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Uneasy Truce at City Hall After Popular Employee Is Rehired : Governance: The city administrator bucked the Council and lost. But neither side is happy.


COMMERCE — The City Council and the city's administrator appear to have reached an uneasy truce in a feud that began when the administrator, Louis Shepard, forced a popular employee to resign.

Thomas Sykes, assistant director of the Human Resources Department, quit his job in early March after being notified that he would be fired.

In an effort to rehire Sykes, the City Council stripped Shepard of authority to hire and fire department heads, usually the administrator's prerogative. The council also prepared to enact a new law that would have suspended all standard hiring practices, including advertising jobs, when selecting department heads.

But cooler heads prevailed last week. Shepard agreed to hire back Sykes, although reluctantly, with the same title and back pay for the three months he's been off the job. And the council, on a 5-0 vote, dropped its plans to throw out all hiring procedures.

"This (controversy) has caused a lot of dissension on the City Council and among residents," Mayor Ruth R. Aldaco said. "I am glad it's over."

Still, neither council members nor Shepard appear happy with the outcome.

Shepard said the decision to rehire Sykes was an "unwelcomed choice" that he made to protect department managers against the City Council's influence.

"The (new) ordinance exposed the department heads to capricious actions of the council," Shepard said. "It opened future appointments to arbitrary decisions without reference to competency or qualifications."

Shepard questioned Sykes' qualifications for his job. Sykes had been head of the Personnel Department in 1988, but was demoted to management analyst because of incompetence, Shepard said. Sykes later became assistant director of the Human Resources Department.

Shepard said that Sykes' duties will be re-evaluated and that he will be excluded from weekly meetings the city administrator has with top managers. (He used to attend such meetings.) When he returned to work Wednesday, he was given a desk in the back of the city's library next to the council chambers, rather than in the human resources offices.

Sykes, a city councilman in Walnut, said he was told not to answer any personnel or policy questions.

Councilman Artemio E. Navarro said he thinks that Sykes, an 18-year City Hall veteran, was unfairly pushed out of his job. Although Sykes said no specific reason was given for his dismissal, City Hall sources said it was related to his aiding an employee who was filing a grievance against the city. Sykes has denied any wrongdoing.

Councilmen James B. Dimas Sr. and Ruben C. Batres said they too wanted to see Sykes reinstated. Navarro and Batres led a behind-the-scenes effort to strike the compromise with Shepard. "I think the majority of the council saw that (Sykes) was wrongly terminated," Navarro said.

Aldaco and Councilman Robert J. Cornejo said they opposed the council's involvement in the Sykes matter.

Sykes said he wants the city to give him credit for vacation time and sick days that he would have accrued during the past three months. Shepard would not say whether Sykes' requests will be granted.

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