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Civil Rights Groups Decry Removal of Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Manager

January 13, 1989|JOHN L. MITCHELL | Times Staff Writer

Developer Alexander Haagen has ousted the manager of the newly refurbished Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza and replaced him with a management team that includes the daughter of county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, a longtime friend.

The removal of Louis George, a black, and the selection of Janice Hahn Baucum, a white, to be co-manager of the mall has sparked an outcry by the leaders of three civil rights organizations. They accused Haagen of failing to keep a promise to make the plaza--the nation's first enclosed mall serving a predominantly black area--a showcase of black opportunity.

Haagen made the change Jan. 5, the day before the Southern Christian Leadership Conference held a celebration at the mall kicking off a week of festivities honoring the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

Haagen said he replaced George in the best interest of the $100-million mall. "I believe that (George) recognized, as did others, that the job was too much for him to handle, and accordingly we accepted his resignation," he said.

George, who has 16 years experience as a mall manager and was hired four months ago, was replaced by Baucum, 36, an assistant manager who had no experience in mall management before joining the Haagen Company in September, and Leo Ray, 37, an architect who has been an associate developer with Haagen since 1986. Ray is black.

Leaders of Los Angeles chapters of the Urban League, the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference have asked to meet with Haagen to discuss the realignment.

"I think it sends a sour message for Mr. Haagen to have fired (George) the night before the celebration of King week festivities," said Mark Ridley Thomas, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

'An Insult'

"To bring in someone with no mall experience is an insult to our intelligence. To me there is no reason for black folks to shop there," said Anthony M. Essex, the president of the Los Angeles branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

John Mack, president of the Urban League, said the "community deserves some straight answers to some serious questions."

"Why terminate a new person who was represented as having extensive experience and replace him with a non-minority who apparently has very limited experience?" he asked. "What did he do that was so horrible that would require his termination so quickly?"

Mack described the firing as a blow to affirmative action and questioned the need for two co-managers.

"It would appear that Leo Ray would have more experience so why does there have to be co-managers?" he asked. "Why not appoint him manager outright? The implication is that there is a lack of confidence."

Motivation Denied

The developer defended his selection of Baucum as co-manager of the mall and denied that the move was politically or racially motivated.

"For anybody to indicate that it is racial or political is totally uncalled for," Haagen said. "The young lady has done a remarkable job and she deserves a chance, along with Leo, to make this thing as great as we all want it to be."

Baucum, a former parochial school teacher and administrator, was hired in September as an assistant marketing director. She was promoted to assistant mall manager in December when George was placed on probation. She and Ray were told not to talk to reporters, a company spokesman said.

As co-managers, Baucum and Ray will oversee the mall's finances, supervise public relations and advertising and coordinate the construction and leasing of mall space. "I think we have two people in the cockpit of our 747 who will give us a safe flight and a comfortable landing," Haagen said.

Lack of Leadership

Andrew Natker, a spokesman for Haagen Co., said the maintenance of the mall was suffering from a lack of coordination and leadership. "The place could have been an absolute mess if something wasn't done," he said.

He said a number of projects had not been completed, including the contracting for pest control. "We don't want to have happen to us what happened to the Beverly Center," which closed its food court in 1987 to eradicate a roof rat infestation, he said.

George, who has managed three major malls since 1972, said he never was given a chance to do his job. "I have managed malls with more than 100 stores without any problems," he said. "The problem is they were always undermining my authority. They never intended for me to manage. The whole thing was political, and it is insulting to force me to resign and put her in my position."

Haagen has been at odds with some black community representatives on several occasions in the last two years as he refurbished the mall in partnership with the city of Los Angeles.

During construction, a group of blacks sued Haagen and demanded more jobs for minorities. The group dropped the suit after learning that more than half the work force and many of the contractors used were minorities.

The 20 stores open in the mall during the Christmas shopping season did better business than expected, according to a spokesman for the developer. The mall is expected to have nearly 50 stores open by March 1, and about 100 stores when it is fully operational.

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