We were wondering what became of Oliver Chi, Claremont's former Assistant to the City Manager (photo, left). You may recall that when last we heard, Chi had just resigned as City Manager of Rosemead. That was back in April, 2009.
Well, Chi was back in the news last week. The story, as told by Rebecca Kimitch in Pasadena Star-News, is a little convoluted. It begins with a former Rosemead councilmember, John Nunez, who lost his re-election campaign in March, 2009. Soon after that election, Nunez filed for unemployment benefits for losing his City Council seat.
After Rosemead officials learned that Nunez was claiming the benefits, they filed an appeal with the state's Employment Development Department (EDD). The EDD, however, sided with Nunez, and he has collected a total of $11,000 so far. All that money came from the Rosemead coffers because the EDD bills Rosemead directly for its workers' unemployment claims. This all prompted several outraged state officials to threaten to change the state's laws governing such claims. The Star-News article explained:
Since Nunez's claim became public, two state lawmakers have challenged its validity and threatened to change state law. State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, are helping the city appeal Nunez's claim for a third time.
This time, they are citing a section of state code that seems to explicitly prohibit elected officials from receiving unemployment.
"We have written a very clear letter to the EDD, indicating how they have misapplied the law. But we have yet to hear a response," [current Rosemead City Manager Jeffrey] Allred said.
The Nunez matter caused someone to take a closer look at what Rosemead was paying out and to whom. Turns out that, after he resigned last year, Oliver Chi also filed for and was granted unemployment benefits. According to the Star-News piece, Chi collected around $10,000, which was apparently a surprise to the city of Rosemead. City officials there seem to have thought they were done with Chi when they paid him $350,000 under the settlement agreement he and the Rosemead council reached prior to Chi's resignation.
Chi, unlike Nunez, had the good graces to return the $10,000 he received for his unemployment claim. In the article, Chi defended himself:
Chi said he had every right to collect unemployment after he left his post in April 2009 since he resigned "under the threat of termination." He agreed to return the payments in order to maintain a good relationship with city staff and officials.
What's $10,000 between friends?
This really ought to show folks who think that every high level managers in the public sector can be every bit as greedy as the people who brought you the tech stock and real estate bubbles and the Wall Street investment banking firms that were responsible for the financial meltdown of 2008. The scale may be smaller, but a fellow can dream.
If the rank-and-file public employees who do the actual work and the voters who foot the bills paid any attention to the money lavished on some of these guys and gals in salaries, benefits, and severance packages, the outrage would be every bit as great as what you're seeing right now with with bank bonuses.
In fact, it may already be reaching that point. In our next "Where Are They Now?" installment, we'll look back to Claremont and points south.