Maywood is saddled with financial problems. So it hired someone with no municipal experience to run the city

Maywood is getting scrutiny from state auditors over financial problems. In April, the council hired a new city manager ¿ a former Boeing project manager who had never run a city before.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Maywood was $16 million in debt and under the magnifying glass of the state auditor, who found the small southeast L.A. County city riddled with financial problems.

Councilman Ramon Medina had an idea for a new city manager — someone with not so many political ties: one of the customers at his auto repair shop.

Reuben Martinez had been a project manager for Boeing before being laid off in February, but he had no experience running a city — even one spanning just over one square mile.


He said he was qualified for the top job, armed with a business administration degree and experience managing multimillion contracts, budgets and personnel.

“It’s the same work,” Martinez said. “I’ll put my administrative skills against the last three city managers in an instant, because it’s the same thing.”

Of the five Maywood council members, only one voted against the hire.

“At a time when the city needs to be as stable as possible, having a strong city manager is key,” said Councilman Eduardo De La Riva. “You do not hire someone with no municipal experience.”

Few areas of Los Angeles County boast as colorful — and notorious — a political history when it comes to the city manager position as the region’s southeast cities. Next door to Maywood, the city of Bell was run by Robert Rizzo, whose compensation of $1.5 million a year led to a criminal investigation that led to his conviction and that of six other officials.

At a time when the city needs to be as stable as possible, having a strong city manager is key. You do not hire someone with no municipal experience.

— Councilman Eduardo De La Riva

For years, the nearby city of Cudahy was run by George Perez, who rose from city janitor to a powerful city manager. In 2012, federal documents painted Cudahy as a place where bribes became routine, elections were fixed on Perez’s orders and city workers acted as gun-packing bodyguards. Three city officials pleaded guilty to what federal prosecutors described as deeply rooted corruption, but Perez was not charged.


Neighboring industrial Vernon had two of the region’s most controversial top administrators: Bruce V. Malkenhorst, who got paid almost $1 million a year and got driven around in a limousine, and Eric T. Fresch, who made $1.6 million one year as city administrator and flew in first class from his home in the Bay Area.

Martinez did not arrive with a politically fraught history and his comparatively meager pay — $140,000 a year with benefits — is not a matter of dispute. It’s his lack of municipal experience and the way he got hired in a political landscape prepped by history to breed suspicion.

Medina said he met Martinez through his auto mechanic shop, where Martinez would bring his wife’s car. Over three years, Medina said he learned of Martinez’s background and thought he’d be a good candidate to become Maywood’s city manager. He recommended Martinez to the city council. The job was not posted.

On April 13, the Maywood council discussed whether to approve the contract for the interim city manager, Pedro Carrillo, who had been appointed to the job in December. Deciding not to, they added an emergency item to the council agenda to appoint a replacement before going into closed session. When they emerged, they announced the appointment of Martinez.

Martinez’s first day on May 11 sitting with the council was eventful. Councilman Ricardo Villarreal resigned as mayor, accusing three council members of violating open-meeting laws and City Atty. Mike Montgomery of providing the wrong legal advice in regard to Martinez’s contract. Villarreal questioned the fact that the contract was not discussed during the April meeting, saying he was asked to sign it after.

City Clerk Gerardo Mayagoitia said he did not attend the April meeting, but signed Martinez’s contract just days after, thinking it had been discussed and approved.

Martinez’s contract was addressed during the May meeting and Montgomery said the council’s actions that day resolved, or “cured,” any potential violations of the Brown Act that may have occurred.


In an interview, Montgomery denied telling Villarreal to sign the contract, but said that there was nothing wrong with how the contract’s signing took place since one would have to be signed, even if it could end up being for an interim position.

“I just don’t think there was a problem with it and I stand by that,” he said.

But Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor and president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, said “two wrongs don’t make a right. You can’t just go back and say it’s cured.”

She said it did not seem the city used an open and transparent process in the hiring of Martinez.

“I don’t think it should be harder to hire an entry-level administrative assistant for city government then it should be to hire a city manager in Maywood,” Levinson said, adding: “There’s a lot of poor judgment going on in one square mile.”

De La Riva said the city has a responsibility to be careful in such matters, noting that the L.A. County district attorney’s office is currently investigating Maywood for possible open-meeting law violations related to the hiring of Carrillo, Martinez’s predecessor.

Councilman Thomas Martin said bringing in Martinez was “the right move.”

“Mr. Martinez has a lot of experience with contractors,” he said. “He follows a lot of procedures and I think he’s a good manager because he’s managed in the private sector.”


Medina said he wanted someone who wasn’t very political to be the city manager. But De La Riva said the hiring seemed all too political.

He said the way it was handled embodies a series of ill-considered decisions Maywood has made at a financially delicate time, such as granting council members, the clerk and city treasurer $250 monthly mileage stipends to drive in and around L.A. County’s second-smallest city by size.

“It’s like history repeating itself in Maywood,” De La Riva said. “This is the kind of stuff that led to Maywood’s downfall years ago. You had council members hiring friends to run the city and contracts being awarded without competitive bidding and it led to a lot of problems.”

Twitter: @latvives



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