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Councilman Protests Vote on Manager : Government: Sam Kiang says the group acted improperly in holding closed meeting and not allowing others to apply for the job.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Monterey Park councilman has objected to the City Council’s early-morning vote Tuesday to promote its management services director to city manager.

Councilman Sam Kiang walked out of the closed meeting at which Chris Jeffers, 31, was appointed to succeed former City Manager Mark Lewis. Lewis was fired July 22 after a long-running controversy over his management style. Jeffers has been serving as acting manager since Lewis’ ouster.

The council voted 4 to 0, with Kiang absent, to appoint Jeffers for a one-year probationary period, after which he will be evaluated. The council has not set his new salary. Lewis’ annual salary was $89,000.

The council announced the vote after the closed meeting, but did not vote again in public.

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Kiang and Councilman Fred Balderrama, while not directly criticizing Jeffers, said the council acted improperly by holding a closed meeting and refusing to allow other city employees to apply for the job.

Private sessions to discuss personnel matters are allowed under California law. Also, other council members said they did not open the process because they believed it was important to fill the job quickly.

“It was handled in such a way that I felt insulted,” Kiang said. “I only had two minutes to look over (Jeffers’) resume. I decided, I don’t want to be part of this if they’re not going to do it in a proper manner.”

The vote came several hours after a request from Chinese community members that the selection process be open to the public. That request--which the group later said was to ensure that the new manager would be sensitive to affirmative action and the need for more bilingual services--was at the regular council meeting that began Monday night.

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The council later adjourned to the private session at which the appointment was made.

Prior to serving as acting city manager, Jeffers had no city management experience. He began his career in Monterey Park in 1985 as a support services manager and a year later was appointed budget officer. Last year, he became management services director--a job akin to that of a finance director.

Before coming to Monterey Park, Jeffers worked as a budget analyst for Pima County, Ariz. He has a master’s degree in public administration from Northern Arizona University.

“That’s been my ambition professionally--to move into the city manager corps,” Jeffers said later Tuesday. “It’s pretty sudden. I would not have bet anybody dinner three months ago I’d be here today.”

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Mayor Betty Couch, who pushed for his appointment, said that although Jeffers had never been a city manager, “he’s doing such a good job on an interim basis. I sincerely believe he’s the best person for the job. I couldn’t go out and recruit anybody better.”

Equally important was Jeffers’ hands-off management style, which the mayor said was a refreshing change from Lewis’ style of “micromanagement.” Couch, who voted to fire Lewis, blamed him for low employee morale because of his ironhanded supervision.

Addressing the Chinese community concerns, Couch said she believes Jeffers supports affirmative action, and “certainly . . . has been sensitive to the community, probably even more so having an Asian wife.”

During the closed session, Couch passed out copies of Jeffers’ resume in preparation for a vote to hire him. Kiang said he was “very upset” and walked out of the meeting. Balderrama also left, but returned shortly after and joined Couch and Councilwomen Judy Chu and Marie T. Purvis in voting for Jeffers.

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