South Gate Flap Taints Job Quest of Ex-Official
The Baldwin Park City Council voted unanimously in a special meeting Friday to remove a former South Gate official from a short list of candidates to fill a top city position.
Council members said they did not want Baldwin Park to be associated with Oliver Mujica, who was fired in July by South Gate, where he was director of economic development during that city’s tumultuous political battles.
Baldwin Park officials said a city-hired head-hunting firm had selected 33 candidates, including Mujica, for the position of community development director, which pays nearly $100,000 a year. Friday was the first day the council met to discuss the seven finalists for the job.
“Had we been asked earlier, ‘Do you agree with these finalists,’ we’d say no,” said Councilman David Olivas. “We felt, given the controversy in South Gate and all the positive things about Baldwin Park, we didn’t want to be associated with the negativity.”
Mujica was among several prospects scheduled to be interviewed Friday afternoon before the council, but was phoned by a city employee and told he had been dropped from the list.
“We feel this is terribly unfair and unfortunate,” said Nathan Goldberg, Mujica’s attorney. If the decision to drop him “was based upon information that was provided by ... the city of South Gate, then we believe that would be a gross violation of Mr. Mujica’s rights.”
Goldberg said that his client had been a “loyal, dedicated” employee of South Gate for 11 1/2 years and that they would explore all legal options against Baldwin Park for its decision.
South Gate Councilman Henry Gonzalez said that Mujica had been let go for “performance” reasons but that he could not reveal any details because it had been a personnel matter.
South Gate was enmeshed in controversy after its former treasurer, Albert Robles, was indicted on conspiracy charges last year and three council members were recalled in a raucous January 2003 election.
Baldwin Park Councilman Ricardo Pacheco, who quit as South Gate public works chief in January to devote more time to consulting, said: “I worked with Oliver, and he’s a professional. He helped a lot. I don’t know what happened after I left.”
Pacheco said he never spoke to Mujica about the Baldwin Park job, which has been filled by an interim director who will serve about a year. He said Mujica’s rejection should not raise concerns about his own South Gate experience. “I resigned,” he said. “They fired Oliver for cause.”