Burbank Mayor Mary Lou Howard, who recently led a successful campaign to oust her political opponents from office, has become involved in a new conflict, this time with the president of the Burbank airport authority.
And, although the battle is taking place outside City Hall, it has taken on many of the characteristics that have marked Howard's frequent battles with her adversaries on the City Council.
Howard, who was appointed to the Airport Authority in May by the reconstituted City Council, contends that authority President Robert Garcin, a former Glendale mayor, has exhibited a "cavalier attitude" toward her and the other new Burbank representative, Margie Gee, former president of a residents' association opposed to aircraft noise.
The panel, formally called the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, oversees operation of the airport. The authority has three representatives from each city who are appointed by their respective city councils.
The struggle between Howard and Garcin surfaced at a meeting earlier this month when Howard criticized Garcin and airport services director Thomas Greer for flying first-class and spending more than $5,000 to attend a meeting in Washington, D.C.
Howard said that commission members, in the interest of frugality, should always fly coach, although authority policy allows commissioners traveling more than 1,000 miles to fly first-class.
Howard asked for support to overturn the policy, but none of the commissioners would second her motion.
Later, in a letter to Glendale city officials, she again appealed for an end the first-class flight allowance. "After all, the rear of the plane arrives at the same time as the front of the plane, and it is hard for me to personally justify the sometimes substantial difference in price," Howard wrote.
Howard was also angered when Garcin appointed Gee to the authority's legal committee.
Howard had indicated to Garcin that she wanted to serve on the legal committee, but instead she was appointed to the finance committee.
She said that Gee's appointment represented a conflict of interest, because Gee is one of 200 San Fernando Valley homeowners who filed a $20-million anti-noise suit against the airport two years ago.
Howard asked Garcin to switch the appointments, but Garcin refused, saying that he had noted her objections. Howard then said she would refuse to sit on the finance committee. Garcin responded that that would be her choice.
Some Burbank officials, including Councilwoman Mary Kelsey, have rallied behind Howard, echoing her claim that Garcin "rules the authority with an iron fist."
Gee and other commissioners believe that the differences between Garcin and Howard are part of a temporary personality conflict that will resolve itself as the commissioners become more accustomed to working together.
But Garcin, who recently was reappointed to a four-year term as a commissioner, and Glendale Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg accused Howard of creating the antagonism on the authority.
Bremberg said she felt that Howard was being hypocritical by criticizing the first-class flight policy "when the City of Burbank has spent thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money entertaining people all over the state."
Elaborate Cocktail Parties
Bremberg said Burbank has traditionally hosted elaborate cocktail parties at League of California Cities conventions, "all at taxpayers' expense. They also spent $12,000 of the taxpayers' money to have someone run with the Olympic torch. That doesn't sound terribly thrifty to me."
Bremberg, calling Garcin an excellent authority president, said that Howard had not been on the authority long enough to have a "good idea of Garcin's manner."
Howard said Bremberg's defense of Garcin "is a very poor way of looking at an appointment. Mr. Garcin does not deal well with people. He is not a people person. Maybe that's his style, but it's not mine. I resent working under this kind of dictatorship."
Garcin said that Howard was entitled to her opinion, "but it seems to me that Mrs. Howard is performing her appointed role in a manner calculated to bring about change on this commission and to affect the commission's business."
No Previous Clashes
"This commission has never had clashes in the past," Garcin said. "I'm quite surprised there are these problems now. I don't understand it. They did not exist before the arrival of the new appointees."
Gee refused to comment on whether she felt there was a power struggle between Garcin and Howard. But she said her appointment and that of Howard to the authority may have "rocked the boat" regarding what she termed the panel's Establishment position against homeowners.
"Now there is a difference of opinion on the commission, and I don't think Mr. Garcin is too comfortable with that," Gee said.
Gee, along with Commissioner Ellis Jones, who represents Pasadena, said the conflicts are transitory and will soon disappear. Glendale Councilman Larry Zarian said Howard and Garcin should try to work out their differences.
Howard said: "I hope things will run smoothly from now on, but I am not going to back down. I don't like to work with a dictator."