NORWALK : Garcia Will Replace Powers as City Manager

Richard Powers, the beleaguered Norwalk city manager who was often vilified in last month's City Council election, agreed to resign Monday evening after six hours of closed-session negotiations with city officials.

The council then promoted Ernie Garcia, a deputy city manager who has been with the city since 1980.

Powers, who joined the city in July, 1988, will receive a severance payment of $165,000 and will remain director of the city's redevelopment agency, a part-time position, for six months.

In the recent council race, Powers' performance was a key campaign issue, and all three winning candidates had vowed to fire him or reduce his authority. Powers, 53, was portrayed as an out-of-touch administrator whose financial management had resulted in a controversial 8% utility-users tax two years ago.

"The voters told me they wanted a change at the city manager's level," one of the winners, Councilman Gordon F. Stefenhagen, said Tuesday. "That was pretty much a mandate."

Recruited by Norwalk from the redevelopment agency in Paramount, Powers quickly gained a pro-development reputation. But his aggressive development agenda was often criticized as too radical a departure from the quiet neighborhood atmosphere still considered the ideal by many longtime city residents. Critics were quick to point out that Powers lives in Hacienda Heights and often depicted him as an outsider.

His successor, Garcia, has lived in or near Norwalk since he was 7 and has pledged to pursue a more restrained development policy.

"My emphasis will be pro-development, but in the sense of maintaining the integrity of the community," said Garcia, 47. "There's a direction from this present council to go back to some of the basics--our streets and our trees."

Garcia's annual salary will be $110,000, he said.

The severance package awarded to Powers--the equivalent of a full year's salary of $113,000 and benefits--was twice the amount stipulated in his city contract, which was scheduled to expire in July, 1995. In return, city officials said, Powers waived his right to sue the city. He was given a six-month contract to manage the redevelopment agency so he could continue to oversee several development projects, including a 24-screen theater complex to be built near City Hall.

Powers, in a prepared statement issued Wednesday, said the redevelopment projects "will improve the city's fiscal stability in the coming years."

Councilman Jesse M. Luera, a former city employee who was fired by Powers last year after other employees accused Luera of sexual harassment, voted against the severance package, saying he thought it was too costly. He also opposed the appointment of Garcia and the decision to retain Powers to serve as part-time director of the city's redevelopment agency.

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