POMONA — After five weeks on the job, interim City Administrator Andrew Lazzaretto resigned suddenly last week, leaving in his wake a contentious City Council disputing the reasons for his departure.
Lazzaretto did not return numerous phone calls this week.
Mayor Donna Smith said Lazzaretto came to her office Friday at 4:30 p.m., shut the door and told her he was resigning, effective in 30 minutes.
"He could no longer work under such stressful conditions," Smith announced at Monday night's council meeting. "He said that on two separate occasions he saw a fist coming at him and he didn't know if his face was going to be smashed. . . . He said he didn't need the money that much."
Smith said the blows were threatened by a councilman, but would not identify the person.
Councilwoman Nell Soto said Lazzaretto also met with her Friday afternoon about his resignation, but said nothing about stress or physical intimidation. Soto said Lazzaretto told her his part-time job with Pomona was conflicting with his other consulting work and family obligations.
"My understanding was that he had a hard time keeping up with everything," Soto said. "Simply, he wasn't aware (when he took the job) of everything he would have to do. . . . I don't know what he told the mayor."
The council voted in executive session early Tuesday morning to name Fire Chief Tom Fee as interim city administrator. Fee's appointment was supported by council members Soto, C. L. (Clay) Bryant and Tomas Ursua. Smith and Councilman Mark Nymeyer voted against the choice.
Soto, Bryant and Ursua voted to hire Lazzaretto May 16 after a brief interview, two weeks after the three forced the ouster of City Administrator A. J. Wilson. Smith voted against hiring Lazzaretto. Nymeyer was absent, but later joined the mayor in expressing concern over the council's quick choice of an interim successor to Wilson.
In an interview earlier this month, Lazzaretto spoke philosophically about the rancorous City Council he had encountered in Pomona.
"You have a new council group here," he said. "There is a new mix of personalities. It takes time for people to get in a familiar groove. I think after awhile, it'll kind of shake itself out."
But according to Smith and Nymeyer, Lazzaretto had already written his resignation letter at the time he made those statements. Smith said the administrator had told her he was having trouble withstanding threats and harassment from Bryant.
Bryant, Smith said, had shouted at Lazzaretto two days before his resignation, insisting that he fire executive assistant Hector Godinez. Bryant has sought to have Godinez dismissed, claiming Wilson violated the City Code when he hired him in January without approval of the city Merit System Commission. The council majority later voted to eliminate the positions of Godinez and two other top administrators.
However, Bryant denied trying to intimidate Lazzaretto and said he knows of no physical threats to the administrator. "Donna Smith is a consummate, rotten liar," he said in an interview. He acknowledged that he and Lazzaretto had differences over Godinez's continued employment with the city.
"I insisted that (Lazzaretto) discharge the three positions that had been eliminated from the budget," Bryant said. "But other than that, I respected the man. I think he spread himself too thin. He could not do a good job and do his other responsibilities, too. And I think that's why he resigned."
Smith said Lazzaretto resigned because "he couldn't compromise any further with what Mr. Bryant was asking." He decided that he wanted to leave with his professional integrity intact."
Nymeyer said he was not surprised by Lazzaretto's sudden exit. "Mr. Lazzaretto's very experienced when it comes to dealing with a council that's at odds," he said. "I think he looked at our City Council, the dynamics of the personalities, and quickly concluded that this was no ordinary council."
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