Livingston hires new city planner, while ex-planner pursues lawsuit

04/03/2013 6:37 PM

04/04/2013 7:24 AM

As Livingston forges ahead with a new planner, its former head of planning is pushing forward with potential legal action against the city.

The new planner -- Miguel Galvez -- has been working for the city for about a month, said Odi Ortiz, assistant city manager and finance director.

Galvez is a contracted employee working for the city through the Merced County Association of Governments. Though MCAG hired Galvez, Livingston took part in the selection process.

The arrangement with MCAG calls for a one-year contract with the cost to the city not to exceed $60,000 through the end of the fiscal year, at which time the figure will be revisited.

City officials expect that the cost could be significantly lower, especially during months with less activity.

Donna Kenney, who served in the position before Galvez as the community development director, was laid off in a 3-2 vote by the City Council last year. City management said they got rid of the permanent planner to cut costs.

But Kenney said there were ulterior motives to her dismissal.

Kenney, who's white, filed a claim against the city alleging that she was laid off because of her race and for refusing to carry out unethical actions on behalf of city officials. That claim was denied by the council in a 4-0 vote in December.

Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza and City Manager Jose Antonio Ramirez adamantly denied the assertion by Kenney. They claimed she was laid off because of budget constraints.

Barry Bennett, Kenney's attorney, said that a few days ago they sent the discrimination charges to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which will initiate an investigation.

Though a lawsuit hasn't been filed, one could still follow.

No specific dollar amount was listed in the claim, but the complaint does state that Kenney is looking for more than $100,000 in damages.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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