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Lewis Takes Colton Job as Manager : Personnel: The move may undercut the ex-manager's plans to seek monetary damages from the city over his dismissal.

December 26, 1991|IRENE CHANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former City Manager Mark Lewis, who protested that the City Council damaged his future employability when it fired him in July, has been hired as city manager of Colton, apparently undercutting his ability to pursue legal action against Monterey Park.

Lewis, who was publicly chastised by three council members for mismanaging the city and causing low employee morale, in November filed a lawsuit against the city alleging that some City Council members met secretly before firing him, in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act. The council members deny the charges.

Lewis' attorney, E. Day Carman, said Monday that he intends to continue with the lawsuit, which seeks an unspecified amount in monetary damages. A motion by the city to dismiss the lawsuit is scheduled to be heard in January in Los Angeles Superior Court.

However, because the city of Colton hired Lewis only months after he left Monterey Park--and at a higher salary--he may re-examine his plans to file a wrongful-termination lawsuit against the city, Carman said.

In preparation for that lawsuit, Lewis has filed a claim with the city alleging that his ouster violated an "implied contract" with the city.

Lewis has accused council members of defaming and slandering him in public, thus thwarting his chances of future employment. Carman conceded this week that by accepting a higher-paying job, Lewis had virtually eliminated his employability as an issue.

Carman added that Lewis may still sue for damages for pain and suffering, a contention that should not be weakened by his employment.

Lewis, who began his new job Monday, did not return telephone calls from The Times.

Lewis will be paid $101,496 annually in Colton and will oversee 368 full-time employees, personnel director Gordon Johnson said. His salary was $89,244 in Monterey Park, which has 379 city employees.

The Colton City Council on Friday voted 4 to 0 to hire Lewis as an "at-will" employee, meaning that he can be fired at the discretion of a council majority.

Officials in Colton, a low- to middle-income city, said they were aware of the controversy regarding Lewis in Monterey Park but hired him because he has extensive experience in redevelopment.

The city was recently selected as the site of a 70-acre San Bernardino County hospital, and is seeking developers for commercial and residential projects.

"He wasn't all negative," said Mayor Frank Gonzales, explaining why he and his fellow council members chose Lewis from a field of 66 applicants. "He has a strong background in economic development."

Lewis replaces Edmund Sotelo, who resigned in June to become an assistant city manager in Pasadena.

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