A background check on the new Livingston city manager did not report a criminal charge or bankruptcy filing from a decade ago, city officials said Thursday, opening up questions about the vetting process for a highly paid public employee.
The recruitment process conducted during the past several months was completed by Los Gatos-based William Avery & Associates Inc. The city agreed to pay the firm $16,400, and to cover expenses up to $6,000, according to a copy of the contract.
Reports for more than 20 applicants for the city manager job were given to the council and others involved in the process. The report on Eddie Duque, who was hired this week, did not include information about a misdemeanor conviction from 2002 and a bankruptcy from 2004, both of which, Duque contends, were cleared from his record.
But a look into his past by the Merced Sun-Star turned up the court documents on both.
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Paul Kimura, the principal for Avery & Associates, said he did not work directly on Livingston’s recruitment, but Thursday spoke generally about the vetting process. He said the company was in charge of the recruiting, and works with another firm that looks into the criminal and civil history of each applicant.
“We do several different layers of this background (check) and it’s pretty extensive,” he said.
But, he said, the firm is not allowed to report certain findings under federal regulations in the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act. The regulations also allow recruiters to research no more than seven years into the person’s past, he said.
We do several different layers of this background (check) and it’s pretty extensive.
Paul Kimura, principal, Avery & Associates
He said a bankruptcy would not be reported if the person in question was cleared of his or her obligations. A criminal record would not be reported if the person was found not guilty or had a conviction expunged from his or her record.
Jose Sanchez, Livingston’s city attorney, said hiring a firm to seek out a top administrator is routine for many cities. Livingston has used the recruiting firm before.
After the Sun-Star reported the findings, Sanchez said, the city decided to ask Duque to complete a “live scan,” a digital fingerprinting process that the Livingston Police Department uses for city employees.
Police Chief Ruben Chavez said his department conducts the digital fingerprinting process on every employee before they are hired by the city. The process is designed to look into the criminal background of the applicant, he said.
“We do that on everybody, whether you’re going to be a coach of a soccer team or anything like that all the way up to myself,” he said.
But because the council hired a firm for recruitment, the Police Department did not perform a live scan. He said he expects to start the process on Duque this week.
Mayor Pro-Tem Gurpal Samra said he remains confident the council did its due diligence and hired the right person.
“I think the system itself works,” he said. “Can it be a little stronger? Yes, of course anything can be made better.”
I think the system itself works. Can it be a little stronger? Yes, of course anything can be made better.
Livingston Mayor Pro-Tem Gurpal Samra
The council acted on the information it had, he said. Both the domestic dispute and the bankruptcy filing, Samra noted, happened more than a decade ago.
Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza has not responded to phone calls seeking comment since Wednesday afternoon. Council members Jim Soria and Arturo Sicairos could not be reached for comment by phone Thursday.
Duque, 48, a senior management analyst in the Finance and Management Services department in Santa Ana, agreed to a three-year contract of $140,000 annually, plus car, telephone and insurance benefits, according to a copy of the contract.
Court records show he filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in 2004. He was also charged with corporal spousal abuse after an incident in 2002, court documents show.
Duque, in a telephone interview with the Sun-Star late Wednesday, confirmed he pleaded no contest to a reduced misdemeanor domestic violence charge in the case in Los Angeles County more than a decade ago. He said it was expunged from his record in 2007.
He described the incident as stemming from a tumultuous relationship with his wife at the time and said he wasn’t able to afford a defense attorney.
“I didn’t have money to defend myself even if I wanted to at that point in time,” he said about his plea.
Since then, he said, he’s been an advocate for prevention of domestic violence, and for the victims recovering from family violence, giving public presentations for children and adults.
“That wasn’t anything mandated,” he said. “I want to be clear about that.”
Duque also confirmed filing for bankruptcy protection in 2004.
“My wife lost her job, we had to pay debts,” he said. “When half your income basically disappears with a layoff, it’s something that’s extremely painful.”
He noted he completed his bankruptcy obligations. The case was cleared in 2010, according to court documents.
Duque said he does not expect any of the new information uncovered by the Sun-Star to affect his employment with the city.