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A Skeleton Crew at City Hall Carries On : Baldwin Park: It is not business as usual in a city that has lost so many officials. In fact, some hoped-for funds may have gone by the wayside.

December 24, 1989|JESSE KATZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BALDWIN PARK — For most of the last year, Baldwin Park has lived up to its motto of city in motion.

Moving on have been the mayor, a city councilman, the city manager, the police chief, the director of community services, the director of administrative services and the director of housing and economic development.

Even now, the city has only an acting mayor and an acting city manager--and no redevelopment manager or city planner.

Some of the officials departed for personal reasons or better-paying jobs. Others were fired, forced to resign or caught in personality disputes.

The departures, however, add up to one thing: some of the most sweeping transitions at Baldwin Park City Hall in its 33-year history. Officials hope the changes will end up bringing harmony to their modern governmental complex just north of the railroad tracks. But the storm has yet to subside.

"We've been just like a ship without a captain," said Councilman Bobbie Izell. "And the officers have deserted, too."

The ensuing confusion in at least one instance may have cost the city a chance to borrow thousands of dollars. Officials only recently discovered that they had failed to request nearly $200,000 in low-interest loans that are routinely offered by Los Angeles County to any community redevelopment agency that bothers to apply.

A letter was whipped off Nov. 15 asking for the funds, explaining that the city had not received its share for the 1988-89 fiscal year "due to the delay of communicating" with the county's chief administrative officer.

City officials are waiting to hear whether the money is still available. But it could have come in handy earlier this month when Baldwin Park was forced to lend its own Redevelopment Agency $300,000 to cover a short-term cash flow problem.

"I would be less than candid to say that I believe everything's been perfect," said Beverly Pearce, the city's recently appointed director of housing and economic development. "But I'm not interested in casting aspersions or passing judgments with the benefit of hindsight. Let's just say we found the problem, we see it, and we're fixing it."

Searching for a new city manager for this predominantly Latino, working-class community has also added to the disruption. Ralph Webb, who held the post for eight years, resigned under fire in May after the council expressed displeasure about growing fiscal woes under his administration.

The director of administrative services, Michael Yelton, was named acting manager. But he left last month to take a job as director of general services for Simi Valley.

City officials had expected Allen Stephenson, the former city manager of San Marino, to take over starting Nov. 13. But after reviewing four months of City Council minutes, he told officials he couldn't handle the job full-time.

The post then was offered to another candidate, who, like Stephenson, was referred to Baldwin Park by a League of California Cities program that makes managers available to short-staffed cities. But that candidate decided to become city manager of newly incorporated Temecula.

City Clerk Linda Gair was offered the job of acting manager and declined. Finally, on Nov. 27, it fell to Police Chief Carmine Lanza, who just last month was promoted from captain after former Chief Richard Hoskin was fired.

"For many months in 1989, there appeared to be conflicts in City Hall," said Lanza, who is doing double duty as both police chief and acting manager. "But I think we've weathered those storms and come out in good shape. Change isn't necessarily bad."

Indeed, rather than dwell on the turmoil, many in City Hall prefer to view the transition as a process in which the cream rises to the top. Three of the department head vacancies have been filled from within.

"I'm not saying it's been easy," said Mayor Pro Tem Bette Lowes. "But our staff has pulled in and filled the ranks without missing a beat. I'm amazed and proud of everyone."

Lowes, who has been running council meetings since Leo King resigned last month to be with his family in Oklahoma, will continue in the post until the city's mayoral election in April.

Officials hope that the spate of rapid personnel changes will also help turn around the city's financial picture. Anticipating a budget deficit earlier this year of $500,000 to $1 million, the council was forced to eliminate several staff positions as well as the entire code enforcement team, responsible for enforcing the city's health and safety laws.

There are no auto rows or large shopping malls to generate sales tax revenues for the city. So the opening June 1 of a 200-room Hilton Hotel was for most officials the fiscal highlight of the year.

To make the most of existing businesses, the Chamber of Commerce has begun a program to encourage residents to shop in town. Motorists around the city spotted with a "Be Part of Baldwin Park" bumper sticker have been awarded gift certificates good for $10 to $25 at local stores.

Yet a plan to ease the pinch by imposing a 3% utility tax for the next five years was soundly rejected by voters in November. And local tax crusader Herschel Keyser, who led a successful recall effort against two councilmen in 1987 because of their support for a previous utility tax, was elected for the first time to the council in the same vote.

There's still hope for balancing next year's budget, though, joked another member of the council. With so many departures, think of all the money saved in payroll.

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