Carson Shakes Up Government, Strengthens City Administrator

Times Staff Writer

A far-reaching reorganization took place this week at Carson City Hall, intended to instill sound management where officials say favoritism, political connections and strong personalities have often held sway.

The city administration "has not been run right," Mayor Kay Calas said, adding that she and other officials want to "straighten up City Hall."

The shake-up, the largest departmental realignment since Carson was incorporated in 1968, will take six to eight months to phase in and was approved unanimously by the City Council. This rare consensus on a major issue suggests that the decision is not likely to be reversed by the outcome of elections in April for three council seats.

The most significant change is the reduced role of Howard Homan, director of parks and recreation, Carson's largest department, whose responsibilities had been greatly expanded over the years. Homan, who supervises several popular programs and until recently enjoyed a close relationship with some council members, had become a powerful political figure in Carson.

Other department heads will pick up Homan's responsibilities, but the big winner in the reorganization is City Administrator Dick Gunnarson because it clearly puts his stamp on City Hall. By concentrating on departmental responsibilities rather than personalities, he won support for his plan from council members Sylvia Muise and Tom Mills, who had walked out when Gunnarson was appointed in May.

Persistent Problems

Along with the departmental realignment, officials say that they are trying to solve some persistent problems outlined in a management consultant's report recommending the reorganization.

The $80,000 report, produced by the Orange-based Ewing Co. last spring, said extensive questionnaires and interviews with employees indicated that staff morale and communications had been poor. The consultant said employees and council members have regularly bypassed the chain of command and that the city administrator spent an excessive amount of time handling council members' requests for action or information.

Under the council-manager form of municipal government, the City Council sets policy and the city manager or administrator implements it. Communications between the council and staff are normally carried out through the manager.

The consultant's report did not detail specific violations of that management principle and did not present any solutions, concentrating instead on the reorganization of responsibilities of each of the city's six departments and the city administrator's office. The council similarly talked only of departmental tasks when the reshuffle was approved.

But Gunnarson said that the reorganization will strengthen the chain of command because some previously overloaded department heads will now be able to respond to council concerns, through the city administrator, more quickly.

"Bypassing the chain of command is not necessarily an organizational problem," he said. "It is created by a lack of confidence."

In past council meetings, members have accused one another of violating administrative procedures in dealing with the staff and in making appointments. In private, council members and other officials tell of several cases, involving both rank-and-file employees and high city officials, in which campaign workers have wound up on the city payroll or where personal and political relationships have aided or hurt job advancement and program proposals.

To cite one notable example, the current city administrator, Gunnarson, was forced out as community development director in 1983 because he opposed the plans of subsequently convicted political corrupter W. Patrick Moriarty to build a mobile home park over a former landfill, according to Gunnarson's testimony in the corruption trial of former Carson Councilman Walter J. (Jake) Egan. Egan was convicted of fraud and extortion.

Gunnarson and Calas said that some of the problems cited in the Ewing report, which was compiled before Gunnarson became city administrator, have been alleviated.

Gunnarson said that the staff responds quicker and he is not spending as much time answering requests from the council. As a result, he said, council members are not dealing directly with staff members as often.

"That has tapered off over the six months that I have been here because the council now gets a response. When they have a problem, we are really looking into it. It's not just lost in a corner," he said.

"Part of the thing that was wrong was (council members) weren't getting information, and that can lead to embarrassment. We are trying to improve that. They were getting incomplete staff work and that makes it pretty difficult too."

Employee Morale

The council members are divided over whether morale is any better since Gunnarson succeeded City Administrator John Dangleis, who resigned under pressure.

"On the whole, they are a happier bunch of employees than before," Mayor Calas said.

But Mills, a frequent opponent of Calas, said he is not aware of improvements in staff morale, employees' following the chain of command, or the amount of time the city administrator spends on council requests. Muise charged that morale is at an "all-time low."

Parks and Recreation Director Homan, chief loser in the realignment, will give up 60 of his 518 employees and a host of responsibilities.

Another official whose responsibilities were cut is Finance Director William Parrott, whose data processing, risk management and central services divisions have been assigned to other departments.

Public Works Director Harold Williams and Deputy City Administrator William McKown will pick up the most important new duties.

Gunnarson said he simply asked the council to go back to the original mission of each department and compare that with what the departments were actually doing.

Jerry-Built Government

Over the years, a series of ad hoc arrangements had created an administrative hodgepodge.

Parrott was assigned several additional duties by default as personnel vacancies occurred.

But Homan, who had a reputation for getting things done, wound up with responsibilities beyond supervising recreation and maintenance of park facilities and grounds. Gunnarson said the popularity of the programs that Homan supervised gave him a constituency that made him one of the most powerful figures in the city.

In his capacity as chief of capital improvement projects, Homan shepherded construction of City Hall and the nearby community center. He was in charge of graffiti removal throughout Carson. Other assignments included street and building maintenance, youth services, social services, the Tiny Tot and senior citizens programs, a nutrition program sponsored by the YMCA and operation of the community center.

"Howard had a lot of functions that rightfully should have been in other departments," Councilwoman Vera Robles DeWitt said.

In what Muise called a "mind-boggling" example, the Parks and Recreation Department was in charge of trimming weeds in sidewalk tree wells, but weeds that grew between cracks in a sidewalk came under the Public Works Department. "That was insanity," she said.

Gunnarson said Homan was not qualified to supervise construction. "Every construction job came in late and over budget," he said. Gunnarson added that it has taken far too long to repair damage at City Hall from a fire last spring. "There were 57 delays and not one penalty clause enforced."

The consultant's report came at a time when Homan's support on the council had evaporated.

He alienated Muise and Mills in the summer of 1986 when he tried to persuade some of Carson's largest businesses to pay for a reception after the funeral for Muise's husband. The action triggered an embarrassing state investigation into conflict-of-interest allegations, with the Fair Political Practices Commission recommending that Muise avoid voting on matters affecting the businesses.

Calas and DeWitt, who had testified against former Councilman Egan in his corruption trial, were angered when they learned that Egan had threatened them in a conversation with Homan after his conviction and that Homan gossiped about it at City Hall.

In a pre-sentencing hearing where the threats were disclosed in testimony, the judge said, "This court believes Mr. Egan knew well and good his threats would filter back through the loose lips of Mr. Homan."

Homan testified that he repeated Egan's comments, which he said he did not consider threats, merely to reassure the council members that Egan was not dangerous. The City Council sent for the transcript of the hearing, considered it in a closed session and decided that no discipline against Homan was justified.

Calas, however, has inflicted her own. The mayor, who has a tart way of expressing herself, took to calling Homan "Loose Lips" to his face.

She also suggested in an interview that Homan had irritated the council when he attempted to reverse its decisions by encouraging residents to protest.

"When a director doesn't get his way, they have a dog-and-pony show where they fill up the (council) chambers and play games. You don't play games with your bosses," Calas said. Asked if she was talking about Homan, she chuckled. "I didn't say any names."

But she said later: "Howard will carry tales and he will do anything to get his way."

Constant Pleading

Councilman Michael Mitoma said in an interview that he grew tired of hearing Homan ask for more money.

"Howard has said, 'Look at all the responsibility I have. I should get more.'

"I can solve that problem," Mitoma went on, aiming a karate chop at his desk. "Cut back his duties. What other parks and recreation director has construction? Howard is always babbling that he is lowest-paid (department head) and has more responsibility."

Homan, whose annual salary is $59,880, makes less than Public Works Director Williams ($61,692), Community Development Director Pat Brown ($61,164) and Finance Director Parrott ($60,480), but more than Personnel Director John Prindeville ($47,784) and Community Safety Director Joe Medina ($42,048). The realignment does not affect salaries.

Homan was stoical in public about the council's plan.

"They made the sort of decision councils are paid to make," he said. "It was a surprise. We didn't have a lot of input."

In private, Homan was upset, according to Gunnarson and Calas.

"The most unhappy one over there is Howard Homan--and he should be unhappy," the mayor said.

Gunnarson said: "I told Howard, 'What are you crying about? You're still working.' " He added, in reference to his own forced retirement in 1983, "I wasn't working for four years."

Parrott, who was sharply criticized by Gunnarson and several council members who said he presented vague and incomplete budget information, said he does not think he is being punished. "I hope not," he said.

In the reorganization, the Personnel Department will be responsible for workers' compensation, benefits, recruitment, employee services and central services. The Finance and Administration Department will handle accounting, purchasing, business licenses and storage.

The Community Safety Department's duties will include security and emergency services, crime prevention and analysis, safety contracts and parks security. The Community Services Department will be in charge of planning, redevelopment, building safety and code enforcement.

The Parks and Recreation Department will handle parks maintenance as well as recreation programs. The Public Works Department will be responsible for engineering, street and sidewalk maintenance, capital improvement projects, building maintenance and graffiti removal.

Deputy City Administrator McKown will be responsible for public information, data processing, risk management, contracts administration, the job clearinghouse program and rent control.

In addition, McKown will superintend, on an experimental basis, the youth and social services, Tiny Tot and senior citizen programs, YMCA nutrition program and the community center that were formerly under Parks and Recreation. If McKown's workload proves unwieldy after six months or so, Gunnarson said, he will recommend that the city hire a director of social services and create a separate department.

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