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Divided Council Appoints Carson Administrator

May 14, 1987|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

A divided Carson City Council appointed retired community development director Richard Gunnarson as the new city administrator, filling the vacancy created last week by the forced departure of John Dangleis.

Gunnarson, 61, will work under a one-year contract and will be paid $84,000.

"I'll try to do a professional job for everybody," he said.

Gunnarson's selection came amid accusations by council members Sylvia Muise and Tom Mills that the decision was ramrodded through a special meeting Monday night and that the council did not follow standard personnel search procedures. Mills said city department heads should have rotated as acting city administrators for a few weeks until an interim administrator could be found, and that Gunnarson's salary, which is $2,000 more than Dangleis was paid, is too high.

Leadership Void Cited

In reply, Mayor Pro Tem Vera DeWitt Robles said the council had to act quickly to find a city administrator to fill a leadership void, which will deepen Friday, when Community Development Director Patricia Nemeth leaves to take a job with the Southern California Assn. of Governments. Mayor Kay Calas, responding to the accusation of ramrodding, said Muise and Mills had been guilty of the same sort of behavior in the past.

Councilman Michael Mitoma said Muise and Mills should not complain because they walked out of Monday's closed session at which Gunnarson was chosen, and that Gunnarson, inheriting a crisis situation, "will earn every dollar that we pay him."

The sequence of events that led to Gunnarson's appointment began May 5, when the council put Dangleis on administrative leave with pay until his contract expires June 30.

Dangleis, who was being investigated by a council committee in connection with his alleged role in awarding a $300,000-a-year insurance contract to a friend and business associate, had wanted to stay until his contract ran out, and, in the interim, assist the council in choosing a successor.

Insurance Commissions

But Mitoma, a member of the council's investigating committee, pushed to get rid of him sooner after Dangleis told Mitoma that he had received about $1,200 in insurance commissions--and failed to report them on financial disclosure forms--from Pacific Standard Insurance Co., the firm that received the city insurance business. Mitoma's move to oust Dangleis passed by a 3-0 vote, with Calas and DeWitt joining him and Muise abstaining. Mills was absent.

William Parrott, finance director and acting personnel director, was named acting city administrator at the meeting and told to contact municipal organizations to find an interim administrator.

The next day, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office said that Dangleis' status as a Pacific Standard agent and his role in selecting the company for city business were being reviewed as a possible violation of state conflict-of-interest statutes.

A special meeting was called for last Thursday to choose an interim administrator, but Mills was absent and the meeting was canceled. A second attempt was made to hold a meeting last Friday, but failed when Muise, who said she had not been notified in time, did not show up.

Calas and DeWitt said at Monday's meeting that a crisis atmosphere about the leadership vacuum began to grip City Hall by Friday.

"The employees themselves appeared here Friday night and said things were in a state of confusion, things are chaotic. . . . These are not normal or usual times," DeWitt said.

Mitoma said he saw Muise Saturday, personally handed her notification of a special meeting on Monday and insisted that she read it in his presence.

At the special meeting Monday, the group went into a closed session and chose Gunnarson. Before that, Mills had questioned the purpose of closing the meeting. Afterward, both he and Muise denounced the selection process. A second special meeting was held Tuesday to negotiate Gunnarson's contract, and the two renewed their criticism.

The rehiring of Gunnarson will return to the city one of its first employees.

When the city incorporated in 1968, its first administrator, E. Frederick Bien, hired Gunnarson from Bellflower, where he was planning director, as the city's first community development director. He was the second employee to go on the city payroll, and served as community development director until 1983.

In October, 1981, when the council forced Bien to retire for reasons that remain unclear, Gunnarson was named to succeed him on an interim basis. He served eight months as city administrator and returned to his previous post after Ray Meador took over.

Since he retired, Gunnarson has been working with his son in a marine surveying and yacht delivery business.

Gunnarson was born in Torrance. He was educated in Pasadena public schools and has a bachelor's degree in international trade and transportation from USC.

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