El Monte city officials got more bad press this past weekend for firing 14 fun-lovin' lifeguards from their posts at the local Aquatic Center than for any other scandal in the city's history — including, debatably, that time ex-City Manager James Mussenden got caught trolling for hookers along Holt Avenue. (Heh.)
The lifeguards' crime was a bit more softcore. Using the city pool as a backdrop, they shot a lip-synced music video for “Gangnam Style”…
… the Korean electro hit currently rocking the American club scene. Their YouTube video, filmed in the tradition of Team USA's “Call Me Maybe” spoof, was cute, clickable, and very public — in no way trying to hide itself from city officials, nor mock the El Monte Aquatic Center.
And we can't see any blatant racism, a la the “squinty eyes” photos taken by fake lifeguard models at Hollister's recent South Korea opening.
Here's the offending routine.
And the original, for comparison:
In a press statement, El Monte city spokesman Robert Alaniz writes that the pool employees had agreed in their job contracts that they would “under no circumstances use any city property for his/her own private use or benefit. Such unauthorized use shall be cause for disciplinary action.”
Yet in the video, he writes…
… there was a clear unauthorized use of city resources and property, including the use of city-issued uniforms during the making of this unauthorized video. The City maintains that it holds all employees to a higher standard.
So all 13 lifeguards who appeared in the video, plus one who was not — pool manager Gabriel Gonzalez — were cut from city payroll for their shot at Internet stardom.
But we're guessing the real impetus behind the city's harsh reaction was the sexual nature of the video — for example, the very phallic fanny-pack experience at 1:08, the Baywatch-worthy sex kitten romp at 1:10 and the wealth of dewy pectoral rubs sprinkled throughout.
Indeed, the fired ones allege that “afterwards we were unofficially told that our music video was both 'disgusting' and an 'embarrassment to the city of El Monte.'”
(Perhaps sexy shenanigans on taxpayer dime are a sore spot for the City Manager's Office, given aforementioned prostitution sting?)
The Big 14 fire back, via Facebook:
“In response to everyone who suggested that the city of El Monte use the video to promote the aquatics center… WE AGREE. Had the city asked us to take down the video. we would have complied. Had they asked us to edit the video, we would have complied. However, termination was the first and only option. El Monte now has bad publicity instead of what could have been free promotion of a beautiful facility with a dedicated and fun staff.”
They also started a Change.org petition to “Bring back the 14 El Monte Lifeguards,” on which they have gathered over 4,000 signatures of the 5,000 they feel they need to convince the city to change its mind.
On that note, we've contacted the City Manager's Office to ask whether an online petition would have any bearing on their rehiring. But until then, we'll leave you with some cross-country speculation from commenter Kate Kelley:
“Sounds like management needs to be replaced, not the lifeguards.”
Ouch. If only El Monte had some lifeguards to treat that third-degree burn.
Update: City spokesman Alaniz calls us back to confirm that “the reason they were let go is they violated their contract agreement.” And a Change.org petition, he says, likely “will not have any sort of effect” on that decision.
According to Alaniz, the lifeguards and their supporters are planning on showing up to the El Monte City Council meeting a week from tomorrow — because ultimately, councilmembers do have the power to overrule this mass termination. However, “at this point in time, it's my understanding that city staff has the full backing of the mayor and city council,” he says.
Too bad Ryan Seacrest doesn't get a vote.