2 Monterey Park Council Members Assail City Manager

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mayor Betty Couch and Councilwoman Marie T. Purvis are embroiled in a power struggle with City Manager Mark Lewis and are trying to exert greater control over the way he runs the city.

Couch and Purvis accuse Lewis of straying from city policies in the way he promotes employees, grants salary raises and purchases equipment. They have called for his resignation and for an investigation into his management practices, so far to no avail.

The three other City Council members--Fred Balderrama, Judy Chu and Sam Kiang--say Lewis is doing a good job, and they say Couch and Purvis are engaged in a vendetta against the city manager. Lewis maintains he never violated city codes when giving raises or making purchases.

Still, Couch and Purvis plan to go at it again Monday. Purvis said she will again demand that the council hire an outside consultant to look into what they say are Personnel Code violations and low morale in City Hall brought about by Lewis.

"There's something very wrong," Purvis said. "Who's minding the store?"

Couch and Purvis, normally at odds on many issues, cited as inappropriate a number of recent actions taken by Lewis:

* On Oct. 27, 1990, Lewis gave Economic Development Director Keith Breskin a 10% raise, from $61,331 a year to $67,464--his third raise in 15 months. Although the city's Personnel Code permits Lewis to raise Breskin's salary, Couch and Purvis say the increase was unwarranted.

* Lewis purchased a $10,470 Macintosh computer system for Beth Fujishige, his new assistant. Four City Council members last month scolded Lewis for buying the computer without their permission. Equipment costing more than $5,000 must be approved by the council, but Lewis maintains the purchase was legal because each computer component was less than $5,000.

* After Margo Wheeler resigned as planning director last December, Lewis appointed Assistant City Manager Susan Chow to fill the position until a permanent planning director is hired. He temporarily raised Chow's salary from $64,596 a year to $71,616--the maximum salary a planning director can make. Couch and Purvis say Chow did not deserve the raise because she had been assistant city manager only four months. They said the increase was inappropriate at a time when Monterey Park was trying to cut back on expenses.

They say Lewis has damaged morale in City Hall by granting favors only to certain employees, although they would not name any disgruntled workers.

Lewis, meanwhile, defended his record. "If there's anybody more conscious about Monterey Park's budget, it's me."

Chu, meanwhile, accused Purvis and Couch of conducting "a witch hunt . . . designed to confuse residents and to cast a negative tenor over all that's gone on in the city."

This isn't the first controversy to shake Lewis' administration. Last year, then-Councilman Barry Hatch spearheaded a short-lived campaign to oust Lewis, citing a number of personnel changes Lewis had urged, including the resignation of Police Chief Kenneth Hickman. The other four council members, including Chu and Couch, voted to keep Lewis.

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