Related story: Q&A: New San Bernardino city manager Allen J. Parker looks to city's future
Photo gallery: San Bernardino new City Manager Allen Parker
San Bernardino City Council members on Friday stood by Allen J. Parker, their new pick to lead the insolvent city, despite his having filed for personal bankruptcy twice and having once been forced to resign from the same position in Illinois.
In the wake of former Interim City Manager Andrea Travis-Miller's announcement she was leaving the city, council members and city staffers did a thorough background check in considering Parker, they said, and after lengthy closed-door discussions the council voted 6-0 to hire him.
Parker started his new position on Wednesday, a day after the vote.
"The man's experience speaks for itself," said Councilman Fred Shorett, referring to Parker's 24 years of experience as a city manager.
Parker said in an interview that when he became the city manager of Compton in 1976, the city was on the brink of bankruptcy.
Shorett knew about one of Parker's bankruptcy cases, but "that has happened to a lot of people recently, and it wasn't a concern of mine. I don't think it was a concern of anyone," he said referring to council members.
In February 2011, Parker and his wife, Sara, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.
The court filings said they were liable for about $620,000, but that they only owned assets totaling some $171,000. Their debt came from two mortgages, some student loans and credit debt.
Parker also filed for bankruptcy in 1991, but details of his court filing were unavailable. Parker, 71, said the primary reason for the financial problems was a divorce.
"They're over 20 years apart, and in both cases had to deal with personal circumstances," he said. "It has absolutely no reflection on my ability to manage."
In the last bankruptcy, "I got turned upside down on a house like thousands of others," he added.
He said he claimed bankruptcy to avoid foreclosure.
Councilwoman Virginia Marquez said she selected an excellent candidate for a challenging job.
San Bernardino, a city with more than 210,000 residents, is the third California city to file for bankruptcy protection, along with Stockton and Mammoth Lakes.
"As a governing body, we felt that we had the best person for the job," Marquez said. "It's not like we had hundreds of applicants knocking on our door. Nobody wants to come to our city. They know we have no stability. I'm grateful Mr. Parker will even work for our city."
Aside from personal problems, Parker was also forced to resign as city manager of the Village of Oak Park, Ill., in 1995.
Parker said his resignation was part of the city manager's job description. City managers are elected, so they're at-will jobs, he said.
"Boards change, and they want their own person there. It comes with the territory," he said.
In 2009, a shareholder at Banning Heights Mutual Water Co. filed a lawsuit against Parker and the rest of the members of the board of directors.
The 2009 lawsuit alleged that Parker and other board members used their position to sell the water company even though the shareholders were against the move, Reuters reported.
Parker said the entire board was sued and that the water company didn't win.
"My board, including me, wasn't re-elected," he said.
His explanations satisfied the San Bernardino council - he won the job by a unanimous vote. In fact, Marquez views Parker's bankruptcy in a positive light.
"He knows what the dynamics of a bankruptcy entails and how to get through it," she said.
R. Dale Ginter, a Sacramento bankruptcy lawyer who represented retirees in Vallejo's bankruptcy case, said he doesn't think Parker's personal finances necessarily mean he won't be able to perform his duties as a city manager.
"A lot of people have to file bankruptcy for a lot of different reasons. Many are legitimate. Sometimes it shows poor financial ability. Other times, the deck was stacked against them," Ginter said.
Ginter said it was up to the San Bernardino council to properly vet its city manager.
Rebecca Winthrop, a Los Angeles bankruptcy lawyer specializing in Chapter 9 cases, said Parker's experience gives him a unique perspective; however, "it gives the appearance that he's not financially sound."
Because a city manager's job involves interacting with many financial parties, having this veneer might cause issues in Parker's job performance, Winthrop said.
"If it were me, that would not be my choice," she said.