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Cudahy City Council fires longtime City Manager George Perez

The council, voting 4 to 0 in closed session, fires the controversial Perez, who has run the tiny southeast Los Angeles County town for more than a decade. Longtime City Atty. David Olivas is also dismissed.

March 29, 2011|By Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times

The Cudahy City Council, in a short, hastily called meeting Monday night, fired controversial longtime City Manager George Perez, who has run the tiny southeast Los Angeles County town for more than a decade.

The council, voting 4 to 0 in closed session, also fired longtime City Atty. David Olivas, replacing him with Arturo Fierro, a partner in a firm that also represents Chino and Rialto.

The council placed City Clerk Larry Galvan and Human Resources Director Crystal Hernandez on administrative leave. Galvan promptly filed his retirement papers, saying "it was a pleasure" to have worked for the city.

Olivas, too, said "it was an honor" to have worked for the city since 2000.

Perez did not attend the meeting. Councilman Juan Romo was absent.

The vote marks the latest political upheaval in the small communities that dot southeast L.A. County. Neighboring Bell has been rocked by a corruption scandal after revelations by The Times about the high salaries paid to eight former officials. The state Legislature is considering a bill that would disincorporate Vernon, where the former city manager was indicted last year. And Maywood is struggling to recover after disbanding its Police Department and contracting out many city services to Bell.

After announcing the changes, Cudahy Mayor Josue Barrios, elected to the council in 2009 and appointed mayor last week, said Perez was fired "for cause," though he gave no specifics.

Perez's contract with the city, signed in 2008, provides he be paid 18 months' salary — which began that year at $172,548 — if he is terminated for any reason other than the commission of a felony involving personal gain.

The move represented a rare show of independence on the part of a council that has gone along with Perez on virtually all issues. Councilman David Silva, in a conversation with a Times reporter, said he was looking for the votes to fire Perez, citing unspecified "legal troubles" the city faced.

Silva said council members feared standing up to Perez. His own dissatisfaction with Perez, Silva said, began several months ago, since Perez had moved from Cudahy to Hacienda Heights. He had no comment on Monday's actions.

Still, sources knowledgeable about the efforts that led to Perez's firing said the council had discussed the move privately for months, going so far as to choreograph who would call for a vote on his employment and who would second the measure, and then how quickly the vote would take place.

"They've been talking about this for six months," said Gerardo Vallejo, a former administrative assistant to Perez who was fired a year ago and who said he was often in contact with council members.

Perez's rise came as part of the mid-1990s transition of the southeast county cities from white-majority city councils to ones that area predominantly Latino. He was appointed city manager while on the council, even though he had no education or background in public administration.

In 2001, Perez, who was raised in Cudahy, was the target of an investigation by the Public Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office into the process through which he was hired as city manager. The probe lasted two years and involved the search of both City Hall and Perez's Cudahy home.

The city hired six law firms and amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills defending Perez, Olivas and other council members.

The investigation was eventually dropped for lack of evidence. Perez was never charged with any wrongdoing.

As city manager over the next decade, Perez gained a reputation for controlling public life in Cudahy. He also displayed remarkable attention to detail, calling residents who hadn't had their trash picked up and promising to have a truck swing by.

Contested elections were rare. Council members usually had no opposition — as in this month's municipal elections — and voted 5 to 0 on virtually every issue. In 2007 and 2009, the city held its first contested elections since the 1990s.

Luis Garcia, a former city employee who in 2007 and 2009 ran unsuccessfully against Perez's then-council allies, says Perez used city workers to campaign against him. Garcia's home was firebombed with a Molotov cocktail in 2009 — an event Garcia captured on video. No one has been charged in that incident.

"This is a day for celebration," Garcia said Monday. "Hopefully, this is the start of encouraging other people in my community to get involved in the democratic system and not fear being attacked the way I was attacked."

sam.quinones@latimes.com

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