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Power Politics in Pasadena : Feuds, Staff Resignations and Management Errors Have Put City Officials on the Defensive


Pasadena has often worn its political controversies on its sleeve. But the most recent accusations and sometimes painful admissions of mismanagement are forcing the city's leadership into a new era of self-examination.

The city attorney recently resigned under fire for allegedly discriminating against female staffers. And officials are now investigating whether black employees were denied promotions and subjected to racial slurs.

A string of respected department heads have left the city to take jobs elsewhere, and the city manager is under attack.

To make matters worse, the city still feels the sting of the dismal failure of its summer soccer festival, as well as the embarrassment of being cited by the state for not properly equipping firefighters to battle last year's Altadena fire.

Two council members recently suggested that the city look at a new form of government, perhaps going to a full-time mayor and changed roles for the council and city manager.

"There are some leadership problems that we're having to deal with," said Councilman Chris Holden, who, along with Councilman Rick Cole, would like to reshape Pasadena government.

Complaints range from financial failures to allegations of institutional racism. For instance:

* Small business owners were incensed last summer when the city's poorly planned soccer festival, Soccer Carnaval, flopped and vendors lost thousands of dollars. One reason for the failure was that World Cup officials exercised their contractual right to keep the festival from opening on game days. The city, which had assured the business owners that they would be able to open and sell to throngs of game-day fans, has paid settlements totaling $58,000 to 10 merchants to defray their losses. Eleven claims are pending.

* In response to complaints from Pasadena firefighters, the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health cited the Fire Department in July for using torn protective clothing and for failing to supply protective shields during last year's firestorm in Altadena. The Fire Department is taking corrective action to satisfy Cal/OSHA.

* City Atty. Victor Kaleta resigned in August under fire from the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and women's groups. A consultant hired by the city to probe complaints against him found that Kaleta discriminated against female lawyers, including one African American, by failing to include them in a round of promotions in 1992.

The resignation prompted its own storm of criticism, largely against Mayor Kathryn Nack for changing her mind and providing the fourth vote needed to force Kaleta out.

* City Manager Philip Hawkey admitted that the city should have been doing more to promote African American employees after the Pasadena Black Municipal Employees Assn. appeared before the council twice in the past two months complaining that too few blacks hold administrative positions. The group also said black employees have been subjected to racial slurs and more stringent discipline than have other employees. Hawkey is investigating the complaints; his report is to be completed by Oct. 24.

* A number of department heads have left the city recently, including Library Director Edward M. Szynaka, who oversaw last year's campaign for a library tax, which voters approved. Ramon Curiel resigned as the city's affirmative action director last month, and Health Officer Dr. Jacqueline Stiff has announced her resignation effective Friday.

* The City Council's infighting and critical nature have chipped away at employee morale, contributing to the departure of Szynaka and others. Councilman Isaac Richard often sparks council infighting by railing against what he sees as injustices against blacks at City Hall and in Pasadena. Cole is Richard's favorite target, but the councilman at times has taken on Nack and others. Richard also has gone into tirades against city employees, including City Clerk Maria Stewart, an incident that drew a censure from the City Council.

The city's factions agree that these developments are troubling, but there is little agreement on what should be done to prevent such problems in the future.

Richard is the only prominent city leader to publicly call for Hawkey's ouster. But council members and community leaders have made it clear that they fret about Hawkey's ability to run the city.

"It all started on April 24, 1990, the day that 800 to 1,000 black people showed up in City Hall and protested the hiring of one Philip Hawkey," said Richard, an African American, referring to the day that Hawkey beat out two black candidates for the post.

Councilmen Holden and Bill Crowfoot said they have questions about whether Hawkey is the right man for the job.

Their primary complaint is that Hawkey and his staff don't always keep them well-informed about key city issues and projects.

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