for 12 of the past 21 years, said his resignation had nothing to do with Mitsch resuming control of development in the city, but he said he is opposed to it.
"I would rather not see Mr. Mitsch over the Building Department for the simple reason that when he was in charge before, (that) was when all these irregularities happened," Sulser said in an oblique reference to several well-publicized problems that have rocked the Planning and Building departments. "So you do not put that person back.
"And I like Jim Mitsch, he is a friend of mine. Don't misunderstand me. It's just that if a person is not qualified or doesn't do a job properly, you don't give him that job back."
Mitsch said that his experience as a civil engineer makes him better suited to run the city's Planning and Building departments than Reeves, who is not an engineer, and will remain director of special services. Mitsch added that he was confused about Sulser's remarks.
"I'm sorry Ray said that," Mitsch said. "I'm not sure what he is saying. I can't see any problem with what happened before."
Mayor Betty Ainsworth and Councilman Chuck Bookhammer also endorsed Jue's decision.
"Mr. Mitsch is a good engineer and an outstanding employee," Bookhammer said.
The resignations of Sulser and Newton are the latest in a string of disruptions in the Planning and Building departments that began about a year ago.
Merritt Mead resigned from the Planning Commission last November under pressure from the City Council after seven years of unsuccessfully fighting to slow development of multi-unit residential buildings. He was replaced by Sulser.
The issue of Marquez's conflict of interest arose when Marquez, in his role as planning director, proposed changes in the city's parking requirements without stating that the changes were crucial to a private development he was planning.
Mitsch, who endorsed the changes, said at the time that he was aware that Marquez's building plans had initially been rejected by the Building Department, but he asserted that he never realized the changes Marquez was proposing would make the project possible.
In February, Marquez resigned in the face of a recommendation that he be fired because of conflicts of interest and failure to report off-duty work performed within the city. He later pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of conflict of interest and was fined $500 and banned from government for three years as part of his probation.
In August, Mitsch was suspended for 30 days without pay for insubordination because he disobeyed a 1983 order from Jue to sever his connection with Centinela Valley Engineering Co., a surveying firm that Mitsch owned. Jue at the time said that there were indications that Mitsch's firm had conducted surveys in the city, which he said would be a conflict.
Mitsch, who acknowledged that he did not shut down his firm until earlier in 1986 after he was again ordered to do so, has denied that his company did any surveys in Hawthorne.
Acting Director Quit