Endorsement by Santa Ana City Manager Draws Fire

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A political endorsement by Santa Ana City Manager Paul Walters has triggered rebukes from some residents who say the office should remain neutral and a call from a member of the City Council majority not to do it again.

Walters endorsed Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez’s campaign for the Rancho Santiago Community College District board of trustees. Alvarez’s ballot statement says that her “experience leadership, commitment to education and public safety earned me endorsements from Mayor Pulido and Police Chief Paul Walters.”

Walters, who served as police chief for 24 years before being appointed city manager, has actually appointed Carlos Rojas as acting police chief.

Residents say they fear that politicizing the city manager’s office could lead to bias in handling city issues. In an email exchange with Walters, one resident points to a tenet of the International City/County Management Association, considered an authority on city manager ethics, which states that city managers should “refrain from all political activities which undermine public confidence in professional administrators.”

Walters writes in an email to resident Glen Stroud, an Alvarez critic, that he checked out whether it was OK for him to make the endorsement, first reported Friday by The LiberalOC, and found that “it is appropriate.”

“Glen my attorney reviewed that section and it does not apply for the college position,” Walters wrote.

Walters’ legal clearance notwithstanding, Councilman David Benavides, also a mayoral candidate, said that members of the council majority would be telling Walters to stay out of politics.

“A number of us will have that personal message that we would hope and expect that the city manager not be involved in politics,” Benavides said. “It sends a bad message to the public, to the community. It should be a neutral role, a neutral position, so that everyone in the community could feel their best interests are being considered … without politics.”

Benavides stopped short of asking Walters to withdraw the endorsement, saying he’s not sure if that’s legal and that it would be best not to repeat Walters’ mistake and cross the line.

This isn’t the first time Walters has entered the political fray. In the 2010 mayoral election, Walters recorded an automated phone message that questioned whether mayoral candidate Alfredo Amezcua had falsely claimed that Amezcua had the support of a member of Congress, The Orange County Register reported.

After the election and former City Manager Dave Ream’s retirement, Pulido for more than a year lobbied his colleagues on the council to appoint Walters as city manager.

When asked whether council members had feared that Walters would politicize the city manager’s office, given his past political forays as police chief, Benavides said he had expected politics would be “something [Walters] left behind him when taking the position of city manager.”

Walters could not be immediately reached for comment.

— ADAM ELMAHREK

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