By Sandy Mazza

The Daily Breeze

Sandy Mazza

Politics in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson – 20 square miles of land formerly occupied mostly by garbage dumps and oil production facilities – is notoriously dirty.

In recent years, City Council members have kept themselves out of the slammer but they have engaged in enough drama to produce their own soap opera. The council has routinely embarrassed itself with petty fights over such things as who gets to hand out free turkeys at Thanksgiving, which members can sit next to each other at council meetings, and which props they are all allowed to have in official city photos.

So, when the council majority unexpectedly, inexplicably fired its seasoned and extremely ethical city manager this summer, another desperate power grab by the council majority (led by a mayor who unapologetically lobbied for years to have a street named for himself) was likely.

We couldn’t have anticipated that they would do something as blatantly self-serving and unethical as hiring an incompetent city manager only because he agreed to do their bidding without question. But that’s what they did, and this is how we reported the events as they played out after City Manager David Biggs was canned by the three-member City Council majority in June:

  1. Shortly after Biggs was terminated, I got an anonymous letter from someone in the city’s government who explained that one councilman was behind a plan to bring in a friend who wasn’t qualified to lead the city, but who promised to do the council majority’s bidding without question. The letter included a list of city employees the councilman wanted fired.
  2. On August 8, the City Council majority hired Sam Ghaly, a building and code check professional with a sloppy resume full of misstatements, to lead a city that administers a nearly $70 million budget and accounts for a population of 90,000. Ghaly was not given a background check, or any sort of review by Human Resources. His resume wasn’t even verified. One councilwoman who opposed the hire said publicly she had serious concerns about his lack of qualifications.
  3. August 12: Daily Breeze article exposed Ghaly’s lack of qualifications for the job, and asked why the council chose someone secretly and without experience.
  4. August 23: Daily Breeze article about apparent inconsistencies or lies in Ghaly’s resume, and the city’s lack of scrutiny of his resume or background. Questions the motive the City Council majority had for hiring Ghaly.
  5. A group of Carson residents who oppose Mayor Jim Dear seized the opportunity to attack his motives in leading these decisions. They protested at a City Council meeting on Sept. 3, after Ghaly had fired four top city employees (whose names had been on the anonymous letter I got). The council later fired Ghaly at that meeting.
  6. Sept. 4: Daily Breeze article about Ghaly being fired. The council was apparently reacting to publicity about Ghaly’s decision to send the city’s economic development director home on paid administrative leave for a month and fork out severance payments to other terminated employees, among other concerns.
  7. Sept. 21: Daily Breeze package of in-depth articles answering why Biggs was fired and Ghaly was hired, included information I got from 10-12 interviews with City Hall employees and public officials, and exposing how council members used Ghaly to direct at least one contract to a company owned by their friend.
  8. Nov. 6: Councilman Elito Santarina apologized publicly for his role in hiring Ghaly and supporting him. The City Council approved a plan to hire an executive search firm to find qualified city manager candidates.

I was able to fully report out this story because City Editor Frank Suraci encouraged it, as did other editors in the group – Ben Demers and Frank Girardot. Everyone pulled together to be involved in the story, edit it, suggest lines of questioning, and to put together graphics and art for the piece, which included several Touts of the resident protest.