BELL GARDENS : Ex-City Manager Says Firing Was Political

Revolution rocked tiny Bell Gardens two years ago, when residents recalled four City Council members, replacing them with new members who promised to better serve the city's Latino majority.

But while being more responsive to the city's Latinos, the new council has been accused of being vindictive toward those who cross it.

The charge surfaced last week, when the council fired City Manager Charles Gomez, who had held the post since July, 1993, and was the third city manager to be dismissed in as many years. The council said his performance was inadequate and that he mishandled relations with a casino that provides the city 60% of its revenue but lately has seen declining profits. Gomez, a Mexican American, said his dismissal was the result of his refusal to follow council orders that he says would have discriminated against non-Spanish-speaking, non-Latino city workers.

In a suit filed in December, Gomez said that the City Council directed him to hire and promote only Spanish-speaking, bilingual workers and that council members made racially derogatory comments about non-Latino employees and applicants.

Gomez said that his refusal to carry out such orders turned Mayor Maria Chacon against him. Although Gomez would not comment on his charge that council members ordered him to discriminate against non-Latinos, his lawyer, Thomas J. Feeley, said that Gomez refused to promote a Latino candidate in the city's Recreation Department over an Anglo candidate who ranked higher in the city's personnel criteria.

Bell Gardens City Atty. Arnoldo Beltran denied Gomez's allegation. "I'm not aware of a single discriminatory practice that took place" in the city's hiring and promotion, he said.

Chacon declined to comment on Gomez's allegations, citing the pending suit.

Beltran said that Gomez's performance was faulty in many areas and that he did not inform the council of declining revenue from the Bicycle Club Casino, which last year contributed $9.6 million to the city's $17-million general fund. Casino officials attributed an unspecified decline in revenue to competition from nearby card clubs.

Beltran also said Gomez incorrectly advised the council to approve a new game, Chinese Dominos, at the casino in November. Last week, the casino discontinued the game after a routine review by Sheriff's Department officials found that the game was illegal, according to a Bicycle Club official.

Gomez said he advised the council weekly of the casino's revenue and that the charges of inept handling of casino matters are "concocted and have no substance."

Gomez's annual salary was $102,000. Beltran said the city will contest Gomez's severance pay of $96,000, which he is guaranteed under his contract.

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