Former park rangers file suit against the city

GLENDALE — Two former Glendale park naturalists have filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming they were wrongly terminated when they complained about a manager’s misuse of city resources.

Russell Hauck and Eric Grossman claim in separate lawsuits filed July 29 in U.S. District Court that they were laid off only after they raised concerns about Dave Ahern, the former capital projects administrator for the city’s Community Services & Parks Department, and his alleged use of a city-owned vehicle and public employees for his own landscaping.

“It is unfortunate when a city such as Glendale fails in its legal obligation of oversight, and as alleged in the complaint, allows one of its supervisory employees to freely retaliate against a subordinate employee for complaining of the supervisor’s unlawful behavior,” said their attorney, Solomon Gresen.

Hauck and Grossman told managers that a Glendale resident saw a city vehicle and city employees landscaping Ahern’s home at least five times in two months, according to the lawsuit.

Soon after notifying their superiors — who at the time were former department director George Chapjian and current director Jess Duran — Hauck and Grossman claim their duties were consistently reassigned.

“Had the proper procedures been followed after the plaintiffs’ complaints were lodged, it is unlikely that either Mr. Grossman or Mr. Hauck would have taken legal action,” their attorney said.

The pair were terminated June 30, less than six weeks after complaining about Ahern, according to the lawsuit.

Glendale Human Resources Director Matt Doyle declined to discuss specific personnel matters, although he said Hauck chose to retire.

Any jobs lost were a result of budget cuts, he added.

“I think it’s well known there were layoffs in just about every department in the city,” Doyle said.

In June, city officials announced cuts of more than $1 million to parks and community services, including the elimination of park naturalists, to help balance an $18-million budget shortfall.

Hauck and Grossman were initially hired as park rangers and became sworn police officers, according to the lawsuit. But they allege their peace officer status was stripped when the city changed their role from rangers to naturalists.

City Atty. Mike Garcia declined to comment on ongoing litigation, but said the city was planning to file a response to the lawsuit.

The city attorney’s office this week denied a Public Records Act request by the Glendale News-Press for all city correspondence regarding Ahern’s personal residence, any investigation or review of using a parks department vehicle and city resources for personal landscaping.

A records request for complaints filed on behalf of Hauck and Grossman about Ahern was also rejected because the city said it involved confidential personnel matters.

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