Thursday, February 28, 2008
Competence or cronyism? Depends on your point of view. In the minds of some Pacific Grove residents, City Manager Jim Colangelo has acted unfairly by hiring his former co-workers while laying off long-term PG employees. To others, he’s acted decisively to make needed staffing changes in the city’s best interest.
In a trend that has raised some eyebrows, Colangelo has hired at least seven women who once worked for Monterey County, where he worked as an assistant administrative officer between 1999 and 2005.
“We don’t look at it as a coincidence,” says PG resident Pat Herrgott. “Jim Colangelo says it’s hard to find qualified people, so he brings over everybody he worked with before. That’s not fair employment.”
Colangelo counters that he gave PG employees first dibs in a fair hiring process. “In all the positions, there was only one existing employee who competed in these recruitments,” he says. “We picked the person who was the most qualified, who had the most years on the job.”
Former county employees Colangelo has hired since the reorganization are: Deputy City Manager Charlene Wiseman, Business Manager Celia Perez Martinez, Chief Planner Lynn Burgess, Senior Planner Sarah Hardgrave, Associate Planner Tricia Wotan, Senior Librarian Mary Housel and Deputy City Clerk Ann O’Rourke. Their salaries range from about $72,000 (Wotan) to $152,000 (Wiseman).
Colangelo says he didn’t know Wotan or Housel before their hires but had good working relationships with the other five women. “I had talked with all of them at different points after leaving the county and had conversations where it was brought up ‘If there’s ever a job opening, let me know,’ ” he says.
While he isn’t sure he technically recruited the women – he characterizes it more as encouragement – he wouldn’t see the problem if he had. “They’re all fantastic employees and if I had known they were interested in working for me, I would have gone out and found them and asked them to come work here,” he says.
PG Senior Planner Sarah Hardgrave, who once worked in Colangelo’s division in the county, doesn’t see what the fuss is about. “Going from one public agency to another public agency is not an uncommon thing,” she says. “He said that if I wanted to pursue the position, I should make that [decision] out of a choice to work for the city, not out of a desire to work for him.”
Attracting qualified applicants has been difficult, Colangelo says. He attributes the sluggish response to the job openings partly to the city’s financial instability, and partly to his own public perception. “I’ve been represented in the press as some kind of horrible boss,” he says.
Hardgrave, for one, had some reservations before taking the planning position. “I did make some sacrifices in choosing to come into this job,” she says. “It’s a pretty challenging time to be working at the city.”
At least one internal employee was shunted in the recent hiring process. Molly Laughlin, who worked as an administrative assistant in PG’s recreation department for more than seven years, assumed interim city clerk duties for several months last fall. After being laid off from her rec department position, she applied for the permanent clerk job that ultimately went to O’Rourke.
“How I was treated by the City of Pacific Grove wasn’t nice,” says Laughlin, who now works for Carmel-by-the-Sea. “They kind of pulled the rug out from under me. But I am not looking back at all.”
Colangelo has become a polarizing public figure as he moves to bail out PG’s sinking budget. In a major staff reorganization beginning in early 2006, he eliminated 30.5 and created 26.5 positions, saving the City more than $700,000 annually. On Feb. 20, the City Council shaved another $2.8 million from the budget.
Former PG mayor Jeanne Byrne, for one, isn’t cutting Colangelo any slack. “It‘s inappropriate to create jobs that never existed and fill them with your friends,” she says. “Certainly not all of them are the best qualified. There’s nobody there to get them up to speed.”
But to City Councilmember Lisa Bennett, Colangelo’s county hires are a non-issue. “Is what appropriate? That he would hire people he knows are competent?” she says. “He has the latitude to hire who he pleases as long as they get the job done.”