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A would-be applicant for city administrator finds there's more to the job than running the city.

November 05, 1989|MARY R. HEFFRON

Try to imagine, if you will, that you work in city government in a small town in Northern California.

Let's say you are city manager of Lake Beaujolais, a hamlet of 25,000 or so nestled between wineries and vineyards in the mythical county where "Falcon Crest" is filmed.

Aside from once-a-year location shooting by the television crews, it's a quiet life in Lake Beaujolais. As long as yuppies keep drinking, the tax revenue is pretty steady. Biggest crime is the occasional house draped with toilet paper after a high school football game.

Controversy? Well, people still talk about the nude photograph that won the Lake Beaujolais Art Festival in 1975. But all in all, a quiet life. A nice place to spend your life--unless you are an ambitious city manager, which you are. You've been in Lake Beaujolais oh, five or six years, and it's time to move on to a bigger city.

You hear there's an opening in Pomona. That's appealing. Pomona, after all, has a population of 120,000. In some states that would be considered a city of some magnitude. But Pomona is on the eastern edge of Los Angeles County, so it's often subsumed into the megalopolis.

Still, a good-size place. It has both urban problems, including a burgeoning crime rate and gang activity, and the challenge of growth, with people and businesses moving from Los Angeles and the west toward affordable housing and land to the east. There's a lot going on in Pomona.

You're bright, you have ideas, you're politically savvy. An ideal city manager, really. You like the look of this place. City administrator of Pomona. Sounds very appealing. You decide to give Pomona a closer look.

First question: How did this opening come about? Was it someone like you, moving on to a bigger challenge in a larger city? A homesick Midwesterner looking for a life-style change? A retirement, perhaps?

You head over to the public library to look at the newspaper file. Here's what you find:

The city administrator, A. J. Wilson, was fired last May, soon after a City Council election formed a new majority. The 20-year government veteran had been hired 13 months earlier on the strength of his reputation as a forceful leader who had tackled urban decay and economic stagnation.

His interim replacement, Andrew Lazzaretto, quit after little more than a month.

His replacement, Tom Fee, continues in his full-time job of fire chief while managing the city.

In August, Councilman C. L. (Clay) Bryant, the leader of the majority, came up with the idea that a good way to save money would be to cut or eliminate employee benefits. His term for benefits like tuition and executive leave was "fat."

In the last two months, the city attorney and the public works director have quit.

Three weeks ago, council members announced that they had heard from patrol officers that mid-rank police officers have exerted so much authority over patrol officers that many have avoided taking any action on their own for fear of making a mistake and being disciplined. Bryant quoted one patrol officer as saying he was so petrified that he spends most of his shift sitting in his police car reading a magazine, unless he is specifically ordered to a crime scene. The council concluded somebody should get fired. Police Chief Richard M. Tefank, who had been been with the department for 18 years, refused to fire his middle management staff. The council fired Tefank.

Last week, after the police union voted to protest the Tefank firing by joining a move to recall Bryant, Bryant publicized one of the officers' private medical records.

A day later, a deputy city attorney sent in his resignation by fax.

Pomona council members have referred to themselves as the best show in town.

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