Just seven months after appointing him, Mayor Richard Riordan fired City Administrative Officer Bill Fujioka on Friday, bringing to three the number of general managers who have been asked to leave in recent weeks.
However, Fujioka has indicated that he will fight his dismissal by appealing it to the City Council. He said that under the City Charter he is required to work for the council and the mayor's office, and that he believes his termination is a violation of the charter. But the firing was not a surprise.
"I was earlier threatened to be discharged unless I sent information to the mayor's office for review and approval first before giving it to the council," Fujioka said. "I was required by the charter to work for both the mayor and the council."
The mayor and his top aides are becoming increasingly frustrated that some of the city's top general managers are not moving more quickly to change their relationships with the council and realign themselves with the mayor's office. The new City Charter that takes effect July 1 calls for a strengthening of the relationship between the mayor's office and the general managers.
"When Bill was selected as CAO, we needed someone who could come in and initiate the cultural change that was needed in City Hall under the new charter," said Deputy Mayor Noelia Rodriguez. "We are less than six months away [from the July 1 new charter] and we are much further away from that cultural change that is needed."
While Rodriguez and other mayoral aides declined to discuss Fujioka's status, citing confidentiality, others in City Hall said he was considered to have made several missteps in recent weeks that triggered the mayor's actions Friday. Additionally, those sources said mayoral aides consider Fujioka too friendly with the council, often sharing information with lawmakers before it went to the mayor's office.
Fujioka, in a meeting with Riordan on Friday, was told he could either return to his former post at the city's personnel department or resign. When he turned down the personnel job, Fujioka said, "Richard Riordan said, 'Then I will fire you.' " He was brought to the city less than three years ago by Riordan and appointed to the top administrative job in June.
Two other general managers recently have announced plans to leave their posts. Randall Bacon, who heads the city's General Services Department, has announced he is retiring and Parker Anderson, who heads the Community Development Department, is moving to a new position in the Library Department at the mayor's quiet urging.
"I don't know how you run government effectively with this kind of constant turmoil," said Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has clashed recently with the mayor's office over the appointment of the head of the Community Redevelopment Agency. "I think this level of discontinuity will define the Riordan administration. I find it most unfortunate."
Councilman Mike Feuer, who heads the council's budget and finance committee, which works closely with Fujioka, called him "a straight shooter" with a lot of integrity.
"He has really made an attempt to be collaborative on issues . . . I admire that," Feuer said.
To uphold the firing, Riordan will need eight votes in the council. On July 1, when the new charter takes effect, he will need 10 votes.
Councilwoman Laura Chick said: "I assure you there will be the necessary full scrutiny to determine what the case is here."
While some council members said they were firmly in Fujioka's corner, others weren't so sure.
Council President John Ferraro, for example, voted for Fujioka's appointment but had some reservations, sources say.
A couple of recent situations apparently infuriated the mayor's top deputies, including a report on secession that essentially left no role for the mayor and another report on implementing the new charter that reached conclusions contrary to those of the mayor's office.
Acting on that discontent may involve confrontation with the council. As Ridley-Thomas said Friday: "The next several weeks are going to be tension-packed as it relates to how these two branches of local government are going to work together."
Times staff writer Tina Daunt contributed to this story.