In a show of support for the recent controversial hiring of Leonard Chaidez to head the beleaguered Hawaiian Gardens Parks and Recreation Department, residents and city staff members publicly chastised City Councilman Donald E. Schultze for questioning the new director's qualifications.
Last week, Schultze accused Mayor Kathleen M. Navejas and two fellow council members of "cronyism" for hiring Chaidez, who placed fifth in a field of seven finalists applying for the position.
Chaidez, a close friend and business associate of the Navejas family, does not hold a degree in recreation and has never worked in the recreation department.
For the past three years, Chaidez has also worked closely with Navejas' husband, Carlos, as executive director of the Hawaiian Gardens Social Service Agency. Carlos Navejas is the founder of the agency.
Navejas said Chaidez was picked for the job over other, more qualified candidates because he was the only one who is a local resident, is bilingual and Latino.
Schultze remained silent as more than a dozen residents spoke on Chaidez's behalf during an open forum Tuesday night.
"We're a proud city. We have our problems," Arthur J. Perez told Schultze. "If you're not satisfied, you can vacate the position you serve."
"Mr. Chaidez needs to be in the recreation department," resident Sherry Hoodky said. "We need someone who knows the city and the kids."
Some residents said they collected more than 700 signatures in one day to show support for Chaidez's hiring. Others said that hiring a local community leader is more important to the future of the recreation department than hiring someone who has the educational background.
Chaidez, who holds a bachelor's degree in social ecology from UC Irvine, takes the post Monday.
The recreation department has been the subject of recent criticism by residents who have complained of cutbacks in hours and staff.
The city pool hours at Lee Ware Park were recently cut back to four hours. Mary Corrales, a city employee, harshly criticized the council for ignoring the recreation department's past administrative problems.
"Leonard can't do any worse than what we have had for the past three years," Corrales told the council.
The recreation director post month opened last month when Roy Mehan was transferred to another administrative slot.