Analysis: Norwalk may have jumped the gun in announcing new city manager

NORWALK – The words seemed simple enough: “City of Norwalk announces appointment of Jesus Gomez as new City Manager.”

I was happy. Over four months had passed since the forced separation, or firing, of former Norwalk city manager Mike Egan.

Jesus Gomez was announced as Norwalk's city manager last week, though the city council has yet to approve the agreement.

Jesus Gomez was announced as Norwalk's city manager last week, though the city council has yet to approve the agreement.

No official reason was ever given. Sure, old clichés were flying; “We were looking to move in a different direction,” and “the city was stagnate” emanated from the still new-look City Council with three fresh faces in: Jennifer Perez, Margarita Rios and Tony Ayala.

In the meantime, the city was on the hook for a year’s salary equivalent to the former city manager as per his employment contract. That was over a quarter million dollars.

“Contract” is not exactly a four-letter word, but there it is. In the terminology of our wonderful judicial system, contracts are better than gold.

Anyone ever watching a televised court show has heard that question, “Did you have a contract?”

The contract for the city manager of Norwalk is a big deal. It should be. When asked, the City of El Monte produced a copy of the current employment contract between Jesus Gomez and the city. It lists a solid figure of $195,000 base salary per year. This arrived in my email within an hour after making the request.

I made a similar request to the city clerk’s office here in Norwalk for a copy of Gomez’s new contract and resume. I thought that was a reasonable request.

Twenty-four hours later, I was still without a copy. Hell, even one of my sources within the city stated they had a copy of Gomez’s resume in their possession, and they are not management. I asked them, why don’t I?

My article regarding the appointment of Gomez as new city manager ends with, “Salary and compensation offering were not available as of story deadline.” 

Additionally, I had to add, “Initial requests for comments from Jesus Gomez were not offered as of story deadline Wednesday.”

I did receive a call after my story deadline from the Norwalk city clerk’s office sharing that the city did not have the requested documents available. I thanked the assistant for her assistance and told her we’d pick it up again in the morning.

Photo courtesy city of Norwalk

Photo courtesy city of Norwalk

Come Thursday morning, I had a good night’s sleep to refresh my perspective and I began dialing city hall. I requested clarity on our conversation from the evening prior. I simply asked, does the city have the requested documents or is the city withholding this information?

I was placed on hold immediately.

Five minutes later, I was directed to the city information representative. She agreed to call me back with the information I requested.

In the private sector, contracts are vital. During a 20-plus year career in the electronic field, I was blessed with some sizable deals and small ones. I never moved forward without a signed purchase order or sales agreement.

Evidently, in the city of Norwalk, a wink of the eye, a handshake or a verbal okay is what is needed to secure employment as city manager. 

Now, let’s be fair. While waiting for the information Wednesday from the City of Norwalk, I started my research on Gomez. After all, El Monte and Norwalk are similar. That is, El Monte’s population is just over 116,000 people. Norwalk’s 2015 population was listed as 106,531. We had nine murders last year. El Monte reported eight.

El Monte’s household income was listed as $39,535 while here in Norwalk, our household income is reported as $60,770. (For comparison, Norwalk’s southern border city of Cerritos household income is $91,487).

While Gomez was recently offered a new five-year contract extension to his $195,000 a year position, he was contractually obligated to give 45 days notice to the El Monte City Council of his intention to voluntarily leave his position.

Tuesday’s announcement by the city that Gomez is expected to take the helm of Norwalk’s top position falls well under that stipulation. There was a caveat that the El Monte Council could allow an exemption to that 45-day statute.

So where is the new city manager’s employment contract? According to Vicky Yoshikawa, senior management analyst and public affairs official for Norwalk, the city attorney shared that it was standard practice to announce an agreement with the finalized approval occurring at the first council meeting after the reaching of an agreement.

According to Yoshikawa, it was the city attorney’s office which conducted the search for a new city manager, not the Human Resource Department.

So, with a public record of a signed agreement expected Jan. 16, let’s all offer an international recognized “fingers crossed” symbol and hope for the best.

For the record, I don’t think the city is “always trying to keep information from me (or any other voter, taxpayer and resident).” 

It just seems awfully hard sometimes to get an answer. 

By Raul Samaniego