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BELL GARDENS : City Attorney Latest to Go at City Hall

July 18, 1993|JILL GOTTESMAN

The turmoil at City Hall continued last week as the City Council fired the city attorney, hired a police chief to replace one on stress leave and was notified that a former city manager is demanding his job back.

The bitterly split council became so mired in political battles Monday night that it suspended its lengthy agenda and adjourned without even paying the city's bills for everything from pens and pencils to consultants' fees.

City Atty. Henry Barbosa was fired on a 3-2 vote Monday because of a conflict with Mayor Frank B. Duran and Councilman Rodolfo (Rudy) Garcia. Barbosa was appointed city attorney in January after the council fired his predecessor, Alan D. Gross, during a stormy session.

Meanwhile, Andy Romero, an Orange County Sheriff's Department captain, was given a five-year contract to lead the city's 56-person police force. He replaces interim Chief Ed Taylor, who left the department four months ago on disability leave for job-related stress.

The council also learned that former City Manager William Vasquez plans to sue the city to get his job back. The 3-2 vote in March to fire Vasquez violated state law, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission, and Vasquez is demanding back pay and benefits.

"Whenever we try to clean the mess, it just gets messier," said Councilwoman Rosa Hernandez. "It's never-ending."

Hernandez voted with Duran and Garcia to fire Barbosa because she said the conflict among her colleagues and the city attorney was interfering with city business.

"We can't go on without an attorney," said City Manager Charles Gomez. "I need a city attorney."

The events leading up to Barbosa's termination began more than two months ago, when the council told him to lower his legal fees. The city attorney's bill often amounted to nearly $20,000 a month.

Gomez was instructed by the council to solicit other law firms. He gathered nearly two dozen proposals from competing attorneys.

Gomez, who had worked with Barbosa for several years in Lynwood, said the council's action was no reflection on Barbosa's professional ability. "I have no complaints about the job he did," Gomez said. "But if there was no congeniality (between Barbosa and the council), then work was not going to get done."

The upheaval in City Hall is reflected in the new police chief's contract, which guarantees him severance pay equal to a full year's salary if he is fired within 18 months. No one who has been hired by the council, which took office in March, 1992, has remained in the job for more than a year.

Romero will be paid $90,000 a year, including $100 a month because he speaks Spanish. Romero is the first Latino police chief in the department's history. U.S. Census statistics show that Bell Gardens is nearly 90% Latino.

Adding to the political chaos at City Hall this week was the demand by Vasquez to be reinstated.

In a letter to the council, Vasquez's attorney said the request was spurred by the discovery that Garcia's vote to fire Vasquez last March violated state law because the two had a financial relationship. Last year, Vasquez lent Garcia $1,000, of which $200 has been repaid. Garcia said he intended to repay the entire amount, but has been struggling financially in recent months.

City officials said they will fight Vasquez's claim.

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