Part 3: Whisleblower ‘Bear’: Want a top job in City Hall? Better be in ‘The Club’

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Part three in a series by Leo Bear Mahan, a City Hall whistleblower. Read parts one and two here.  ICMA stands for International CIty/County Management Association. 

As West Hollywood City Hall continues to have questions raised about its hiring practices, internal promotions, and Human Resources; and the community concerns of public safety and business worries seemingly grow louder by the day, an unexpected story told to me by my Director about their own hiring raises more curiosities.

Section One: A Story of a Social Club and Career Jumps

During a work meeting, I inquired about my Director’s previous impressive career jump from a regular analyst position in West Hollywood with no supervisory duties to becoming the Deputy City Manager in West Covina. This seemed like a giant leap in responsibility, so I was curious what the experience was like. Their story shocked me.

The Director’s response centered around a social club. They revealed that a new City Manager took charge in West Covina and filled key leadership roles with friends from this very same club. These positions apparently included Finance, Human Resources, and even the Deputy City Manager role, which my now director, then an analyst, was offered.

The Director described the City Managers Club’s initial optimism about fixing the city’s problems with this new team. However, their tenure in West Covina proved short-lived. The fixing apparently did not go well, and soon it seemed the city had had enough of the club. In 2019, the City Council voted 4-1 to direct the City Manager to draft and finalize a separation agreement. Along with the City Manager’s directed resignation, the Human Resources and Risk Management Director and the Finance Director resigned. West Covina city manager resigns; two other top officials leave too

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My Director then told me that in 2018, just before the forced 2019 departures of the others connected to the social City Managers Club, they received a saving call from a friend in another city who told them to come on over as they had a spot for them. They finished the story by telling me that a few years later, they got the next job opportunity call from friends in the City Managers Club. This time, now 2023, it was to offer them a position back in West Hollywood as the Director of Economic Development.

While I had expected the answer to be a story of community challenges and adventures in learning management skills, what I seemed to have received was instead a story of How to get a Top Job in a City Hall. But could this just be a story? Maybe exaggerated? Maybe there isn’t really a club?

There is.

Section Two: The City Managers Club

The ICMA appears to be made up of people who work in local government and aspire to be City leaders. This gathering of what might look to be City-Manager-Wanna-Be’s is on its surface a social group that swears to uphold high ethical standards. Being a member of ICMA may not present any ethics concerns. ICMA members even must swear to a list of tenets relating to ethics.

After my Director’s story and discovering that there is a real club, I was curious about other cities with members in the ICMA. It seems that most cities have a few members. In a look at West Hollywood neighboring cities: Santa Monica (4), Culver City (4), and Beverly Hills (3) each had a few members. The cities with the highest numbers of club members concentrated in any place that were discovered are Bakersfield (14), Long Beach (20), and West Hollywood (13).

To further understand the concentration of club members in cities, 50 additional California cities were reviewed. Out of these additional 50 cities, the number of club members varied from zero to five in each city. Two of California’s largest cities were also reviewed: showing San Diego with a total staff of 13,888 having five members; and San Francisco with a total staff greater than the entire population of West Hollywood having zero club members.

When comparing 60 cities, the average number of club members in any city is 3. When removing the three outliers of Bakersfield, Long Beach, and West Hollywood, the average number drops to 2.35. The number of City Managers Club members in the City of West Hollywood, a city with one of the lowest numbers of total staff, is 13.
CITY CLUB MEMBERS TOTAL STAFF
Santa Monica 4 2433
Beverly Hills 3 1142
Culver City 4 927
West Hollywood 13 445
Bakersfield 14 2238
Long Beach 20 6862
San Francisco 0 40142
San Diego 5 13888

Are there really impacts of a social club? I mean it has ethical tenets after all!

A group of civil servants all subscribing to the same set of ethics may not be cause for alarm. Reviewing the 12 Tenets of the ICMA or City Managers Club reveals a list of ethics to follow in serving the public. Tenet 3 and Tenet 12 are below. The entire list can be found here:

Tenet 3: Demonstrate by word and action the highest standards of ethical conduct and integrity in all public, professional, and personal relationships in order that the member may merit the trust and respect of the elected and appointed officials, employees, and the public.

Tenet 12: Public office is a public trust. A member shall not leverage his or her position for personal gain or benefit.

But could the same thing really happen here? Let’s take a look at who this unusually large number of club members in our City Hall consists of.

While my Director’s story focuses on their creative journey to and back from West Covina, it also adds to other growing WeHo City Hall and community concerns. In West Covina, a City Manager allegedly appointed friends to key positions, appearing to result in financial disaster and terminations. A search found that each of the friends appointed in West Covina were indeed in the City Managers Club.

Adding a layer of concern is the revelation that numerous key figures in West Hollywood’s top administration are members of the same social club. This includes seven of the City’s Directors and City Manager, along with two Division Managers, one of which has been promoted in the last two years, and three Staff. Out of the seven Directors, four have received internal promotions in the last few years and two have been recently hired.
CLUB MEMBER CITY POSITION
David Wilson   City Manager
Jackie Rocco   Deputy City Manager
Steve Campbell   Director of Public Works
Janet Jiminez   Director of Administrative Services
Nick Maricich   Director of Community Development
Lorena Quijano   Director of Finance
Danny Rivas   Director of Public Safety
Laura Biery   Director of Economic Development

 

Section Three: Why Qualified over Club Membership Matters to You the Community

The list of positions affiliated with the City Managers Club paints an eerie picture of repeating the history of West Covina in West Hollywood. Outside of the climbing City Hall Human Resources concerns, the city appears to be facing increasing public concerns in at least three areas: Community Development – with concerns of closed room deals with lobbyists; Economic Development – with concerns from the business community; and Public Safety – with concerns of crime and level of police protection.

Public Safety Changes and Crime on the Rise

In 2017, it was reported that West Hollywood’s seven-year change in Part 1 crime rates was down in many areas, including violent crimes (-32.1%), property crimes (-0.5%), homicide (-68%), robbery (-25.8%), assault (-19.7%). Beverly Hills or West Hollywood. Which Is (Getting) Safer? – WEHOonline.com

In 2018, West Hollywood crime was reported as trending in a positive direction, achieving rates even lower than Beverly Hills and Santa Monica for the first time since West Hollywood became a city! Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, West Hollywood: Where Can You Feel Safest? – WEHOonline.com

Around this time, the City saw the arrival of a new Code Compliance Manager. Transparent California shows that they worked for about four years in Community Preservation in Santa Clarita prior to securing the manager position in West Hollywood. The Community Preservation Manager happens to be a member of the City Managers Club and was internally promoted to Public Safety Director within a couple of years. After 2018, crime in West Hollywood has been reported to have become a growing concern for the community. By 2021, residents were no longer rejoicing in their lowering crime rates but instead were reporting being worried about safety and wanting more police enforcement. City residents even reported to be “largely willing to cut funding from city events like film screenings, summer concerts, Halloween, and Pride in order to pay for increased security measures.” City survey: WeHo worried about safety but not sure about solutions – WEHOonline.com

This public cry for increased safety continued into 2022 while Sheriff’s Deputies were reduced. Tell City Council how you feel about public safety in WeHo – WEHOonline.com

In March 2022, that same year, it was reported that West Hollywood ranked 212 out of 230 on the Safest California Cities published each year by Safewise. However, this was reportedly an improvement from 2021 when the City was ranked 226 out of 230. Bakersfield was 221. WeHo ranked near bottom of Safest California Cities … again – WEHOonline.com

Additional 2022 reports revealed that crime in West Hollywood was up 137% from the previous year. Crime in West Hollywood up 137%: LASD | KTLA

Looking back, perhaps it would have been prudent to further explore the idea around working together with our reportedly (slightly) lower crime neighbor. It was reported that “Beverly Hills has their own police department. West Hollywood contracts with Beverly Hills for the use of their parking enforcement officers. …. There are relationships to build upon. Perhaps it is time for a look at new ways to address our public safety needs.” Op-Ed: ‘West Hollywood Police Dept?’ – WEHOonline.com

By 2023, a Public Safety Commissioner was pleading for more sheriffs, saying that the numbers of officers had been decreased by 20 since pre-pandemic. West Hollywood Council Considers Several Community Safety Issues

Now in 2024, the news feels like it’s 90% crime reporting, 9% who’s running for what office, and 1% troublesome staff. It seems that a worthwhile goal would be to see decreases in all of those concerning categories. Recently a question was raised regarding how many law enforcement officers WeHo needed. In 2018, we compared our crime to Beverly Hills. Since Beverly Hills has nearly 150 sworn officers, we may want to ask the question of why West Hollywood, who had less than half that number to begin with, has been reducing their numbers in recent years. It’s said that each law enforcement officer costs upwards of $300,000 per year. We could be creative, start the conversation with how to get to 100 actual officers, then see how safety improves? WEHO CRIME STATS | April 2024 – WEHOonline.com

Questions worth considering may not only be “How Many Law Enforcement Officers Does WeHo Need?” but could also include “How Many Law Enforcement Officers Could We Add by Replacing One Director?” and “How Many Directors Equal One Experienced Police Chief?” How many sheriffs does WeHo need? – WEHOonline.com

Economic Development and Business Outcries

In 2023, calls for major change from the business community came – after a meeting with a group of City Hall management, each of who happen to be members of the City Managers Club. Critical State of Business: Part 2 : Meeting erupts with calls to ban city council members from shopping at local businesses. – WEHOonline.com

Concerning Questions From Council On Hirings

Councilmember Lauren Meister’s inquiry in 2023 about the hiring of the Community Development Director, which lacked transparency and potentially involved a conflict of interest, highlights these concerns. LAUREN MEISTER: Community Development Director search leaves out ‘community’ – WEHOonline.com

The Community Development Director is also reported to be a member of this same City Managers Club. This strengthens the appearance of a potential conflict of interest and a lack of transparency in West Hollywood’s hiring practices. City Manager apologizes after letting lobbyist help pick who got a top WeHo job – WEHOonline.com

Section Four: City Manager Club Hirings and Latest Appointments

The curious situations combined with the Director’s story reignite concerns about West Hollywood’s hiring practices. Their recent management role secured, according to her story, apparently without following standard procedures suggests a system that may prioritize connections over merit. This directly contradicts City Manager David Wilson’s public pronouncements to staff earlier this year about promotions based on hard work. Read more

Reviewing the list of staff in the City Managers Club seems to reveal strong ties to new directors and managers brought in during the tenure of the current City Manager. Specifically, the Director of Public Safety, Director of Economic Development, and the one that raised Councilmember Lauren Meister’s interest, the Director of Community Development. Additionally, it is curious that the controversial internal promotions of the Director of Administrative Services and other internal moves may appear to be less related to hard work and more related to club membership. Read more

Just last week, David Wilson’s decision to appoint City Manager Club members Steve Campbell and Jackie Rocco to Interim Assistant City Manager and Interim Deputy City Manager positions, the second and third highest positions in the City, is curious. This move to fill these positions on an interim basis appears to allow the City Manager to bypass the normal transparent hiring procedures, raising concerns about potential conflicts of interest and a lack of commitment to merit-based appointments. WeHo revising how it fills job positions after controversial hiring – WEHOonline.com

Section Five: West Hollywood Learns from the Past?

Recent events seem to raise serious questions about the fairness and transparency of West Hollywood’s hiring practices. West Covina’s experience serves as a cautionary tale for West Hollywood to act swiftly to ensure its hiring practices are transparent and merit-based. Residents deserve to know their leaders prioritize the City’s well-being over personal connections, especially when public safety is a growing concern.

In 2019, after the departure of the West Covina City Manager Club, the California State Auditor’s Office conducted an audit on the city. According to the report, “The city had experienced significant turnover of key management positions” and placed the City as High Risk for municipal bankruptcy. The report concluded that “West Covina is a high-risk city because of the significant risks it faces related to its financial and operational management. West Covina reduced its year-end general fund reserve balance by $10.6 million – more than half – during the past several years.” City of West Covina: Its Deteriorating Financial Situation Threatens Its Fiscal Stability and Its Ability to Provide City Services

Present-day, the City of West Covina has not only recovered to the previous balance of its general fund reserve balance but has exceeded the earlier amount of reserves from approximately $20 million to now almost $25 million. Notably, the City of West Covina currently does not have any members of the City Managers Club employed at the city…

We recommend more questions be raised and answered by the City Council and urge the community members to hold the City Council accountable for a transparent government equipped with qualified and ethical civil servants that provide a safe City.

Specifically, we encourage the City Council and the Community to make the upcoming review of City Manager public. The City’s Manager’s contract stipulates that the City Council will conduct an annual review of the City Manager between August and October.

Additionally, a review should examine the City’s Manager’s oversight of director hiring throughout their tenure. This is recommended to include public records requests for panels, dates, and interview notes.

Finally, the hiring of any and all positions in the City should follow a standard process of posting the position on the standard public job board. Closed-door deals should be left to private companies and remain separate from public funds.

Stay friendly neighbors.

 


 

CONTROVERSIES INVOLVING ICMA

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) has faced several significant controversies that raise questions about its ethical standards, governance, and commitment to diversity. Below is a detailed and critical examination of specific instances that highlight these issues.

1. Ethics and Transparency Issues: The Steve Stanton Case

In 2007, Steve Stanton, the city manager of Largo, Florida, was fired shortly after announcing his transition to Susan Stanton. Despite ICMA issuing a statement of support, the organization failed to protect Stanton from discriminatory actions. This incident exposes a profound weakness in ICMA’s mechanisms to combat workplace discrimination, particularly for LGBTQ+ members. The lack of robust measures to prevent such discrimination raises serious concerns about ICMA’s commitment to ethical standards.

2. Membership and Diversity Concerns: Persistent Underrepresentation

A 2019 report by Governing magazine revealed the persistent underrepresentation of women and people of color in city and county management roles. ICMA’s initiatives, such as the Task Force on Women in the Profession, have proven largely ineffective in bringing about substantial change. The slow progress in improving diversity within ICMA underscores a superficial commitment to inclusivity, requiring a comprehensive overhaul of its strategies to foster a genuinely inclusive professional environment.

3. Political Neutrality: Wisconsin Act 10 Controversy

In 2011, ICMA’s handling of Wisconsin Act 10, which curtailed collective bargaining rights for public employees, was met with criticism. The organization’s ambiguous stance, coupled with some local government managers’ support for the act, drew ire from both supporters and opponents. This incident underscores ICMA’s failure to navigate politically charged issues effectively, leading to a loss of trust among its members and stakeholders. The organization’s inability to maintain political neutrality in such a highly charged environment reveals a significant flaw in its governance.

4. Leadership and Governance: Bob O’Neill’s Compensation

In 2014, the excessive compensation of ICMA’s Executive Director Bob O’Neill, which exceeded $450,000, sparked outrage among members. This incident highlighted governance issues within ICMA and raised serious questions about financial stewardship and equity. The opaque nature of executive pay decisions points to a need for greater transparency and accountability in the organization’s governance practices. This controversy revealed systemic flaws that require comprehensive reforms to restore member confidence and trust.

5. Controversial Policy Positions: Privatization and Public-Private Partnerships

ICMA’s support for privatization and public-private partnerships has been a point of contention. The endorsement of outsourcing services such as waste management and public transportation has drawn significant criticism for prioritizing cost savings over service quality and job security. Critics argue that these policies often lead to reduced public accountability and inferior service standards, challenging ICMA’s commitment to serving community interests. The organization’s stance on privatization requires a more balanced approach that considers the long-term impacts on communities and public sector employees.

6. Handling of Misconduct Allegations: The Mark Uffer Scandal

In 2012, Mark Uffer, former San Bernardino County Administrator, was accused of corruption and bribery. ICMA’s handling of the situation raised concerns about the organization’s processes for addressing serious ethical breaches. The slow and inadequate response to such serious allegations undermines ICMA’s Code of Ethics and raises questions about its commitment to integrity. This incident calls for a robust and transparent disciplinary process to ensure that ethical standards are upheld consistently and rigorously.

7. Financial Management: ICMA Retirement Corporation’s Fee Controversy

The ICMA Retirement Corporation (ICMA-RC) has faced criticism for its fee structures and investment practices. In 2018, accusations of excessive fees and inadequate transparency in managing public employees’ retirement plans highlighted significant lapses in fiduciary responsibility. This controversy underscores the need for ICMA to ensure that its affiliated entities adhere to the highest standards of financial management and transparency, protecting the interests of its members and clients.

8. Public Censure of James Freed

In 2022, ICMA issued a public censure against James Freed, the city manager of Port Huron, Michigan, for promising firefighters and police that he wouldn’t impose a hypothetical vaccine mandate. Freed claims this censure was partly in retaliation for his previous complaints about an ICMA leader’s political activity on Twitter. The censure was issued despite Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer not imposing such a mandate. ICMA’s actions against Freed raised questions about the organization’s political neutrality and commitment to fair and unbiased conduct. Freed’s situation further complicated when ICMA launched an investigation into his behavior after he criticized political activity on the @ICMAEthics Twitter account. Although cleared of these accusations, the subsequent investigations and public censure damaged his professional reputation. Freed has since filed a lawsuit against ICMA, alleging defamation and conspiracy.

 

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HR
HR
11 days ago

All fingers point to David Wilson for appointing an individual who.” has a successful track record in executive-level municipal management. She is an active member of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the League of California Cities.” So, all it takes to be a DIRECTOR OF HUMAN RESOURCES is to have the right connections and be an active member of ICMA. No experience or qualifications needed. How did DW and BBK not realize how much of a liability this would become? Having someone so incompetent as head of anything related to risk management and human resources is just a… Read more »

Community Development
Community Development
11 days ago

Well, well, well, if it isn’t the director that was hand selected by the city attorney and developer…Nick is part of ICMA. Full list can be found at this l link Members by Jurisdiction State Result (icma.org)

Law Enforcement > Ex-/Directors
Law Enforcement > Ex-/Directors
11 days ago

Great point. “Questions worth considering may not only be “How Many Law Enforcement Officers Does WeHo Need?” but could also include “How Many Law Enforcement Officers Could We Add by Replacing One Director?” and “How Many Directors Equal One Experienced Police Chief?”
How many officers could we get with the money thrown to Oscar Delgado and his $28,000 a month contract with the city. We all know Oscar was a PARKING expert who rose to the top with quid pro quo’s. He taught Janet Jimenez the same thing and she is benefiting from this corruption.
https://wehoonline.com/2023/10/18/weho-bends-rules-fix-mess-sunset-billboard-program/

Buried
Buried
12 days ago

This story being buried probably means the city threatened Larry…

Sam Shaw
Sam Shaw
13 days ago

Why is David Wilson allowing this? Why is City Council allowing this? Prove you are not corrupt like Janet Jimenez and Danny Rivas are. Do something already!

taxed
taxed
12 days ago
Reply to  Sam Shaw

maybe because it makes him half a million dollars every year

maybe so they get what they want out of it too

they know until people bring it to council meetings and voting that no one cares

maybe they all know we know they know we know and know that no one cares, you know

yup
yup
11 days ago
Reply to  taxed

They know we know and they don’t care. The city believes they are above the law and can do as they please. Let’s show them our voice matters and vote elected officials out of office if they don’t include this subject on their upcoming agendas.

Bake Sale
Bake Sale
13 days ago

This ain’t some bake sale where you just give away treats to friends! High-paying government jobs shouldn’t be handed out. Developers shouldn’t pick our city planner just because they golf together. This whole thing is messed up. It’s like bad ice cream sundae with a cherry on top that’s hiding something gross. Millions of taxpayer dollars being dished out by this little club, then their rich developers pat em on the back, and then they check the books and say “all good here! They control who gets hired, who gets contracts, and who keeps everything quiet. You try to complain,… Read more »

West
14 days ago

Absolutely explosive. Huge thanks to this brave whistleblower for this thorough exposé. Nellie Bly would be proud 🙏🕊️

Ariel
Ariel
14 days ago

Whistleblower 3 shared their Op-Ed (un-redacted version) to union member while fighting to return to city hall. The OpEd hit the nail on the head when saying “While working at the City of West Hollywood I have witnessed the corruption, corporate greed, classism, retaliation, and disregard for human life by a government that has failed to protect its employees.” This is 100% true.

Scandalous
Scandalous
14 days ago

I recall seeing union president Bobby listed as a ICMA member a while back. It makes sense why he turned his back to union members since his priority is rubbing shoulders with top city hall executives. If members had a strong president or anyone at city hall that cared it would have never come to this. For those that side with management and Bobby, they are either dumb deaf and blind or just stupid. “Proud City Employee” is the perfect example of this since she demands understanding and respect to all commentator’s as she points fingers and makes blind accusations.… Read more »

We Are United
We Are United
13 days ago
Reply to  Scandalous

The simple solution is to treat everyone equally and I hope city executives know better now. I’m sure Mr. Rivas and Janet expected employees to call uncle while receiving abuse. Little did they know just how fed up we all are. I’m happy all this is coming to light. It takes one person to stand up and fight and we will all follow. With a new union president there is now hope and we now stand in solidarity.

Corruption
Corruption
14 days ago

We don’t know when the customary practice of cronyism started at City Hall, but we can end it. Let’s vote the council members out of office if they stand with David Wilson and his appointees.

https://goodparty.org/blog/article/reporting-corruption-in-local-government-a-guide-to-promoting-transparency

Last edited 14 days ago by Corruption
Ring the Bells
Ring the Bells
14 days ago
Reply to  Corruption

Bell CA scandal.

“… personally benefitted from misuse of city funds; failed in his fiduciary responsibility to ensure that public funds were legally and properly used for the public’s benefit; did not fully and accurately disclose his compensation in a transparent manner; and failed in his obligation to ensure that city matters were transparent and fully communicated to the council and public”

https://icma.org/articles/article/ethics-and-transparency

vote vote vote

Last edited 14 days ago by Ring the Bells
West
14 days ago
Reply to  Corruption

Excellent resource from GoodParty! My independent campaign has been working with them, and I’ve proudly pledged to support efforts to curb corruption and restore integrity in local government.

Fact
Fact
14 days ago

It all makes sense now.

IMG_7729
BloodshotEyedGuy
BloodshotEyedGuy
14 days ago

I’m sure the money is great, but I’m not tucking, shaving, piercing, dyeing my hair purple, nor buying pink or rainbow colored clothing for any WeHo City Hall job! (BTW: I was perfectly qualified and worked in a high-profile WeHo job for years but immediately rejected from WeHo City Hall jobs. Then, even though I surmised why, I soon thanked God for the Divine Intervention and landed a decent job where I was hired based on experience and business smarts. Plus, I got to keep my original hair color.)

Last edited 14 days ago by BloodshotEyedGuy
greeneyedguy
greeneyedguy
14 days ago

We are all better off without you running anything in city hall. I bet you barely can turn your phone on and off.

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
13 days ago
Reply to  greeneyedguy

We are all better off knowing that you don’t speak for us as a monolith.

WeHo Mary!
WeHo Mary!
12 days ago
Reply to  greeneyedguy

That sounds ageist. You realize that age is a protected class, right?

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