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Fired transit chief wants back in

Times Staff Writer

The former head of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation has asked the City Council to overturn her termination amid complaints in the black community about her firing.

In a four-page letter submitted by her attorney, former department general manager Gloria Jeff said Mayor Antonia Villaraigosa failed to give her an annual performance evaluation during her 18 months on the job.

Jeff’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, said the mayor gave no explanation on Sept. 27, the day two Villaraigosa staffers demanded that Jeff resign within 21 hours.

“It also does not speak well for our city that she was fired with less than one day notice, without provisions for adequate severance and in a manner which was designed to inflict maximum career damage,” Allred said.

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Under the City Charter, the council has until Oct. 26 to hear Jeff’s appeal. But the termination of the black department head already has been greeted negatively by some African American leaders.

Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo sought to counter that perception Thursday, releasing a list of 11 black managers at the department who favored Jeff’s removal. He also noted the mayor has the power to hire and fire department heads at will.

“Gloria Jeff received numerous indications from the mayor’s office that her management of the Department of Transportation was deficient,” he added.

Under the charter, Jeff would need 10 votes from the council to overturn her firing -- a high hurdle for any department head, let alone one who occasionally had rocky relationships with some council members.

In the days before the termination, some council members said Jeff, a former transportation executive for the state of Michigan, had been too brusque. Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, a Villaraigosa ally who heads the council’s transportation committee, fired off a terse statement Thursday signaling she won’t support Jeff’s return.

“I’m focused on moving forward and working to reduce congestion and gridlock in Los Angeles,” Greuel said.

Still, the council’s three African American representatives -- Bernard C. Parks, Jan Perry and Herb Wesson -- defended Jeff. Perry said Jeff deserved to have her case heard “on the record and in public.”

“Many allegations and rumors have been flying around City Hall since her termination,” Perry said. “Some of them have been quite spurious, and that behavior should stop so that she can get on with her professional life.”

That Villaraigosa has replaced Jeff with another black woman -- Rita Robinson, head of the city’s Bureau of Sanitation -- did little to dampen criticism of the mayor in the city’s black media this week.

The Los Angeles Sentinel ran a story that included a description of the personnel change as “Negro musical chairs.” Meanwhile, an editor at the Wave newspapers wrote unhappily that she had received assurances from the mayor’s office in June that Jeff would not be fired.

One of the mayor’s closest allies in South L.A. -- Frederick O. Murph, senior minister of Brookins Community African Methodist Episcopal Church -- met with Villaraigosa on Saturday to voice his unhappiness over the way Jeff was fired.

Murph said he informed the mayor there is dismay in the African American community over the lack of black employees in the mayor’s office at the level of deputy mayor or higher, and received assurances that the mayor takes the issue seriously.

“We don’t want to see any more African Americans get fired,” Murph said. “We don’t want to see any more African Americans resigning.”

Szabo said roughly one-fifth of the city’s volunteer commissioners and department heads are black. Villaraigosa also sees the position of the Rev. Leonard Jackson, the mayor’s liaison to the black clergy, as equal to that of a deputy mayor. “His title is senior advisor to the mayor,” Szabo said. “His office is two doors down from the mayor.”

david.zahniser@latimes.com


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