PICO RIVERA – City plans for a three-member panel – including two members from outside the community – to select finalists for the job of city manager have been scrapped, officials said Thursday. Earlier this year, city officials announced a panel of three would review 31 applications for the job and pare the field down to three finalists from which the City Council would name a new city manager. At the time, officials named acting City Manager Debbie Lopez, Gateway Cities Council of Governments Executive Director Dick Powers and Santa Fe Springs City Manager Fred Latham to the panel. On Thursday, however, officials said they have dropped the three-member panel concept after learning that Latham and Powers are listed as references on the application of one of the candidates, city spokesman Bob Spencer said. “It appears that the two disqualified themselves because they wrote letters of qualification for the same candidate,” he said. Rather than appointing two new panel members, however, officials said they are handing the responsibility of trimming the candidate field over to Lopez, who did not return calls for comment Thursday. The change in the selection process immediately drew criticism from Virginia Aguirre of Pico Rivera Community for Truth in Politics, a local activist group that has criticized City Councilman Ron Beilke. “I think this whole thing is a farce,” Aguirre said. “It seems like they called them (Latham and Powers) to make it look like they were going through the motions.” Beilke was instrumental in hiring Chuck Fuentes as a City Hall consultant in charge of cutting waste. Beilke also has come out in favor of hiring Fuentes as city manager, and Fuentes is among the 31 applicants for the job. “I think it’s obvious they have already decided on Mr. Fuentes,” Aguirre said. The city has been without a city manager since April, when longtime City Manager Dennis Courtemarche was fired. A new council majority, led by Beilke, had blasted former council members for raising Courtemarche’s salary to more than $200,000 a year. Meanwhile, Latham on Thursday said he had already become uncomfortable with being a member of the selection panel, even before the change. Not long after he was named to the panel, Latham said, he began getting phone calls from Pico Rivera residents. “As a city manager, I am not comfortable with that,” he said. “It is contrary to any selection process I have been associated with for selecting a city manager.” Powers did not return phone calls for comment. Beilke maintains he plans to weigh the candidates’ applications equally. “I don’t think it’s a secret how I feel about Chuck. I have extreme confidence in Chuck to be the city manager,” he said. “But I will be looking through all the resumes and making a decision.” Under the revised process, Lopez will provide a list of finalists to the City Council at a special meeting Wednesday. Council members can add additional candidates to Lopez’s list. The council will conduct interviews Wednesday. Council members hope to select a new city manager at the council’s Dec. 20 meeting, Spencer said. [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3028 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!