Former zoning administrator says her demotion was discriminatory

PoliticsPublic OfficialsMatt DoyleMergers, Acquisitions and Takeovers

A Filipino-American who once held one of the most powerful decision-making positions in the city regarding zoning is fighting her demotion, claiming the move was discriminatory and based on insider politics.

Edith Fuentes’ demotion last month sparked a backlash from local Filipino and women’s groups who packed Glendale City Council chambers Wednesday night to support her appeal against the title change, which city officials say is due to poor job performance.

It was the first of what could end up being a dozen hearings on the case before the Civil Service Commission, which will ultimately rule on her appeal.

“It’s just mind-boggling,” Fuentes said. “I’ve always been a hard worker.”

According to her demotion letter, Fuentes’ boss, Community Development Director Hassan Haghani, had notified her of poor decision-making and unclear written decisions that led to unnecessary civil litigation against the city.

Fuentes said that, in addition to being rooted in ethnic and gender discrimination, her demotion may have been in retaliation for a successful lawsuit she filed in 2000 in which she claimed her boss harassed her based on her background. As part of a settlement, Fuentes received a public apology from city officials.

She did not ask for financial damages, but the city paid her attorney’s fees.

City spokesman Tom Lorenz said her most recent claims of discrimination were investigated “and were determined to have no merit,” adding that the city has strict policies preventing discrimination.

As the city’s zoning administrator for several years, Fuentes made decisions on issues such as parking variances and construction. She said she ruled independently and refused to let politics sway her conclusions.

Fuentes said she received “outstanding” or “exceeds standards” reviews through 2000, but after her lawsuit, she received four instances of “below standards” reviews.

In 2007, her title was changed from zoning administrator to planning administrator and some of her work was shifted to other staff members.

In Fuentes’ last review, Haghani wrote: “Despite the new, clear policy directions given by the City Council to prevent applicants from taking unfair advantage of the review process, a few of Edith's decisions have allowed some to abuse the system and thereby damage the city's credibility in the eyes of the public.”

In September, she was demoted to planner, dragging her annual salary down from $129,240 to $89,472, according to city records.

“This action by the city of Glendale is a slap on the face of the Filipino community,” said Ruby De Vera, president of the Filipino-American Business Assn. of Glendale.

Last year, the city hired a private investigator to audit Fuentes’ work — a move Human Resources Director Matt Doyle characterized as rare. The investigator found 10 cases that demonstrated Fuentes lacked a basic understanding of permit requirements and held inappropriate one-on-one meetings with applicants.

Fuentes defended her rulings — which the investigator found to be ambiguous — as being rooted in language commonly used by the city, according to a report. She also said she met with applicants because her first boss said doing so was good customer service, a view not shared with later administrators.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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