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Two fired 'Gangnam' lifeguards unsure they would take jobs back

October 17, 2012 |  9:07 am

This post has been corrected. See note at bottom for details.

At least two lifeguards fired for helping make a "Gangnam Style" spoof video said they are unsure they will return to their old jobs now that the El Monte City Council has agreed to rehire them.

El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero asked council members Tuesday night to back his motion reinstating them -- and enough did to direct the city manager to rehire the 13 lifeguards and their supervisor.

It's important that "we're perceived as just employers," Quintero said.

"You've heard it trivialized, kids will be kids -- that the punishment didn't fit the crime," he added, noting the lifeguards' video, with more than 2 million YouTube views, raised questions about mismanagement and lack of oversight at the El Monte Aquatic Center and pushed officials to open an investigation.

"At the end of the day, we have a fiduciary and legal duty" to ensure that the center continues to be "a secure place" for residents, he noted.

But Dayle Keller, interim city manager, said that according to the municipal code, the council can only make a recommendation for rehiring.

"The decision to reinstate is under the city manager," she added, explaining her need for more time to "evaluate what I perceive is the intent of the council."

She said the investigation launched two weeks ago would take six to eight weeks to complete.

Councilwoman Norma Macias, citing her frustration over the matter, said repeatedly that she would like to move beyond the lifeguard distraction to "more important city business."

"I really hold more of the [pool] supervisors accountable," she added, asking about security cameras at the aquatic center and "how were lifeguards able to access the space after hours?"

Macias and Councilman Bart Patel backed Quintero on a 3-2 vote favoring the rehiring.

"This is not the most popular thing to do, it's the right thing to do," Patel said. "We don't like to micro-manage. We have our professional staff to do that."

But, he said, "when there are lapses in that process, it's up to the council to take the leadership."

Councilwoman Vicki Martinez and Mayor Pro Tem Juventino Gomez cast the two votes against Quintero's motion.

Rehiring is premature before an investigation is finished, Gomez said.

 "We haven't gotten down to the truth yet," added Martinez. "We're not the hiring/firing body of this administration. We need to do what is right not only for the 14 but the whole community."

Some of lifeguards who lost their jobs came to the meeting wearing red T-shirts urging officials to "Bring Back the EMAC 14" to the El Monte Aquatic Center.

"We are still in the same spot that we were in weeks ago," said Michael Roa, a University of La Verne student and former employee who edited the video in which he and other lifeguards, without permission, used the aquatic center and wore city-issued uniforms.

"I would hope that the city manager accepts their recommendation so we could contribute to the investigation. I'm just disappointed in the delay -- yet again," he said.

Roa said he is unsure if he would go back to work if rehired.

"I've heard a pool rep say that the pool is fully functioning, so it's unclear whether we would get our hours back," he said.

Juliet Gilek, a Cal Poly Pomona student and former lifeguard, said she worries about potentially returning to a hostile work environment.

Managers "could find any little way to write me up for anything," she said. "I'm seeing now there's an infection in the pool and it's not being cleaned. It's sad to me and it's sad for the residents."

[For the record, 1:30 p.m. Oct. 17: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Mayor Pro Tem Juventino Gomez said: "We haven't gotten down to the truth yet." That remark was made by El Monte Councilwoman Vicki Martinez.]


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-- Anh Do in El Monte