Glendale City Council candidate Sam Engel

Glendale City Council candidate Sam Engel answers a question during a debate, which took place at Oakmont Country Club in Glendale. (Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff Photographer / February 2, 2013)

"Neighborhood Services Administrator" — it's a job City Council candidate Sam Engel has been out of for nearly six months, but that's how he's describing himself on the April ballot.

Doing so is by the book. Candidates get only three words to describe themselves after their names appear on the ballot. And state law governing ballot titles allows candidates to use a title they have held within the last calendar year.

“That's how I'm known in the community,” Engel said. “We thought about using ‘retired city administrator' or ‘retired neighborhood administrator,' but in the end decided that those were not real accurate. It was a long discussion, actually, to try and deal with it.”

But some election officials say it's more of a political tactic than a hard decision.

“It looks like the person's still on the job and they're still a viable public servant. By all good ethics he should have listed himself as retired from that position,” said Jaime Regalado, a political analyst and Cal State Los Angeles professor emeritus of political science.

Candidates do get a background section known as a candidate statement, which is where Engel said he refers to himself as being retired.

But Regalado said many voters never read the candidate statements, and Engel isn't the first candidate to use a former title as a “leg up.”

It's unclear whether “retired” counts as one of the three permissible words, said Ronald Rotunda, a Chapman University law professor who recently served on the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

“No matter how complicated you write a law, there's always something that can fall in the cracks,” he said.

Still, if Rotunda was in Engel's shoes, he said he would have made it clear in his title that he was retired.

For example, Edith Fuentes — who once held one of the most powerful decision-making positions on Glendale's planning team — listed herself as a “retired city administrator” on the ballot.

“My thinking is that's just the reality. I don't think I would have used any other title,” said Fuentes, who retired after an administrative battle with the city over her demotion.

Despite the ethical questions raised by Engel's ballot listing, Regalado said “to me, it's not a major thing.”

Engel retired in August, but until recently, he was working 10 to 16 hours per week on a part-time basis as he completed a redesign of licensing operations.

Engel said the city converted his salary into an hourly wage of about $58 for his part-time position. In 2011, his gross salary, which includes overtime and additional pay excluding benefits, was $133,716, according to the latest city report on highest-paid workers.

Engel said he has been on administrative leave for a few weeks, but plans to return to his part-time work if he does not win the election.

“While I legally could still work, we all felt that it would be better for me not to,” Engel said, adding that it may be awkward if he continued to work for the city during his campaign.

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