AVALON — The quiet zone outside Avalon Municipal Hospital may be the only place residents here have not been discussing Mayor George Scott's decision to replace a popular trustee on the hospital's board.
Saying he wanted some new blood, Scott nominated Dr. Lawrence Braslow rather than name board Chairman Leo Zager to a fourth three-year term on the unpaid board, which governs the 12-bed city-owned hospital.
Trustees are nominated by the mayor and appointed by the City Council. Council members Irene Strobel and Gilbert Saldana joined Scott in a 3-2 vote to appoint Braslow.
The decision created an uproar in this island community of 2,100 permanent residents and triggered the resignation of four other trustees on the seven-member board.
"I feel that the council action in replacing Mr. Zager without prior discussion with him or consultation with the members of the board of trustees was an insult to the integrity of Mr. Zager and his years of devoted service," said trustee Ralph J. Morrow, Jr. in his resignation letter.
"I feel strongly that Mr. Zager's outstanding leadership, his dedication to the Avalon Municipal Hospital and his keen interest in the betterment of the hospital services for the Avalon community should have been respected," said Edmund O. (Buddy) Smyth in his resignation letter to the council.
Board members Herbert A. Wegman and Fern Whelan also resigned.
Because the two members who remained on the board and Braslow did not make up a quorum, the August meeting could not be held. Scott is scheduled to make new appointments to the board at the City Council meeting on Tuesday.
Scott acknowledged that pressure has been mounting for him to reverse his decision, a step he is considering.
"I felt I made the right decision for the town," Scott said. "However, if the people want Leo, then that's what I'm here for. The people run this town, I just represent them."
Zager, 72, a longtime Avalon resident and former owner of Leo's Drugstore, said he would return only if Scott and the other council members who voted for Braslow resigned.
"The pressure is so strong," Zager said. "I think he (Scott) has felt it. I'm not bitter. I will do whatever I can to help the hospital. It's been a long, hard job to get things together. But the only way I will rejoin the board is if the three council members resign."
Ill Feelings Denied
In spite of the controversy, Zager and Scott deny any ill feelings between them, but some residents say the two men had words over the board's decision last year to turn over operation of the facility to Long Beach Memorial Hospital under a 30-year agreement. The board agreed to pay the Long Beach hospital $60,000 a year in the first three years of the agreement.
Scott and Zager said they had discussed the issue, and Scott acknowledged that he believed the board was paying too much and that the term of the agreement was too long. Zager defended the board's move by saying that the hospital was losing $100,000 a year.
But both men denied an account in a letter to the editor published in the Catalina Islander that there was "ugly name-calling" between them.