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Riverside Fires Its City Manager

Decision on George Caravalho divides the City Council, 4 to 3. Community groups protest strongly at a later meeting.

September 08, 2004|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

A divided Riverside City Council fired the city's top administrator Tuesday, ending a strained 2 1/2-year relationship.

After the council's 4-3 vote, City Manager George Caravalho said that he hadn't expected to be fired but that something had to change.

"I didn't want it to go on any longer. In any relationship, you have to make a commitment to try and work on it ... or to move on. I was ready to move on," he said. "I'm disappointed that it came to this kind of conclusion, but that's one of the hazards of being a city manager. You have to try and please so many people, and that's a challenge."

Since Caravalho joined the city in May 2002, some council members have criticized his communications with the panel, his oversight of some projects, his expense reports and his visible role in the community.

The council stripped him of his post as redevelopment director in May and evaluated his performance in a closed-door meeting the same month. After that meeting, the council and Caravalho vowed to improve their relationship and to hold workshops to better their communication. All but one of those meetings was canceled.

On Tuesday, Councilmen Frank Schiavone, Ed Adkison, Art Gage and Steve Adams voted to fire Caravalho and to name Assistant City Manager Michael Beck acting city manager. An interim replacement will be named Tuesday.

"We felt it was in the best interest of the city to make a change at this time," Gage said, declining further comment.

Councilman Dom Betro, who opposed the firing along with council members Ameal Moore and Nancy Hart, called the vote "disappointing and unfortunate."

"I can't talk about the employee issues, except to say I did not vote for it and I do not agree with it," Betro said. "All I can tell you is -- you can read into it what you want -- I have enjoyed working with George and I've gotten things done. I didn't see the necessity for this type of action today."

More than 30 residents, including community and labor leaders and city employees, argued on Caravalho's behalf at the noon council meeting Tuesday. After the vote, they expressed disbelief and anger, and some wept.

"I can't believe it. This is so gross. This guy has been nothing but wonderful for the community," said Christina Duran of the Eastside Community Action Council. Some council members "are like a bunch of schoolboys who can't handle someone who's smarter than them. This is disgusting."

Several residents chided the council for discussing the matter at a daytime meeting one day after a holiday weekend.

"Were you hoping the community was disengaged? I have news for you: We're not, and we're not because of this man," said Chani Beeman, a member on the city's Human Relations Commission.

Katie Green, political action chairwoman for the Group, a coalition of local African American community leaders, said of the council: "We elected them to serve the city. We will have a mantra next election day: Let's vote the rascals out!"

At another City Council meeting Tuesday night, scores of Caravalho's supporters wore white armbands and waved signs with messages, such as "You're just mad because Caravalho is better than you!" and "Riverside Recall." Under a heavy police presence, several addressed the council.

"I am appalled at the action that was taken this afternoon," said Pat Ames, a city plan-check engineer and president of Service Employees International Union Local 1997, which represents hundreds of city employees. "In my 27 years [with the city], I've seen city managers come and go. Never have I felt the loss of a city manager to be so devastating."

Caravalho, 66, received $200,000 a year.

Because he was fired before the end of his three-year contract, he will receive a year's salary.

He has worked for the state and for six other cities. In Riverside, he said, he has been proud of his work improving communication between City Hall and the community, hiring solid managers, maintaining service levels and making progress on development and growth.

He said a friend often remarked that no good deed goes unpunished.

"Sometimes I felt like that," he said.

He said he felt that he got conflicting requests from the council, such as being told to create strong community relations and then being criticized for being too visible in the community. "It's a lose-lose situation," he said.

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