For the past month, it has been the hottest municipal soap opera in Los Angeles County. Each Pasadena City Council meeting has been a cliffhanger: Will City Manager Philip Hawkey keep his job?
Hawkey's fortunes have swung more wildly than the Dow Jones--and remained volatile during an unusual Saturday meeting in which the City Council let him stay--for now.
It all started in late November, when the council narrowly voted to let the seven-year veteran finish his contract, which ends in October 1999.
Two weeks later, the council changed its mind, voting 4 to 2 to replace Hawkey in six to nine months. An angry Hawkey said he had been "ambushed" and vowed to consider his legal options. Irate city employees boycotted a Christmas reception hosted by Hawkey foe and Pasadena Mayor Chris Holden.
At the special meeting Saturday, the council took it all back. With all of Hawkey's foes absent, a four-member quorum agreed to let Hawkey, 51, finish his contract.
"This has been a distressful and painful period for me and my family," Hawkey said, before turning the microphone over to his lawyer, who spelled out steps he said the council needs to take to avoid a lawsuit.
Grumbled one City Hall insider: "They make [USC Athletic Director] Mike Garrett look like a genius," referring to how Coach John Robinson learned from the press that he had been fired.
Hawkey has never had it easy in Pasadena.
Seven years ago, black activists tried to block his hiring, charging that he had been racist in his previous job as city manager of Toledo.
He was hired in a 4-3 vote over two black candidates, infuriating some African American leaders in this often politically fractious town. For years he feuded with black activist Danny Bakewell, who has charged that Hawkey has unnecessarily blocked his planned shopping center in northwest Pasadena.
Since his hiring, Hawkey has never had the backing of more than four of the council's seven members.
Detractors say Hawkey is so busy counting votes on the council that he doesn't bother to govern. "Hawkey has done a marginal job," said neighborhood activist Penny York. Consequently, "he held on to his job by the narrowest of margins."
But Hawkey supporters say the opposite is true.
"Phil is politically naive to the point of reckless," said former City Councilman Rick Cole, who initially opposed Hawkey but ended up supporting him. "Sometimes he will do things and just not consider the political fallout. His friends and allies would appreciate a little more political sensitivity on his part."
Supporters say Hawkey has breathed life into the Old Pasadena shopping district and rejuvenated the city's business climate while fighting to balance the budget and battling the MTA over extending the planned Blue Line to the city.
Earlier this year, Councilman William Thompson, a Hawkey supporter, retired. His replacement, Councilman Sidney Tyler, has been the swing vote in the past month.
Residents in Tyler's district vehemently oppose a business development on South Lake Avenue backed by Hawkey. Tyler denied Saturday that the business development has influenced his voting. Yet, two weeks ago, Tyler cast the deciding vote to oust Hawkey. On Saturday, he reversed himself, saying he was trying to avoid litigation and that the city needed stable leadership.
Tyler said the city manager evaluation process needs to be "professionalized . . . what we have done is disgraceful. A chief executive deserves something better than what he got."
At Saturday's meeting, some residents supported Hawkey but others said the city needs new leadership.
"This subject has opened a gaping hole in our community," said Terri Allen. "It began seven years ago as a small cut and has grown into a gaping, festering sore."