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Pasadena Council Deliberates City Attorney's Fate : Politics: Special session was called to consider resignation of Victor Kaleta. Investigation found that he had discriminated against female attorneys in his office.

August 18, 1994|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Pasadena City Council was to have met in special session Wednesday night to consider the resignation of City Atty. Victor Kaleta, who has come under fire recently because of an investigation that found he discriminated against female attorneys in his office.

While no council action had been taken at press time for this edition, officials at City Hall said they expected Kaleta and lawmakers to reach agreement on the terms of his departure from the $117,500-a-year job.

"Basically, what is occurring is a meeting to discuss the terms of his separation from the city. If that is worked out, he will resign," said Councilman William E. Thomson Jr.

Kaleta's future with the city was all but decided Friday, when Mayor Kathryn Nack called for his resignation in a speech to the National Women's Political Caucus in Pasadena.

Nack's comments were a reversal of her previous support for Kaleta and created a 4-3 council majority in favor of his resignation. Last month, Nack's support allowed Kaleta to survive a "no confidence" vote by the council.

"Clearly, the majority of the council, including the mayor, feel it's time for a change of city attorney," said Councilman Rick Cole, who supports keeping Kaleta, 56, on the job.

Kaleta, who has been with the city attorney's office 17 years and has been at its helm since 1984, refused to say whether he will resign. "It's not something I wish to comment on right now," he said in an interview.

But other officials said Kaleta's departure was a certainty. Several officials, for example, said that Kaleta and two officials representing the city met Tuesday to hammer out the terms of his departure.

Nack said her decision to join Councilmen Bill Crowfoot, Chris Holden and Isaac Richard in calling for Kaleta to step down was a matter of principle. "I was left as the swing vote on the council and I decided the time had come for me on this issue," she said.

Her speech came two days after the local chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People called for Kaleta to resign or be fired from his job.

Kaleta is not guaranteed a severance package because he has no contract, but he may be entitled to retirement benefits. However, the council was expected to give him some severance in recognition of his years with the city.

In recent months, Kaleta, City Manager Phil Hawkey and Fire Chief Kaya Pekerol all have come under criticism from council members and residents.

Hawkey has been blamed for incomplete staff reports, the city's disappointing World Cup soccer festival and alleged problems with affirmative action hiring and promotions.

Pekerol is under investigation by the city's Public Safety Committee after Cal-OSHA issued eight safety citations against his department last month. Among other things, the department was cited for a lack of training on handling hazardous materials in the workplace and because firefighters battling last fall's devastating Altadena wildfires did not have so-called fire shields, which are flame-retardant blankets of aluminum and fiberglass. The shields, Pekerol said, were in storage but were not issued, largely because a city committee had not approved their use.

"Pasadena has slipped into a state of mediocrity. More heads could roll if we get the votes, like with Kaleta," said Councilman Richard.

However, Cole said he doubts there will be other changes in management at City Hall.

The Kaleta controversy stems from an April 14 report by a work-conflict consultant hired by the city's affirmative action office. The consultant's investigation found female attorneys in the civil branch of the city attorney's office suffered discrimination in promotions, salaries and fringe benefits, particularly since a 1992 reorganization. The probe was ordered by Kaleta and the city's affirmative action director after a female staffer wrote a memo complaining about disparate treatment for women.

Since the report, all four female attorneys have filed formal claims of gender discrimination with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In previous interviews, Kaleta has denied discriminating against female lawyers in his office. He has said the 1992 reorganization was approved by the council and that his office met affirmative action guidelines for hiring women and minorities. But he acknowledged that the reorganization did leave the impression of inequity because two male attorneys won promotions after threatening to resign. And those promotions may not have been properly explained to female attorneys in the office, Kaleta said.

Last month, a council majority-- Nack, Cole, Paparian and Thomson--voted to give Kaleta six months to address the problems in his office rather than join a "no confidence" vote by Crowfoot, Holden and Richard.

In addition, the council issued other directives: The city attorney's office policies would be reviewed by a consultant, one female attorney would be promoted and Kaleta would no longer serve as city prosecutor. One unidentified employee was disciplined for a role in promoting the two male attorneys.

But last Friday, Nack criticized the council's earlier action as "too little, too late" and she accused the male councilmen of ignoring the female attorneys.

Richard praised Nack's speech. "It was the right place to tackle the issue," he said. "Katie had misgivings about Kaleta all along. . . . When it became apparent the public thought it was wrong to keep him on, she came around."

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