AZUSA — After an acrimonious debate, a divided City Council Tuesday night extended the city administrator's contract to four years and approved the continued employment of an administrative assistant who has been under attack by the mayor.
Julio Fuentes, who was promoted from assistant city administrator to the top job in July on a 3-2 vote, was given a four-year, $78,204-a-year contract over the opposition of Mayor Eugene F. Moses and Councilwoman Jennie Avila.
The contract originally submitted to the council was for two years, but Moses, in denouncing it, inadvertently persuaded the council majority to extend it to four years by suggesting that a shorter agreement implied a lack of confidence in Fuentes.
Before the mayor spoke on the contract, other council members, the city attorney and Fuentes all warned him against making personal attacks.
Tones Down Remarks
Previously, Moses had called Fuentes inexperienced and unqualified, but in a prepared statement Tuesday night he referred to the 30-year-old city administrator only as "new and largely untested."
Moses said a two-year agreement would be "a slap in the face to the city administrator. Either he is still learning his job and ought to stay on probationary status, or else we should have the courage and confidence to give him a full-term contract, not just two years. No good manager would or should accept such a short time, since no one can come up with and implement any kind of plan for the city in only two years."
Councilman Bruce Latta seized the idea of a longer contract and proposed four years. Avila argued that two years would give the city time to assess Fuentes' performance and decide whether to keep him or hire someone else, but Councilmen Lucio Cruz and Jim Cook backed Latta's proposal.
Earlier, the council had also split 3-2 over the adoption of a routine resolution involving the salary schedule of part-time employees.
Moses, referring to the redesignation of administrative aide Pat Sperl as administrative assistant, said the resolution endorsed a policy of "secretly creating new positions without study or public input."
Moses said the administrative assistant's job, paying $21,000 a year for a 30-hour work week, should have been created only after consultation with the council and then filled through open recruitment.
But Fuentes said the new job is essentially the same position that was previously called administrative aide. He said changes in part-time positions do not require council approval.
"I would never create a full-time position without coming to the council," Fuentes said. But part-time jobs, such as the one Sperl has held since 1984, do not have civil service protection, and different rules apply, he said.
Latta accused Moses of seeking the ouster of certain employees, including Sperl. "The employee has been told that she is on a hit list and the mayor is going to get her," Latta said. He also accused both Moses and Avila of harassing the city staff.
Moses did not respond to the charge, but Avila said she resented it. She said Fuentes and others had told her that she had "a positive attitude" in her dealings with employees.
Cook told the mayor: "You make a circus of every council meeting."
In other action, the council ordered a complete audit of travel and meeting expenditures by council members since 1983.
The city staff had recommended limiting the audit to the last two years to save money, but council members insisted on a larger study, which will be undertaken by the accounting firm of Conrad and Associates at a cost of $15,150.
Cruz said the audit is needed to "stop all these rumors" about improper expenditures that he said have been circulated by the mayor and his political allies.
"This will settle your people's accusations once and for all," Cruz said.
The call for the audit came after Harry Stemrich, who plans to run for the City Council, hired a detective to examine the council's travel expenditures. The city staff told Stemrich that it would charge him at least $5,000 to research city records. Stemrich asked the city to pay for the audit, and the council agreed.
Both Stemrich and Moses have charged that council members have billed the city improperly for travel and meeting expenses, but the council members have denied the accusations.