The City Council has adopted an ordinance that reduces City Administrator Joseph Goeden’s control over department heads.
The ordinance requires four of five council members to approve all salary increases, hirings and firings of department heads recommended by Goeden.
The measure, adopted Monday, was prompted by the sudden resignation of Finance Director Grant Gundestrup. Gundestrup, who was hired by Goeden in 1982, resigned March 22 as the result of what city officials describe as a personality conflict with Goeden.
Councilwoman Catherine Hensel, who introduced the measure, said it would give the council greater control over department heads and the city administrator.
Approved in 3-2 Vote
The council approved the measure 3 to 2, with William O. Nighswonger and Phillip M. Ramos dissenting. Mayor Art Payan and William M. Molinari agreed with Hensel.
Critics of the ordinance on the council and in the audience said it would increase political influence over department heads and interfere with the administrator’s ability to run the city smoothly.
In a report submitted to the council, Goeden acknowledged that the change could prevent the implementation of arbitrary decisions by the administrator. But he said he could not support the ordinance because it could discourage qualified professionals from applying for jobs with the city, and he cited the possibility of council members wielding undue political pressure on his top assistants.
“Only time will tell” to what degree the council uses its newly acquired authority over department heads, he said after the meeting,
The council’s need to tighten controls has been proven over the last two years, Payan said. In particular, he cited a dispute that began when Goeden hired Gundestrup without council approval.
At the time, Goeden created a stir because he passed over Geraldine Sepulveda Arnopp, a Latina who was then the accounting manager. Payan criticized Goeden, saying his decision did not reflect the minority makeup of the community or the city’s tradition of hiring from within.
The latest ordinance, Payan said, will allow the council to work more closely with department heads and improve services in the city.
Two members of the audience of about 25 people spoke in opposition to the ordinance.
Called a ‘Mistake’
Elaine Kirchner, a member of the council from 1958 to 1962, said the ordinance was a “mistake” and that the city administrator needs hiring and firing power to run the city professionally.
Mike Sana, president of the Montebello Police Assn., said the policy change was part of “a hidden agenda” by council members who have “axes to grind” with department heads.
Nighswonger said he feared council members would exert pressure on department heads to promote issues the council members favor.
The council then approved Nighswonger’s proposal that department heads submit monthly reports detailing any requests received from council members.