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Croton Quits Post Rather Than Face City Council Vote

November 26, 1987|TED VOLLMER | Times Staff Writer

Fred Croton, accused by Mayor Tom Bradley and others of lying when he applied seven years ago to become the city's Cultural Arts Department general manager, on Wednesday quietly ended his lengthy battle to keep his job.

Croton, 53, sent a one-sentence letter of resignation to Bradley an hour before the Los Angeles City Council was scheduled to begin debating whether to fire the former general manager.

Croton could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Richard Grey, said his client decided Tuesday night to resign after consulting with a number of people, including Councilwoman Joy Picus.

"We considered the opportunities that were there and we decided to go this way and have Mr. Croton submit his resignation without a great deal of controversy," Grey said. "The battle before the council was going to be entirely political and . . . there did not seem to be any useful purpose, and there was a lot of down side to going back into the lion's den for that one last stand."

Grey said that Croton had been paid an unspecified amount of money to secure his resignation--an assertion that city officials flatly denied.

Picus said Wednesday that she met Tuesday with Croton and encouraged him to resign, but added that others had first broached the idea with Croton.

"I felt it was best for the city," Picus said of Croton's resignation. "It took him a while to get used to the idea."

Mayor Bradley would not comment on Croton's resignation, but Anton Calleia, a top Bradley aide, said the former general manager's fate had been sealed by the "overwhelming evidence" against him.

"Croton exercised the only option he had," Calleia said. "His choices were either quitting or being fired. He chose to quit." Calleia added that Croton was not offered a financial settlement.

Calleia and other city officials were confident that the council would have voted overwhelmingly, perhaps even unanimously, to fire Croton had he chosen to fight his ouster. They based that feeling on two major setbacks Croton suffered within the past week.

Last Wednesday, Civil Service Commission hearing examiner Mark Burstein, in a 42-page report, agreed with Bradley that Croton had lied on the 1980 job application in which he had sought the newly created post of Cultural Affairs Department general manager. Bradley placed Croton on paid leave of absence from his $58,756-a-year post on Oct. 29, following an 18-month investigation into Croton's job history.

Burstein, after seven days of testimony, ruled that Croton lied when he said that he served as the full-time director of the Sharon, Conn., Creative Arts Foundation during the early 1970s for a salary of $24,000. Croton's claims were refuted by several foundation officials who testified that the group had very little money and no paid staff.

Several days after Burstein ruled, the Civil Service Commission itself endorsed his findings that Croton had lied.

Croton, who had asserted for more than a month that his ouster was due to political considerations--not a faulty job application--steadfastly maintained that he had not lied. But the passage of time and lost records hampered his ability to prove his innocence, Croton said.

Frustrated by Burstein's rulings that only the job application, not politics, was at issue in the dispute, Croton had hoped to get a more sympathetic audience in the City Council chamber. Although several council members had earlier expressed some reservations about his firing, it was unclear whether he had even marginal support once the highly publicized Civil Service hearings were held.

Picus said she could not predict the outcome if Croton had continued his fight.

"Some of the council members said to me that if Fred was incompetent, he should be dismissed on that basis," Picus said. "But to be dismissed on his resume describing things that were or were not done 15 years ago is absurd. I agree with that.

"The mayor gave him an unsatisfactory rating last year but did not follow through . . . so he found something (the job application) on which he could hang him," Picus said.

Attorney Grey said that even if Croton had been fired by the council, he probably would have prevailed in a court challenge. That, however, would not have solved the conflict, Grey added.

"What we would have accomplished (by a court ruling) is to get his job back," Grey said. "But it is abundantly clear Mr. Croton no longer wants the job and the mayor does not want him in the job.

"We're very satisfied that the man has been vindicated even though others did not acknowledge that," Grey said, although he did not elaborate.

Calleia said that Rodney Punt, Croton's top assistant, will remain acting general manager until a successor is found. Punt was one of the three finalists in the 1980 competition when Bradley, saying he was "superbly qualified by training and experience," recommended Croton.

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