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Ventura County

City's Hiring of Relative Questioned

Oxnard: Son-in-law of chief administrator Edmund Sotelo is awarded a management job after being rejected as a finalist.

April 16, 2002|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The son-in-law of Oxnard City Manager Edmund F. Sotelo was hired as a computer systems manager this month after Sotelo asked the city personnel director to reconsider the man's qualifications for the $61,000-a-year post.

Thomas Clock, 36, a former computer network administrator for the Los Angeles Dodgers, initially failed to make the list of 10 finalists to direct a four-person unit of city computer specialists. But he was placed in contention after Sotelo asked Human Resources Director Lino Corona to review Clock's qualifications, Corona said Monday.

Corona said that Sotelo never directed him to make Clock a finalist--just to review his resume.

"It was my personal opinion, and I stand by it, that Mr. Clock was probably as well qualified as many of the people we had already invited for interviews," Corona said. "I've thought about this and, you know, I'd do everything exactly the same way."

Sotelo said he had nothing to do with hiring Clock, and that no favoritism was shown when Sotelo's assistant city manager made the hire. Clock reported to work April 2.

"I asked Lino to review the process," Sotelo said. "I wanted just to make sure the process was fair and equitable. No more, no less."

Sotelo said Clock was qualified for the management position and that he had been inappropriately eliminated from consideration. But Sotelo said he didn't tell Corona to do anything to help Clock. "If I had said specifically do this, that or the other, that would have been different," Sotelo said. "I said review the process."

Corona said he then reviewed the qualifications of the other 10 finalists and compared them with Clock's and with the minimum qualifications required by the city.

Clock had apparently been culled along with 11 other applicants because he has had only 4 1/2 years of full-time computer experience, and the minimum required by the city was five years.

Work With Computers Not Initially Considered

But Corona said that Clock's work with computers as a Ralphs supermarket manager should have been counted, as well as his bachelor's degree in business administration with a computer specialization.

"When I made that determination, I sat down with the person from information systems who was involved with the initial screening," Corona said. "I had her review the application again, and I asked her, 'Do you think he is as qualified as some of the people we have invited?' Her assessment was, 'Yeah, I don't have any problem if we invite him.'"

At that point, Corona said, he told the reviewer, Tara Willis, that Clock is Sotelo's son-in law.

Willis, a computer systems administrator, said she initially thought Clock was too inexperienced, but changed her mind after reconsidering his experience as a trainer of Ralphs employees on how to use store computers.

Once his candidacy was revived, Clock was ranked first among the 11 finalists by a panel of three computer experts--two from other local cities and one from the Oxnard Police Department.

A second review panel of city managers, including Willis, Assistant City Manager Karen Burnham and Deputy City Manager Grace Magistrale Hoffman, ranked him first among the top three. Hoffman recommended Clock's hiring and Burnham implemented it.

"We were looking for someone with strong administrative skills as well as technical skills," Willis said. "And Tom had the most administrative skills. I think he met the qualifications."

Panel Discussed Holding New Search

The final panel was not immediately satisfied, however. And Willis and Burnham said there was some discussion of starting over in hopes of attracting a stronger field of candidates.

"I think we reached a consensus to reopen it," Willis said, "and then that was rethought and we decided to go ahead and hire. It wasn't my decision, so I can't comment on that."

City Atty. Gary Gillig said no state laws or city ordinances prohibit close relatives from working for the same city, as long as one is not a direct supervisor of the other.

Sotelo is two management levels removed from direct oversight of Clock.

But a spokesman for the union representing most of Oxnard's computer division employees criticized Sotelo for intervening.

"One of the hallmarks of government in California has been the fact that most people are hired based on the merit system, and it bothers me when people who don't measure up are put on a list for what appears to be less than merit factors," said Barry Hammitt of the Service Employees International Union.

Hammitt said the key question is whether the other disqualified candidates were treated the same as Clock.

Credibility Harmed, Union Chief Says

"It makes it pretty hard to look at the credibility of anything they do at this point," he said. "Everybody who competes for a job should have an equal opportunity."

In an interview, Clock said his experience with computers qualifies him for his new job. He saw the position posted on the Internet, and with a newborn son, he and wife, Bernadette, thought it was time to move from Norwalk to the suburbs.

He said he was not aware that Sotelo had spoken with Corona about his application. But he said he doesn't think he was hired because of favoritism.

"I'm not a real good authority on that issue right now," he said. "I just submitted an application and waited to hear."

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